50 year old White woman
12 year Benicia resident
Growing up in Marin wasn’t exactly the place for me to get to know people outside of my racial group. My parents, who had immigrated here from England, didn’t have a lot of experience either, so I had little to no exposure to other cultures. I grew up learning about People of Color from the media and from what was commonly considered among my friends, family, and culture. I thought most Black people were poor, and that’s why they didn’t live in my community. It really wasn’t until high school that I even had any contact with any other Black people.
It was the first time that I can remember having a group of Black students at my school. My original reaction was one of mild curiosity - these students seemed really different from me. They talked differently, dressed differently, and acted differently. We didn’t seem to have much in common, and I didn’t know how to bridge that gap so I did the easy thing and kept to my own group. There was one Black girl on the periphery of my circle of friends. She managed to divide her social time with my group and hers, and although we weren’t close, it was a start.
Then in my 20’s I dated my first Black man. It was a brief episode, but eye opening, nonetheless. We were at a club one night when some shouted something at us. Although I couldn’t hear the words over the noise, I could tell it was insulting. It puzzled me that someone whom neither of us knew would want to bother us, but my date didn’t appear surprised at all. Nearly a decade later, I had a short relationship with a different Black man. He didn’t like going out in public together unless it was late at night. I was a bit hurt and asked him about it. I thought he didn’t want to be seen with me, but after our conversation, I realized that it wasn’t about me at all. He simply didn’t feel comfortable or safe being seen with a White woman. That was the moment my journey into awareness began.
I began to notice that People of Color were frequently treated differently than White people, especially as the political climate became more polarized. The country was hurting, especially African Americans. I made it a point to open my world and my heart. I read a book entitled, “A Real American,” and it showed me the perspective of people who have been marginalized in this culture for decades, even though they are Americans just as much as any White person. I attended a training on Social Equity at work, and my eyes opened wider.
I watched helplessly as a Black woman co-worker was ostracized at work and eventually driven out for having a different perspective. I told her I was sorry to see her go, but she said she was used to it, and that she didn’t have the energy to fight this particular battle when she didn’t feel welcomed. My heart was heavy. I confided my concerns to another Black co-worker, one whom I considered my friend. When she indicated she didn’t want to talk about it any further, I felt compelled to add that my Whiteness affords me the privilege not to have to think about how I come across to others. Now I wish I could take back those words. I could have just sat with that and provided my silent support. I have come to realize that my statement was driving an already obvious and painful point further. My intent was to share that I understood, but in reality I was unaware of the power of my own impact and the pain it causes.
Looking back, I realize how far I have come in my awareness. But evolution takes time and experience, and I still have a long way to go. I am lucky, I am not a victim of racism. But I understand now that my experience is one from a privileged position. My work towards social justice has become very important to me. I am grateful for my growing friendship with my Black coworker and look forward to having more open discussions when she is ready. But mostly, I look forward to listening, to really hearing what she, and others, have to say.
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