Do You Even Have a Black Friend*: Part II
*In my posts, “Black Friend” seems to have developed into meaning literally a black friend (as in a person that one is friends with) and metaphorically to mean engaging actively with anti-racism. It is too late to go back and restructure it now, sorry.
First, what is so tiresome when white people react to being called a racist and/or behaving in racist behavior is how they act like if they are not stringing a black man from a tree then they cannot possibly be a racist or engaging in racist behavior. When I see such reactions, I just want to scream out, “Do you think black folks are that stupid.” Obviously, and that in itself is racism.
There does not have to be a “Whites Only” sign on a door in order for it to be whites only. Recently, I had to go into a high school for a project. Often while doing my job there is not a room or office reserved for me so whatever free desk is available becomes my home. At this last school, that desk happened to be smack in the middle of the front and back offices. The front office is the reception area that parents and visitors enter/see when coming into the school and is architecturally designed to keep those visitors out unless ushered into the other side. The back office is for all the internal business of the school affairs, —teachers running in and out, students checking in to see if parents have dropped off lunches/change of clothes/gym clothes, and students waiting to see the counselor and/or the principal. The racial demographics of this particular school is a little more non-whites than whites, around 55%, with most of those non-whites being Latino/Hispanic and Asian.
There are two main counselors, a male and a female. Although a student is not assigned whichever counselor by sex, often the male counselor along with the male principal deal with many of the males, mostly because those problems are usually discipline. Technically, students are assigned to whichever counselor by the last digit of their social security number, 0-4 goes to the male and 5-9 goes to the female. Not sure what happens if one counselor ends up with a larger number of students than the other.
Anyway, I could care less about the male counselor; I thought he was a jerk. From my three weeks of observation he seemed to enjoy being one of the only males in a predominately-female environment. I focused my observations on the female counselor. Moreover, if you are too stupid at this point in the game to understand why we women need to examine and flush out all of our -isms without worrying about men is because we already know where we stand with men. Men of all races hate and oppress women. Why should I focus on one man to discover something I know already? Alternatively, I suspect in most cases male-centered focus is really an exercise in finding something to make a particular male an exception, and to give oneself hope for men. If women can work together to rid ourselves of our -isms at the root, then collectively we become a more solid force to oppose the male class. If not, we are just fighting personal battles between individual men and individual women.
Therefore, I watched her with no preconceived notions because I have never heard of her before or seen/read any of her work. Overall, this white woman is a very nice person. When I did talk to her she was very interesting and seemed susceptible to open-mindedness. If she had invited me to lunch/dinner, I would have probably went. However after three weeks of observations, I think she is a racist. She would probably be hurt and not understand why if anyone called her a racist. Nevertheless, she is a racist.
What gave her away was her invisible “Whites Only” sign on her door. I started noticing which students entered her office without an invitation. They were all white girls. There were white girls who graduated from the school and would drop by just to say hi to her. There were white girls who came in between classes and during lunch just to hang out in her office. This white woman counselor gave off warmth and comfort to these girls. One day, a scrappy looking white girl was sitting in the chair reserved for the student who is next in line for the principal. I couldn’t catch the particulars, but, I gathered the girl was in trouble. Apparently, it was serious trouble or at least something that could not be resolved that day because she was suspended for the remainder of the day and the whole next day. About an hour after the girl’s mother came and picked her up, the counselor who had been sequestered in her office the whole time came out and inquired about the girl’s name. No doubt, the counselor did not get involved earlier because it was principal business, and it was clear the counselor did not know this girl. However, after listening to the counselor talk to the office worker who told her the girl’s name, the counselor’s motive was revealed. The counselor made a note to meet with the girl when she returned from her suspension in order to prevent any future problems.
This special attention was not paid to the non-white girls who came into the office. There was no first name recognition. There was no special little meeting and cheering sessions for the non-white girls. There was no extra concern for the non-white girls who were suspended. Of course, they were not abused either, however, they were not extended the focused attention that the white girls received from the white counselor. Instead, they were met with, “What do you need in here?” “Shouldn’t you be in class?” “The bell is about to ring.” Most of the time if there were non-white girls coming into the office for anything other than principal business (or waiting to be picked up early), it was to make a quick visit to their non-white friends who were student office aides. This directed my attention at the race of the student office aides. Not one of them at any given period was white. Did white students simply not apply for student office aide as their elective? I soon discovered that the white students were mostly student teacher aides, and when every student applies for a particular elective for the upcoming year, it is the counselors who assign them to whatever. Therefore, the white counselor assigned white female students as teacher aides and non-white female students to office aides. Although for the record, there were at least two male non-white office aides. White male students either do not apply for or are not assigned to office and teacher aides as an elective. Sounds typical though. Why would he elect to put himself in an assisting/helping role?
All of this triggered my memory of school. When I was in school, the racial makeup was more along the lines of 65/35 black/white throughout the middle years and by high school 90/10 black/white, (white flight had flown). We had a white woman counselor, who was racist as hell. There is many stories to be told about her and how she did not steer our school toward college. Although I couldn’t label it as such at the time. She too had assigned the mostly white students as teacher aides and black students as office aides. There is something to be said about this particular division of labor. There is also something to be said about how the white females assigned to the teachers report to the counselor whereas the non-white females assigned to the office answer to and work for everyone, —office manager, office clerks, nurse, principals, and the counselors.
There is no way the non-white female office workers cannot see the white girls being treated more personally and better by the counselor. There is no way non-white females who have to wait in the office for business with the principal or the nurse or even for the counselor does not see this difference in treatment. Whereas she has to remind the counselor what her name is the counselor knows Emma’s name without hesitation. Yet, she does not have a “Whites Only” sign on her door.
Nevertheless, we all know this type of nuance can be explained away or simply dismissed as an isolated case.