Ok, I’m going to get personal and tell some of my stories about my experiences with white privilege, racial bias, and female fear. You ready? Also, I’m going to link a couple of other articles in reference to what I’m saying. I’m going to assume that you have read or will read these articles to get the references.
In case you’re a stranger reading this, let me start by introducing myself. I’m a white woman from a middle-upper class background. With an anglo-sounding name, blue eyes, and blonde hair, there’s no mistaking me for anything but white. And nobody taught me to be racist. Growing up, my parents told stories about segregation and how awful they thought it was, and in school I learned to admire Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. I heard my grandad say the N word, but I knew it was bad to say and think those things.
But as an adult, I’ve been learning that I still have my racial biases. It’s not overt racism, but it’s the harder to detect, subtle biases and assumptions that seep out and every now and then I’m aware of them. As a psychologist in training to become a multi-culturally competent psychologist, I’ve been taught that we all have these biases, and it’s good to recognize them and not ignore them.
Recently, I was providing a list of referrals sources to someone who is multi-racial. I hadn’t asked if they had insurance, so the list I prepared were the low-cost resources, places that were free or had reduced fees. I didn’t prepare a list of private resources, the ones you have to have money or money enough to have insurance to be able to access. At some point I realized that I hadn’t asked if the person had health insurance. So I did. And they did. What did I do? “Ok, here’s a list of low-cost resources in the area. But since you have insurance, you could also see a private provider for the cost of the co-pay, if they’re in network. Let me print you more referrals of others, and you can check with your insurance and see if any of them are covered. Just a second, let me go print that other list for you.”
Thinking about it later, I asked myself, “Why did I just assume they didn’t have insurance?” I think my assumptions about race played into it to. Because they weren’t white. Or at least didn’t look white. (And that’s another bias there too about bi-racial or multi-racial individuals, even when I someone’s ethnic background, my brain takes that shortcut to just categorize someone as whatever race they look like, instead of acknowledging the complexity of their identity). White people have resources. Non-white people are poor, and don’t have insurance. Of course I know that’s not true, but it’s the biased short-cut my brain takes some days.
And what was the message they heard from my actions that day?
I thought about Questlove’s article, and what he experiences as big black man who has a lot of success and money and privilege in some ways, but will always look like a big black man, and people will react to him that way.
It doesn’t matter that you’re getting your college education, that your family has money, that you’re not even black – you’re multi-racial – people like me are still going to make assumptions about you and people who look like you. Like the assumption I made that day. That you’re poor and don’t have insurance and can’t get those better services that people with more resources get to have. Because you look black. “You ain’t shit.”
“Oh, wait, you’re not who I thought you were! Ok, here, you can have the top shelf tequila. Anything else I can do for you?”
I sincerely hope that’s not the message they received. I hope they saw that I care about them and want them to get the services they need. That I believe they are a smart, capable person. But if they did get that other message, I would understand why.
But there’s more in Questlove’s article that I relate to. There’s the woman in the elevator. And I’m going to write more about her and me in my next post, which is why this is just a Part 1.