HOW TO AVOID WHITE PRIVILEGE & GOING PERMANANTLY COLOURBLIND

Yes, it's OK to laugh. I won't tell anybody...

Yes, it's OK to laugh. I won't tell anybody...

How to Avoid White Privilege & Going Permanantly Colour Blind
Cut by: Davita Cuttita

So to answer the first question, how does one avoid profiting from White Privilege? The simple answer I can offer you at this time is: you can’t.

To answer the second question of how not to go permanantly colour blind, it’s: listen to Coloured people and not only accept that you have White Privilege, but question it and recognize it.

Whenever I as a Coloured person, mention to a White person that “Hey, what you are saying or suggesting is suggestive of your White Privilege” they get defensive. I can see why they would be hurt, it hurts especially if you’re trying really hard to be anti-racist but y’know what? Buck up and admit you fucked up, my homie. Rather than getting defensive, a more positive and constructive response would be as simple as asking said Coloured person why they feel that way and chatting it out over some tea and Public Enemy albums.

I find that being colour blind is something that only White people can do and I, as a person of Colour, cannot. Why? Simple.

Being colour blind, in my opinion; runs in the same bracket as love and respect: one must be able to love and respect oneself in order to properly reciprocate it to others. White people have the option to be blind to their own colour in modern society because for the past 700 years; it’s been set up to accommodate White people and ONLY White people—Coloured people have just been given their basic human rights about 50 years ago and we are still trying to get on our feet and take responsibility not only for what has been done to us for hundreds of years but for what we do to one another.

Furthermore, it is easier for White people to be colour blind to themselves because for the past 700 years, Whiteness has meant every good thing in the book: intelligence, normalness, beauty, morality, kindness, ingenuity, and godliness while non-Whiteness has and continues to mean the opposite of those traits. We, as coloured people have many things to conquer such as internalized racism AS WELL AS the already established stereotypes of negativity of our Colour which, like the positives our White counterparts; is reinforced everyday and everywhere all the time.

I always think first of my hair when it comes to things such as White Privilege and being colour blind and I am sure many Black women out there can attest to my situation with similar ones of their own.

When I moved in with Grandpa Dinosaur and her folks for my first year of University, it was difficult for me to maintain good hair. It began to break, fall out and was extremely unmanageable and barely even “style-able”. A testament of my biracial father and Black mother, it is not quite “Black hair” but not quite “White hair” either; it is thick, brown, wavy and tall. I looked all over Grandpa Dinosaur’s neighbourhood (which is primarily Italian) but there were no salons that could do my hair.

I cannot go to a “White” salon because they do not do my hair. There are certificates all over the walls detailing their achievements and education but for whatever the reason, I guess it wasn’t important enough for them to learn to care for “Black hair”. They cannot do my hair and refer me to the closest “Black” salon whilst apologizing profusely and seeing me to the door. A White person can come to a Black salon because hey; if you haven’t noticed, once our hair is straight it’s pretty much like theirs.

I have never been to a Black salon that didn’t carry at least three or more (many more!) books filled with White hairstyles you can choose from. I have been to Black salons where White customers are served amongst the Black ones, male and female; I’ve even brought my White friends to them to get their hair done.

Anyway, not wanting to pull off a Homer Simpson look in Freshman year, I had to take 4 buses back to town and endure a journey spanning a bit over 3 hours to get to my usual hair salon. Since by the 3rd bus I was thoroughly exhausted, I went into the nearby mall and searched for a hairdresser. I went into the only place in the mall (at the time) and asked if I needed an appointment. Everyone stared at me, the lone Black face amongst all the White yuppies getting perms and faux hawks. Yes, the receptionist replied; I needed an appointment with Ms. J (no, not the runway coach…unfortunately). She gave me a card and it was now sunset so I had no choice but to ride the 3 buses back to G.D’s with my hair falling out. I called Ms. J, booked the appointment and returned at the end of the week.

Huh.

Ms. J was a Black woman. She washed my hair, treated it and answered all my queries on make-up and proper hair care. Occasionally, she would whisper about how the rest of the staff were generally nice but would sometimes “treat her differently”.

Let us look at two other scenarios involving hair that also exposes the flakeyness of behind being “colour blind” and touts White Privilege.

SCENARIO 1:

Grandpa Dinosaur and I meet a friend of hers at a salon as she was getting her hair done for her birthday. We go into the salon: Everyone is White except for myself, GD and her friend who is Asian. As we made chit-chat, a White woman with a biracial daughter came in demanding that the closest stylist “do something!” about her daughter’s hair. Poor girl looked like Simba from the Lion King on a bad day. The male hairstylist looked at the little girl and started stuttering, but the woman DEMANDED that “something must be done about her hair!” so he puts the girl in the chair and starts blow-drying and brushing her hair a lot. Right. And what were you hoping to accomplish with that, Mr. Hair School? They were there for a good half hour and the little girl’s hair remained the same, the mother became frustrated and angry with the hairstylist and the little girl started complaining and fighting back tears. I wanted to say something helpful (such as the place didn’t even possess the proper tools to do her hair and that the woman and stylist were both morons) but the lady was obviously a bitch and at the time, I was a…we’ll say “quieter” person.

SCENARIO 2:

I was at my regular hair dresser getting my hair did when two White women walked in. One with two children and another with one child: all three children were biracial. The White lady with two kids, who we’ll refer to as “Mama”, asked to talk to a hairdresser. Two Black, female hairstylists went up to her and she started asking questions about different hairstyles and how to do her children’s hair. She asked all the questions: “How do you get it straight? How do you braid it? What is that style called? How long does it take?” and looked through Black hair magazines. At the time, I was thinking “Wow, these are really stupid questions” but then I thought “Wait a minute…she’s White with biracial kids. It’s GOOD she wants to know what to do and what WE do”. Mama asked about the hairstyle like she sees “the basketball players on TV wear”. “You mean cornrows,” (Cain rows to us Caribbean folk) responded a hair dresser. Yes, Mama answered, she wanted everyone to have long ones that touched their back. Her friend agreed; they looked nice. So one by one, the hair dressers sat everybody in the chair and began braiding but THAT WASN’T ENOUGH FOR MAMA! Mama sat down in the chair too, picked up a magazine and got her hair braided the same way with one of her daughters. I remember Mama feeling shocked at the look and the tightness of her hair, but she never stopped smiling and neither did her kids (who looked like Don King before but now rocked braids). Everybody left the hairdresser happy with heads full of cornrows. The hairdressers gave Mama a card and told her to come back if she had any other questions or wanted the kids’ hair styled for another occasion. She thanked them.

Hair. That’s all it takes for me to realize my Colour and what it means to other people. All because of my hair, a whole bunch of zones invisibly marked “enter” and “no entry permitted” open up and I have no choice but to obey them or I will not be served.

I cannot be “colour blind” to myself although I can certainly believe racism is bullshit and do not perpetuate it. You can, too. I don’t get why being colour blind should be a pre-requisite or even a requirement of the non-racist; to me it’s something only a White person can do efficiently and a Coloured person cannot. Therefore, it’s just White Privilege Lite at the end of the day.

I go to work where I am actually the first non-White person to be employed there and am currently the only non-White person working there…my company has been around for decades, the branch I work at has been open for over  11 years.

Do you think I do not criticize my actions each day, wondering if hopefully, they will encourage them to hire other Coloured people? Certainly. Do you think I do not deliver even harsher criticism to my myself if I make any mistakes? Of course.

If something goes on negatively in the news about how a police officer beat/shot a Black man or woman to death for no reason, do you think I do not tremble inside that day when a cop car passes me by and slows down for a moment? When I was eight, my biracial father nearly joined that body count for the innocent crime of “walking home with a bag of milk for your children while biracial”. And yes, those cops won the case against him, the jury was mainly White except for ONE Black member and my father barely spoke “proper” English, he’d only been living in Canada for three years. I remember his blood on the kitchen floor. I remember my mother’s sobs. I remember my own fear.

I always remind myself that he went into that store colour blind and came out with clear vision through black and blue swollen shut eyes.

The colour blind can stay in their Disneyland surrounded by landmines of “I’m doing this for you!”

No, you’re not. Why can’t you do something with me instead of for me? Why can’t you just listen?

The White Privileged can stay in their Happy Place and deny what the world has given them before any of us were born. You are not chastised because you have the privilege; we know it’s not your fault and that you didn’t ask for it. You are chastised because you ignore us when we cry, you ignore us when we beg, you ignore us when we write and you ignore us when we speak: all you do is defend yourself against the people who you are “trying so hard for”, but you never submit to our cries for mercy, for one second of your time. I will leave you to fight alone in the dark and shake hands with the colour blind.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you and have only one request:

Dear reader, please clear your vision.

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~ by davitacuttita on August 27, 2008.

18 Responses to “HOW TO AVOID WHITE PRIVILEGE & GOING PERMANANTLY COLOURBLIND”

  1. d – you really brought it with this one! love it.

    have you read lisa jones book ‘bullet-proof diva’ – your post kinda reminded me of some of her essays. she is the daughter of u.s. activist amiri baraka and writer hettie cohen – she had a great piece on the politics of black hair i think you would like. shit i am showing my age, the book is from liek ’93.

    white people can not avoid having/holding racial privilege, but i do think they need to experience having it usurped or challenged.

  2. Wow becky, thanks for the great compliment!

    I will definitely check out that book and add it to my reading roster for the fall. Yeah, I do think we can challenge racial privilege, discussions such as these are just the tip of the iceberg. I also believe racial privilege would be best distributed via coupons–ooh! or even coke tabs.

    Oh, and age ain’t nuthin’ but a number, my dear. Thanks for reading.

  3. Thanks for these great examples of the hair thing, Davita. I hope a lot of white folks read this (I’ll certainly send some here). Your post proves that colorblindness is nothing but a wish.

  4. Mr. D, thanks so much for reading the post; I appreciate your comment. I’d be glad if more White people read this post and realize that the only answer to racism is anti-racism and working with, not for Coloured peoples.

  5. What a brilliant post. I came here through http://www.thefword.org.uk (British feminist website). I’m white, and am learning about white privilege so I can understand my actions and prejudices better. This was such a useful post, and I really loved the way you told it through hair stories. You mention working with Colored people, not for them. What would you suggest I do? I’m eager to volunteer or help out in any way that I can, but I’m also conscious of appearing condescending in any way (like in Hairspray, happy white girl saves the day for grateful Colored people!!). What would any of you suggest?

  6. Hello Helen,

    Thanks for commenting. Yes, I am aware of thefword UK, they’ve linked a few of my articles in the past and it’s an honour each time they do.

    I am happy you found the post useful. To answer your question, the first thing I always tell people who want to help is two things: LISTEN and get educated.

    You can scroll to the bottom of this post I’ve linked, in it I’ve posted many links around the web by various authors, Black and White, male and female, discussing race and White privilege. It’s a start. You can also check out our blogroll (particularly Racialicious; one of the biggest PoC oriented circles on the web, Resist Racism, Restructure! and Stuff White People Do): https://pddp.wordpress.com/2008/08/13/crying-out-loud/

    Doing a google search for the book “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin is also a great step. It’s the true story of a White American man in the 1950s who turns himself Black and lives that way, segregation, racism, poverty, n’ all, for over 6 weeks. I won’t spoil it for you. We’ll be talking about it’s main points here in the near future; it’s brilliant.

    By asking what you can do, you’ve already taken a BIG step most White people do not. That ONE question you asked shows that you believe Coloured people are capable of speaking for themselves and that yes; there is a problem to be solved. That question was an action of defiance against White privilege, in and of itself. Congrats.

    The next three things I tell them is ask questions all the time about everything and anything; don’t take anything personally and laugh because sometimes the road is long and hard.

    Feel free to pop back here once in a while and ask as many questions as you’d like. Thanks again for reading.

    If anyone else has suggestions for Helen, please post a comment.

  7. Thanks Davita.

    I’ve started reading your archives and have started reading Racialicious too. I’m already a fan of Stuff White People Like (I stumbled across it a while ago, and kept coming back), and I shall keep exploring the other blogs you’ve pointed to as well. I’ve also ordered Black Like Me online and I’m really looking forward to reading it – and to hearing what you have to say about it here!

    It’s a humbling, terrifying experience to suddenly think about my White privilege and see that I am just the same, if not much worse than, all the guys out there who mindlessly held me back and thought worse of me because I happen to have a vagina. I’ve also been cruising the fat activist forums and feminist forums and have been amazed and dismayed at the amount of unthinking prejudice. I’m a relative newcomer to feminism as well, and it makes me sad that this is such a prevalent trend. Basically, boo hiss.

    Thanks again for your advice.

    Helen

    PS I linked to this post on my (brand new!) blog. Hope you don’t mind.

  8. Correction: By Stuff White People Like I meant Stuff White People Do. Totally different blogs, but I do read both!

  9. Hi Helen,

    I hope you find the book and sites enriching; they really are.

    Boo-hiss indeed to all the hidden racism in well…every movement basically. I can’t say I’m amazed by it: I’m just amazed people have a problem with calling shit on it but at the same time, say they aren’t racist. A lot of anti-racism has been hijacked by White supremacy and White privilege lately; we’re gonna be doing an audit on that shit in the future here, too. Kinda why I don’t move in movements of any kind at all. Therefore, I highly suggest getting educated and listening above all else.

    Thanks for linking us. I read your blog already, good start. Looking forward to more.

  10. […] 29 August, 2008 — Mortality This post is really good […]

  11. interesting post … good job

  12. Thanks, uncensoredmind! Glad you liked it.

    Mortality: Thanks for the link. Tune in next time for more!! Same bat time, same bitch channel.

  13. I highly recommend Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink! He’s bi-racial, and he presentas some nice perspective on this among other topics.

  14. Thanks, myfavouritelife!

    I’ll do a google search for that n’ check it out. Thanks for reading, too.

  15. wow.

    sitting here with my black hair and reading this was an honor. i’m working to understand white privilege and how it came about. and it’s so interesting to me that something so simple that i live everyday can be stained when the rose-colored glasses are removed. i think it’s a lot easier to live in this country if you ignore or are ignorant to white privilege but you hit the nail right on the head. we need to continue to question why things are the way they are in our society and how and if we can correct it by tapping into the consciousness of others.

  16. Hello Miss Smith,

    Thanks for the compliment, I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

    Your question of where White Privilege comes from is answerable. White Privilege is simply the product of good old fashioned White Supremacy: the notion that “White is Right and well…fuck the rest of ya’ll; we will crush you”. Plain and simple; hard and fast, blunt and truthful.

    I highly recommend a visit to the blog “Assault on Black Folks’ Sanity” (by PoC) and “Stuff White People Do” (by a White person) as they discuss White Privilege in detail; the links are in our blogroll. Of course, also feel free to pop back here if you’re so inclined. Hope you find them informative.

  17. i read and subscribe to stuff white people do. that’s how i find you. 🙂

    will definitely check out assault …

    🙂

  18. […] I got to thinking about my trip, I never really thought how big a part hair would play overseas. It’s already bad enough here, I’m not sure how I’ll cope in Europe. Are they going to shoo me out the door because […]

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