The Narrative We Hide: Being A Poor White Girl from the “Hood”

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Earlier this week, for about the millionth time someone called me racist in a conversation in which I said I was angry about police violence and racism in the schools because I watched everyone I loved and knew go through it. Then the articles started circulating about how white people can be an ally. “Speak to other white people and explain reality to them.” Well, when I tried that, they told me I wasn’t white but I do it anyway. In fact, a number of white people have called me “basically black” and several of my friends of color say that I’m technically “not white.” Stand up for it at the white social gatherings you attend!” Where are these happening? I’m genuinely asking because I was not invited and if I were I would film me spitting on the invitation. I have never lived anywhere that I was in the majority and I never will. “Don’t try to shift the conversation to class! Race comes first!” But racism is a function of class? It’s roots are in the organization of labor. “Don’t speak if you are white about racism,” I was told this week. “You don’t have first hand knowledge,” said someone who didn’t grow up watching her friends get arrested in the ghetto. The thing about being poor is that the police are going to police you because you live in a poor neighborhood. I’ve had several encounters with the police and so have the white boys from back home, if anything I’m bothered less because I’m female. Vincent and I make a concerted effort to be well dressed at all times so we can appease the authority figures. Teachers told me that people like me couldn’t go to college. Being white didn’t stop me from seeing violence, it didn’t keep my little sister from getting jumped for being white and it didn’t make starving and poor healthcare any easier. Because here’s the thing, I would never claim to know what it’s like to be black for my friends back home, that is a different experience but I’ve experienced more first hand oppression that we define racially than the rich black kids at Stanford. That’s not to say class Is more important than race, but simply that the story is more complicated on the margins than people realize. People of privilege think that their experience is the experience of everyone else. So when people at Stanford said no interracial marriage was happening, that was a fact in their community, but not mine. I want to be the good soldier but it’s hard when my existence contradicts the narrative and frankly, I think the narrative is dangerous.

The idea that only black people are poor is what allows black elites to claim a special status and then point to the black communities in the poor areas and condemn them. It’s what allows them to say stupid things like “the police are beating you because your parents either weren’t present or were working multiple jobs and didn’t read to you.” And the idea that there are no poor whites is what makes it easy for the Republican Party to pick up the Rust Belt by looking at desperately poor people and saying: “see, the Democrats don’t care about you. ” It is the lie that allows us to spend more time talking about words than they we do about solving poverty, as if changing the name will make the elites actually feed the poor. And it hides an important and beautiful fact that could unify us. What fact?

That I exist. That there is a little white girl marrying a Hispanic boy she grew up with in a wedding that will be a diverse as the community they came from. Because the working classes have always defied the laws of
separation and have lived in the way they choose and that in many places in this country they choose to live together. It is a unifying narrative that there is a little white girl whose family intermarried when it was illegal, whose family was sterilized during the Eugenics movement and whose family has always lived and loved inclusively no matter what we are told and policed into doing. That diversity, that love is what makes this country beautiful. It is a beautiful fact that my part Choctaw part-white brother was sworn in with other members of his community, that he fights for a son who was a product of love, that people like me and the people in my family have always loved, damn the consequences.

Isn’t that the most beautiful story to say in front of tanks? You can divide us, you can hurt us, you can hate us but you will never conquer us because we will be a community anyway.

Maybe the problem is that when I say that it angers me personally to see people of color mistreated by police that there are people telling me that it’s not possible, because I happen to be the the blue eyed member of my family. Just as part of problem is that conservatives look at my relationship and ask me if I should be getting interracially married (Vincent and I were surprised to learn from white people that our relationship was multicultural). And I am not alone, I’m just conveniently the only one of my kind they let speak. So I’m going use my voice to say this:

You can force us into poverty, you can make us sick, you can teach us to live in fear but no one is ever going to tell us who to love and that’s a tradition that is older than this country and you haven’t stopped it yet.

Because love is more powerful than any weapon they have and they know it. Otherwise they wouldn’t put it in the legal code to ban it and they wouldn’t fight so hard to maintain hate. I don’t speak out and promote love because I’m a an idealist who doesn’t see reality, I do it because it’s the most effective weapon and armor I have. I know because like the rest of my family, I’m battle hardened and weary but relentless. Love is unstoppable. And they know that and that is why they fear it and that is why I’m excluded from the narrative.

There were several comments on this piece where people indicated that they were distracted from my point because of some of the language. The original title included the phrase “basically black” which is a phrase I also find offensive and illustrative of the problem but it’s not a label I gave myself. My intention was to demonstrate that the relationship with race and class is more complicated than we allow it to be and that the complicated nature should be accepted to allow a better understanding of humanity and inclusivity. The intention was not to claim that I’ve suffered reverse racism-which I don’t believe is possible- or that my life was the same as black people because it’s not. And that’s the point, that we shouldn’t allow people to define poverty or race in this manner. Other people felt that I had no business saying who suffered more oppression, but the problem is that I do suffer more than rich people, just as poor black people suffer more than rich black people. If you are financially privileged then you are privileged. Other people said they appreciated the beauty of this piece and to those I say thank you. If after reading this piece you find it jarring, I would recommend reading some of my other pieces on race before getting too angry with me. If you grew up with privilege my experience is different from yours, that’s the point. That our understanding is more complex and that if we allow for complexity we can move forward.

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One thought on “The Narrative We Hide: Being A Poor White Girl from the “Hood”

  1. I guess you will have to shake it off and continue to tell your own truth even when it is difficult for some recipients to accept. I think your opinions are expressed clearly and well, and your motives beneficent. That you got where you are via an uncommon path is something to celebrate. It should help you create a more innovative life in response to oppressive systems and structures.

    Culture, class and family are where we all start, but as time passes and you learn more, identity becomes more and more individualized. By learning to be at home everywhere, with everyone, you become less a product of your origins and more one of your own design and expression.

    Like

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