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Do You Even Have a Black Friend*: Part II

November 15, 2010

*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 are 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 do 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.

  1. November 16, 2010 9:12 am

    I’ve noticed this kind of thing, too. I don’t know why so many white women seem to think that as long as they don’t make an explicit preference for white folks, they’re not being racist. I guess they must really think nonwhites are stupid, because the truth is they aren’t fooling anybody.

  2. November 16, 2010 3:04 pm

    I attempted to make it clear that this woman is by middle class standards, a good person. However, there is nothing I or anyone could ever tell her to make her see what she is doing and why it is not at the very least “equal.” Anti-racism is a journey that has to be traveled within oneself and acted on outside that self. She will have to realize her racist preference. She will have to question why and how she developed that racist preference. If she is interested in treating all females equally, she will have to change her behavior. Anything I or anyone else say to her will be dismissed as an “attack” and others will support her conclusion. Any more I or anyone else could do for her would be perceived as “forcing” her. Regardless of how cliché it sounds, it must be her journey to make/take. So few take that journey, and there is a reason why so few take that journey, yet, the ones who do not take the journey cannot even admit that they are refusing to.

  3. November 16, 2010 3:37 pm

    I have this conversation all the time. Like, how come all the permanent posts at my workplace are taken either by men, or by Aryan-looking, skinny, blonde, young women, and all the non-white, old, fat women (often more experienced and better qualified) are on these crappy fractional contracts and can be ‘let go of’ anytime? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been assured that this is merely a coincidence. How come the teachers who have classes full of white Polish and Lithuanian students are given extra preparation time, organise trips and extra study, where the classes full of refugees from Africa and the Middle East are relegated to the bottom of the list for everything? Apparently, this is just a quirk of timetabling, and the way resources are allocated. Why is it that the white students are fast tracked through exams, while the non-white students are kept in the same lower level classes for years, in some cases? Well, it’s because the white students work harder to achieve, of course. It’s just the way it is. And the people who create and enforce these racist practices would be utterly horrified to be called racist. They don’t see the racism there at all. And when it is pointed out to them, it’s like butter in a hot pan, it just sort of slides off them without making any kind of impression.

    • November 17, 2010 3:36 pm

      OMG, I so feel your pain. I’m about to look up an article I only heard a segment of on television in the wee hours. Something along the lines of how a teacher complained about a textbook having too many stereotypes in it, and now she has been fired. My daughter’s literature book has too many stories with boy protagonists. And what adds the sucky cherry on top is some of those stories are written by women. So, I supposed the committee (full of women) attempted to balance the authors without thinking how the children would not even consider the authors but instead be influenced by/identify with the protagonist,—who are mostly fucking boys! White boys. We are on the 20th or so story and there has been two girls (presumably white), one Mexican boy, one black boy, and all the rest white boys. Oh but the white boys are New York dwellers, –as if that makes them diverse.

    • November 17, 2010 5:48 pm

      That is such shitty treatment. It was obvious that professor got fired for being ‘uppity’ and challenging that bullshit. I would not be surprised if the place I work did a similar thing. They are shitheads. They’ve just advertised a full time post in my department, but on the application form there are two questions about ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘religious beliefs’. Not in the equal opportunities monitoring form (which is separate and is supposed to be detached from the application so that the hiring committee aren’t prejudiced), but in the actual application form itself. And I will bet you my last fifty p that they don’t hire a lesbian atheist. So what are those questions there for? Sorry if this is somewhat off topic.

      I was just thinking how institutional racism and institutional oppression in general have become invisibilised by the whole ‘equal opportunities’ thing. For one thing, the way racist practices hide behind the veneer of ‘filling quotas’. For example, our local city council are very proud to have filled their quota for employing non-white people – but what they don’t tell you is that the vast, vast majority of non-white workers are doing menial, low-paid, and part-time work, such as cleaning, portering, care work and some admin. So what is presented as ‘anti-racism’ is actually just a cover for racism.

    • November 17, 2010 5:57 pm

      Speaking of racism hiding in “anti-racism,” I personally know of several cases that are monopolizing the time of EEOC where white men, yes white men have filed grievances that they are being discriminated against by their black bosses. When in actuality, their own discrimination of their black bosses is the discrimination. But EEOC claims that all cases must be reviewed and hence resources are being strained because of these white men refusal to accept black people as supervisors. And of course, those white men can call the black supervisors niggers and it is okay because they only called them niggers in retaliation of being discriminated against, although there is nothing tangible the white men can produce, unlike, you know, how they called their black superior a nigger, repeatedly. Even though there are witness statements signed by other employees stating the white employees used the racist slur etc, the white man’s perception must be considered!

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