Guest post by Louisa Wyatt re-published from her personal blog:
(These posts were made by two Facebook friends of mine. The first by a white female who, after reading this 7-point listicle, still could not understand how to show her “appreciation and love” for a culture without being appropriative. The second by a white, upper middle class female who, had she fact checked the content of this article, would have realized the video she’s condemning was unethically produced and edited by an anti-abortion group.)
I attended a private Catholic high school in the South–everyone was white.
I now attend Northwestern University just outside Chicago–everyone is liberal.
My newsfeed ranges from posts advocating for the protection of trans women of color to posts condemning the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
I have countless relatives and friends who unfriend or threaten to unfriend persons who post content that offends them or a people or cause they hold dear. The Michael Brown shooting and subsequent riots in Ferguson served as the catalyst for this trend among my friends, a trend that has continued since.
I identify as biracial, but in high school I was the only black girl in my grade. All my friends were white, all my teachers were white, making me–half black/half white–black.
The Knoxville Catholic High School student body is essentially comprised of upper middle class white kids with conservative parents who have only ever gone to school with upper middle class white kids with conservative parents. At Catholic there is really no diversity of opinion and absolutely no filter on the mouths of the teens who inhabit it.
“Sup my nigga?”
Use of the N-word was constant.
“We should bring back literacy tests so that stupid black people can’t just vote for Obama because he’s black.”
White conservatism was overwhelming.
Prior to attending KCHS I went to public elementary and middle schools, and, while neither were dramatically more diverse than my high school racially, they were in terms of economic status. Still, at my public schools I never felt as though I was the sole representative of African Americans because (a) I do not identify as African American and (b) there were more than 3.5 black kids in the grade.
The first time I spoke out against an ignorant comment was one of the first weeks of my freshman year. It was my honors English class of around 12 kids, and we were discussing the poem “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou. A boy complained that black people were always reminding white people of slavery and said the past was the past–blacks should move on, forget about it, get over it. He wasn’t the one who enslaved black people, he said, so why should he feel bad for being white all the time? Every white head in the class nodded in agreement, and the white teacher said nothing to counter his statements.
For the first time in my life, I was black.
I called him out.
“Okay, I’m sitting here–the only black person in the room–and I’m going crazy right now,” I said.
Several kids came up to me apologetically following my denial of their joint request for ignorance, for oppression, for the stifling of black voices. Most kids began with, “I didn’t know you were black,” as if they would have saved their racist comments for the privacy of their all-white classes had they known.
For the next four years, I headed the KCHS racist police–department of one.
I continued to call people out for their racist or homophobic comments, but not nearly enough. For every time I condemned a person’s ignorance, there were multiple occasions upon which I did not. I was tired–tired of telling people off for the same shit day after day, tired and almost embarrassed by the looks of “there she goes again” whenever my passion flared, tired of my teachers pulling me aside after class and asking “Are you okay?” No I’m not okay. I’m surrounded by a bunch of mildly racist, wealthy, entitled kids who say and think in such limited ways because they’ve been in front of a mirror their entire lives.
Northwestern University has been a breath of fresh, liberal air.
I made a group of friends so diverse we joke that every picture we take warrants a spot in an NU brochure. I took classes on intersectionality and on the relationship between law and society. I’ve never heard someone say the N-word or use homophobic slurs or try to touch my hair (okay that actually happened once).
Northwestern most certainly isn’t perfect, but the people I surround myself with are pretty damn close to it. Everyone I know is liberal and politically correct and desires to educate themselves as much as possible on the experiences of the marginalized. All my friends share my opinions on institutional racism, transphobia and gender policing, women’s rights and it goes on.
I’m being checked by my friends as well as administering the checking.
I’m biracial again.
In such an environment, it’s easy to forget about the people I used to be surrounded by. It’s easy to forget that I used to hear racial and homophobic slurs hourly and could go an entire day without seeing another black person besides my father.
Then I login to Facebook.
The high school experience comes flooding back to me. From white women questioning how wearing traditionally black hairstyles could possibly be cultural appropriation to a hetero white male discussing women’s reproductive rights, the ignorance, mild racism and privilege of the Knoxville Catholic High School student body demands my recognition.
Seeing this variety of opinions is important for me; it’s good for me; it motivates me to effect change.
When I saw two girls from a year below me post a picture of themselves wearing sweatpants, snapbacks, white sneakers and teardrop face tattoos for KCHS twin day (caption: “Happy Minority Monday”), I screen shot it and sent it to my old guidance counselors. In the email I detailed my experience as the KCHS racist police. They said they were deeply upset by the stories I shared; they said would work toward promoting a more inclusive environment. I’m not sure how much has been done or how much can be done, but they assured me they would try.
Obviously shooting my guidance counselors an email isn’t the most effective way to combat ignorance, but the fact is the racism I saw on Facebook motivated me to act in some way. We cannot just unfriend our racist, homophobic friends. If we live in a progressive bubble, we become just as ignorant. We need to act. We need to effect change.
I’m done looking in the mirror–I’m not unfriending people on Facebook anymore–because how will I shape and be shaped by people who think exactly like me?
A music junkie who seeks to discover only the most obscure artists, Knoxville native Louisa Wyatt’s journalism crush began small–on alternative music blogs. This crush eventually grew into an obsession with journalism’s ability to bring underrepresented stories to the fore and inspired Wyatt to pursue it as a major at Northwestern University. There she joined the Mixed Race Student Coalition and soon after realized a passion for reporting on issues of gender and diversity, resulting in a double-major with African American Studies. The product of two ethnicities and cities, Wyatt hopes her intersectionality delivers unique perspectives and angles to every story.
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