But I think its safe to say that a lot of Americans who are Caucasian and Christian just think of themselves as being ordinary--not special in some way, and not thinking that "membership has it's privileges". You get used to the way things are as the way things are supposed to be. And if people start pointing out that the way things are is inherently unfair, and want some changes, you feel a bit threatened.
I too, have had little glimpses into that "what if". Riding the bus with Demetrius to his family home on the south side of Chicago, back when we were dating, I had a similar realization. "I am the only white person on this bus." It was jarring. I went on to discover that it felt weird simply to not be in the majority--I remember someone commenting at one point that there were "no white people" in the neighborhood on Sesame Street. (I'm talking about the humans on the show, not the puppets, none of which are white!) As a person of little color, I came to realize that being in the majority felt "normal" to me, and anything resembling an equal mix of racial/ethnic background felt very strange.
Being married to an African American man, I have probably gotten more glimpses into the reality of race in America than most white people do. Sometimes, more than I would have liked to. I have witnessed, first hand, discrimination in apartment rental and employment. But I have also become aware of more subtle things. Band-aids are actually supposed to be flesh tone? Get outta here! They were always several shades darker than my own skin, but yeah, come to think of it, they do come a lot closer to blending in on me than on my husband. Or the time Demetrius was reading a book about the human body to one of our children and came to a part where it said "if you want to see your veins, just look at your wrists and you can see them right under your skin". He looked at his own wrist and said, "No, I can't."
This led to a discussion of how much of the bias that exists is genuinely unintentional. There was nothing malicious there--the person writing that book was looking at his own pale wrist and speaking from his own experience. I'm sure it simply didn't occur to him that some of his readers couldn't see their veins through their skin.
Similarly, Howard Dean has addressed how easy it can be to fall into these habits without realizing it or intending to. Anyone who has listened to Howard's speeches on a regular basis has probably heard the following more often than they would care to. But not everyone has heard it, and it addresses the point I am making here nicely...
Now, there's a reason I tell this story. (Laughter.)
There is a reason I tell this story. We all tend to hire people like ourselves. It ain't just 50 year old WASPs like me that do it; everybody does it, right? We're all more comfortable with the people we grew up with or the people we have things in common with, people we're comfortable with. Diversity is not something that comes normally to human beings. That's why you need affirmative action.
What I liked about this story was that it addressed a sensitive issue in a relatively nonthreatening way. I think that when we talk about bias with respect to hiring or anything else, people's defenses tend to go up. "Oh no, here it comes--it's white people's fault!" Or "Here comes the man-bashing..." But this isn't the story you expect--it's a woman making the hiring decision. The story shows that bias is not a "white thing" or a "male thing", but a very human tendency, present in all of us. But it's still one that we have to deal with. Racial issues, gender issues, and so forth won't just go away or get better if we simply don't talk about them.
Sure, it's easy to point out when someone else has said something awkward or uncomfortable having to do with these issues. You know why I think we are quick to judge--to condemn people when they state uncomfortable truths about racial and gender disparity in this country? Because we want them to stop. If we can scold them for what they say, maybe they will stop, and we won't have to talk about it either. We can go back to pretending everything is okay--that racism, sexism, and all other isms are things of the past.
Ever have company over, and not have enough time to clean every room of the house? At some point you realize, "Hey, look--if I just close the door to this room, you can't see the mess! Voila!" It feels good...it's a relief. For now. Eventually, we have to deal with what's behind that door.
Today is an important day--the "Dean speaks for me" petition now has over 9000 signatures, and the goal is 10,000. Now it is time to figure out the logistics of delivering it, getting media coverage, etc. Click here to join in the discussion. Oh, and I see lots of great comments here--so many I would like to respond to, but our internet was down all morning. And at this point (12:45 ET) I really need to get out and do some shopping so that I can be ready for Democracy Fest later this week. But I'll check back in and comment some more tonight. Thank you for all of your kind words about this diary! ♥