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Just a White Girl

I remember the very first time I realized I was just a white girl. And I don’t mean in the sense that I became aware of my skin color and how it differed from that of my darker skinned friends.  I mean the first time I became aware that I was JUST a white girl. With privilege I didn’t ask for or want.

It was May of 2005. I needed one final English credit and a linguistics credit and found a Maymester course which satisfied both requirements. It would mean fewer hours at work for three weeks, but three weeks!! I would officially be a senior in college.

The course turned out to be a film studies course on race and ethnicity in the media and literature. I learned more about myself and the world in those three weeks than I had in the previous four years of college courses.

Our final would be a presentation covering what we’d learned about our own race and ethnicity while taking the course.

That’s when I realized I was just a white girl.

My race is one of oppression and my ethnicity, if geographical locations can be considered such, was “southern,” which, given history made things doubly worse somehow. What could I possibly contribute to this discourse that would be meaningful in any possible way?

I said as much in my final exam.

“I’m just a white girl. I don’t really HAVE an ethnicity.”

I got an A.


The second time I became aware of status as just a white girl came a few months later, during a discussion in one of my education courses, and once again I was caught off guard. I railed against the lesson, grappling with the words written in one of our required readings.

The author, Lisa Delpit, asserted that white women couldn’t teach children of color, Black children specifically, because we didn’t understand the cultural differences and coded language used by Black mothers and teachers. Those students wouldn’t respond to our methods of asking nicely instead of giving direct orders.

“But students are students! HOW DARE SHE say I can’t teach children of color!! HOW DARE SHE!”

I was angry. It was visceral. I said as much.

This woman who didn’t even know me deigned to assume what kind of teacher I would be to students who didn’t share my same pigmentation. She didn’t believe that I was capable of reaching ALL students. Was she REALLY going to advocate for classrooms segregated by color and teachers assigned to their respective students based on race?!

That was not what she meant. That was not what she meant at all.

I learned that lesson soon enough, though at the time I was too colorblind to see it.


Colorblindness doesn’t work.

Teaching our white students and our white children that race doesn’t matter and doesn’t exist isn’t working. We think we’re doing a good thing by saying “we’re all the same underneath our skin” and that’s true. We are.

But change isn’t happening because we’re not acknowledging the very serious realities of what it means for the rainbow of people living in America, and the truth is that it’s very different for each of us. Easier for some and much, much more fraught with anxiety and oppression for others.

The situation in Ferguson, MO last week has dredged up some feelings about race and ethnicity and being just a white girl that I’ve been trying to swallow for quite some time now. I’ve tried and tried to hold them in because once they escape I can’t take them back. I know that. You know that. We all know that.

I’m just a white girl. And lately I’ve been hearing a lot of “sit down and stop talking because this isn’t your issue and it’s not your fight.”

But this IS my issue and this IS my fight because I believe in the interconnectedness of humanity. That while we’re all different, change doesn’t happen unless we all make it so, and I can’t make it so if I say nothing.

When I think of the suffragists, I think primarily of the men who lobbied and protested and picketed to secure women the right to vote. They didn’t have a dog in that fight aside from believing it to be a fundamental right of all citizens of the United States. They already had the right to vote. Why should they care if women did?

They cared because it was the right thing to do. They recognized their privilege and how silencing voices oppressed a group of people.

I care not only because it’s the right thing to do but also because I believe in the fundamental right of humans NOT to be afraid to leave their houses or send their children into the world. I believe in equality. That our children–that WE–all deserve to be treated and seen as equals in the lives of the public AND the law.

I recognize my white privilege and, quite frankly, I hate it. I didn’t ask for it. I don’t deserve it. Maybe that turns my white privilege into white guilt. I don’t know.

So I guess I better put it to good use.

I want to amplify the voices sending the messages we all need to hear. I want to share the stories of those mothers living daily with the fear of letting their young men out into the world, because while all mothers fear their children leaving the nest, even to make a trip to the store, the fear is very different for mothers of color, particularly in the wake of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford III, and Trayvon Martin.

I want to stand up and shout that racism–covert, overt, systematic, systemic, and everything in between–is unconscionable. I want to know how to teach my son what to do should he see racism occurring around him, how to fight against it, and how to stop it for good.

I want that because I want a world for ALL of our children where none of them fear anything other than the ordinary parts of adolescence and adulthood.

But the truth is I’m scared.

I’m terrified because I’m just a white girl. I don’t want to step on toes or offend or seem like I’m attempting to silence the voices that matter or shout more loudly than anyone else. I just want to throw mine into the mix and be heard.

I want to do better for my children, yes, but mostly I want to do better for yours.

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Andrea B (@goodgirlgonered)

Wednesday 20th of August 2014

Miranda, I'm shocked that there are so few comments on your post, as I feel like I've seen it shared a good handful of times and I'm finally getting around to reading it in its entirety.

Thank you for using your voice. I know what you mean in many ways. I know what you mean about wondering if it's okay to toss our own voices into the mix. And I know that it is, but still ... I feel you.

This was a fantastic post, my friend. Huge.

A'Driane Nieves

Wednesday 20th of August 2014

It's important for white people (and all people with some form of privilege) to use their privilege for good. Listening, sharing stories, and amplifying the voices of those who've historically been silenced & marginalized is a crucial aspect of "the fight" that I wish more folks would employ. And I agree that it's going to take ALL of us to create real and effective change in regards to racism and race relations in this country, but after all I've read across the internet and overheard in conversations offline? Here is the issue white people need to fight: themselves. The ingrained and pervasive beliefs and thoughts about people of color that they've been conditioned to accept and believe whether wittingly or not. That's the only way a breakthrough will happen and change can actually take root. That's the only way we can build a new foundation for the world we want our kids to live in where this is a non issue. If you see a black or brown man and instinctively think something negative? Fight against that. If you see a woman of color and assume something about her based on a stereotype? Fight to change that within yourself and then pass it on to your kids, to those around you that you engage and interact with. Fight the urge to stay silent because you're afraid. (Which you did today). Call out racist behavior and beliefs in yourself and others. Fight the prevailing myth that black and brown people aren't "good." Call out colorblind ness for what it is-covert racism. Encourage others to be color brave. To see others' differences but not define them by such. Understand that "justice" and "due process" in this country was never MEANT to extend to black and brown people because we have never been considered HUMAN. The foundation of this country, upon which "the system" is built upon is inherently racist and exclusionary. People need to really grasp that and see how THAT is interwoven throughout our systems and democracy-legal and otherwise. But we can only change that when we look inward and start checking ourselves and our beliefs and questioning why we instinctively do certain things and think certain ways about people just on sight. Until people look inward and do the soul work necessary to dismantle what's at the root of all of this, effective change won't happen-we'll keep losing the fight in the long run and that world we want for our kids either won't exist or will have the same faulty foundation ours does. And more unarmed black and brown people will keep dying (every 28hrs it's being said, now) at the hands of those wielding power....those sworn to "serve and protect" will keep going unchecked and given shields to hide behind.

That's the fight white people need to engage in, IMO. So, yes speak up, even though you're "just a white woman/man", amplify the voices of those marginalized who are sharing their reality and railing against oppression...but also realize your part of this fight is largely internal and should start there.

Thank you for speaking up.


Wednesday 20th of August 2014

I absolutely agree with you that the battles for me to fight are with people who have the same skin color as me. Because I'm planting myself on the other side of this. So if it's my job to educate other white people about the various forms of racism pervasive in our society today, by telling them when they're wrong, voting for those who will bring about real, lasting change, and educating my children to make the world a better place, that's a job I readily accept and a fight I'm willing to take on.

A'Driane Nieves

Wednesday 20th of August 2014

I also REALLY loved what Kym said in this post about the fight":

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