discrimination

Do Teenage White Females Understand Their Privilege?

Last Saturday, I went to Tout Suite to indulge in their infamous brunch and do some leisure reading. As I approached, four young white women stopped to take selfies, bare-shouldered and Birkenstocked. I stood patiently waiting for them to either finish or notice they were blocking me. Eventually, they politely let me pass. I walked into Tout Suite and was struck by the privilege I afforded them. One they didn’t even know they had. They had a luxury most minority girls don’t. In their aloofness and adolescent frivolity, they had been privileged with innocence. This innocence, that made them not a blockade, but just teens being teens. This innocence, that if something happened to them, they would automatically be victims. This innocence, that frees them to be nonspeculative of the world around them. It was a careless and free innocence.

I hadn’t ever noticed it before. I wasn’t angry or upset with these girls. As I settled into my book, I watched them. Lingering in front of the case of desserts, unaware of the line behind them. No one tempting to urge them or hurry them. They took selfies in front of everything. Older couples looked upon them and smiled. One spilled their drink, and several people stopped to help this damsel.

I don’t want to spend much more time discussing these 4 white adolescent females. I cannot speak on their assumed innocence. Rather, I was heartbroken for my own. I work with a predominantly African-American community. I spend a substantial amount of time with black girls. We talk. We laugh. We cry. We do each other’s hair. When I look at them they are innocent girls, but I know the world does not see them this way. Black girls don’t get the luxury of innocence. My girls get hyper-sexualized earlier. I don’t know if it is hitting puberty earlier or the commodifying language we use with black skin. All, I know you never hear anyone saying about little white girls, “Your skin is like a yummy dollop of mashed potatoes”, but there lives a level of impurity and “chocolate sinfulness” in a black girls’ skin.

Those 4 girls, were allowed to be free, and the world accommodated that.

Perhaps, history or society or a blend of the two has placed a filter on the innocence of the black girlhood. Recently, a study was released discussing the Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood. It is a good read. It is pretty spot on. I agree not only based on my experiences but the experiences of my girls.

I don’t know where is post is meant to go. I have thought about this for a week. It makes me scared for black girls. Worse, if there is little innocence to be given to black girls. I cannot imagine the consequences for black women.

Actually, I can…

God help us.

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Christian + Black

There are identities that shape who we are: white, gay, Muslim, female, poor, disabled. No matter where you fall on the multiple axes of this spectrum, you identify with your ability, race/nationality, gender, religion or lack of religion, or sexual orientation. In adolescence, you are at war with what your primary identity will be. In adulthood, you shape your other identities to fall in line with your primary.

I didn’t grow up identifying as black. I was Nigerian. I ate Nigerian food. I went to Nigerian parties. I wore Nigerian outfits. My first recollection of engaging with black, non-Nigerians, was when I was seven. I vividly remember going to Girls Inc. over the summer and hating it because of the girls there. They were black. I remember thinking, I don’t like these black girls, as if I was not one of them.

Since childhood, my world has been overwhelmed with white people. My first crushes, my favorite shows, my music all pointed to a world absent of the cultural diversity that makes life as rich as a Godiva chocolate. It was not until college, I was bombarded with what I had missed: black people, an African-American culture, and a love for not only being Nigerian, but black. It was the emergence of a new and vibrant identity. Concurrently, my religious identity solidified.

Most times when you hear about two identities being at war with each other, it is sexual orientation and religion. However, my newfound blackness and Christianity were at odds with each other and still are. My last semester at Georgia State (2012), in Sanford, Florida a young African-American boy was shot by a neighborhood watchman. This boy was heard pleading for his life. He died. My heart sank as my blood boiled. As, recent history elapsed there have been many stories like this one with names whose legacy has been boiled down to a hashtag and a headline.

What do I do? I dunno. What I have done, is silently condemn the whiteness surrounding me. I make passive aggressive racist remarks and off-putting jokes that don’t address the heart of sin and evil in this world. I would be a moron to not believe that racism, prejudice, and discrimination are not simply societal issues, but spiritual issues as well. I am a fool to not address them as such. I am a coward to not ask, in humility, the hard questions and have the hard conversations.

Paul’s words challenge me: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” Do, I consider my blackness a loss? Now, if I have some white readers who are quick to consider their skin color as a loss, let me rephrase the question. Do you consider the privileges received from being white as a loss for the sake of knowing Christ? (And, if you think there are no privileges to being white, please call me and I will tell you about some of them.)

Sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes, I hold on to my black card so tightly. Scared that God is going to call me to forgive the injustices of white people against African-American people and me. Scared He is going to tell me to forgive the teachers who paid me no attention unless I made them laugh. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive every person who’s told me, “You are pretty…for a black girl”. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive other Christians who don’t care. Scared, He is going to tell me to forgive.

The problem is He already has. He even set the example for me. One that shows forgiveness is painful. Forgiveness costs.

My primary identity is in Christ. So, what do I do with my blackness? I remember, God made me black. God knows that if I fully submit myself to Him. If, I make him first. If I consider my skin as loss. He will ultimately be glorified in my blackness. My blackness gives me ease of access to certain audiences in which I would be impenetrable. My blackness brings relatability  to other people of color. My blackness brings about a diversity and variety in humanity that God revels in. My blackness is apart of the creation in which God said, “it was very good”. My blackness is a beauty in which God delights.

In fact, the deeper my identity is placed in Christ, the better it is for all other components of my life. God can be glorified in my early overwhelming of white people. God can be gloried in my love for being black. God can be glorified in the devastation my heart feels when race is a factor in murder. God can be glorified in my anger towards injustice within the American judicial system. God can be gloried in my desire for reconciliation. It begins when all I am is placed in Him. It happens when I am first a Christian, then I’m black.

White Trash Christmas Party

I have no qualms about wearing clothes other people have worn, especially if they are stupendously discounted. This is the reason I am completely drawn to thrift shopping. One of the best thrift shops in Houston is Buffalo Exchange. They have unknown brands; they have designer labels. Most importantly to me they have it for cheap. Buffalo Exchange draws in an eclectic crowd of people. However, yesterday I was quite surprised to see four upper middle class women in their forties shopping at thrift shop.

I passed them walking towards the sweater rack. One of the four women holds up a pair of shorts and exclaimed, “These are perfect.” I am nosy so I glanced over and thought, “Those are inappropriate.” I collected nine items I wanted to try on and went into the dressing room. The four women were also trying on their future purchases. From my room one of them gasps, “That outfit is spot on…” Again I’m nosy, especially when it comes to people putting great outfits together, I peek out of the curtain to catch a glimpse of said outfit. As my eyes lock in on it, the women finishes her sentence, “…for the WHITE TRASH CHRISTMAS PARTY!” I could not even imagine. I’m not white, but I was offended.

Blame it on the ridiculous amount of social documentaries I’ve been watching. Perhaps, it is my maturing views on race and culture and poverty and their intersecting points. But, that these women would throw a Christmas party and the theme is white trash is jaw dropping. Let’s be honest though, if twenty years younger these would be the same white female college students throwing racially themed sorority parties.

I think what gets me the most in all of this. Is that they are acknowledging that they describe people as trash and in turn attempt to mock them. This described white trash, do you think that they dress in the manner they do by choice? Even if people in poverty had access to name brands do you think for a second they would be able to afford them? But let’s be real here, America has a culture where we ascribe value to people based on how they look, not on the contents of their character. We are the most shallow nation in the world. Then we go to the larger issue of describing people as trash. Let’s look at genocides in history. They all began with the notion that groups of people should be valued as lesser than human because of some non-sensible opinion-based notion. People have been described as rats, cockroaches, scum, dirt, insects, and inadvertently trash. And because enough people saw them this way they were treated this way. Eventually, they were massacred. American government don’t think of yourself as too high and mighty. Ignoring the historical mistakes of slavery and racially motivated incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War 2, we treat our poorest like trash. By binding them with a paper pushing system rather than creating avenues for people in the lowest rungs to both be productive and be supported. Our nation kills our poor by depriving them.

You know it is not that I hate America. It is not even about disliking these women. I just have a problem with labeling people as trash when it is an issue of poverty.