Welcome back, everyone! Today, I am going to take us back to the topic of racism and whiteness.
i) Examining Normative Narratives
You may or may not remember my second self-story. If you need a refresher, you can read it here. The thoughts that ran through my mind as a five-year-old girl (Would the other kids like me, whose skin is different than theirs? Would they think that I am weird because of my differences? Was I allowed to play with kids whose skin was different, or were we meant to remain separated?) demonstrate several normative narratives. In particular, the normative narrative that colours other than white are the “other” or “different” skin colours is evident in my attitude toward my classmates. White privilege and white supremacy are seen even in children. As a white five-year-old, I was already questioning the segregation between people of varying skin colour. Although I did not conform to the normative narratives that had been presented to me, I did hesitate to rebuke them as I considered my options. I did not know what race meant, but I did wonder, at a very young age, whether it was a good reason for separation.
Carmel’s experience with racial ignorance and curiosity is similar to my own. Carmel states her thoughts as a young girl: “I did not understand why this girl named Oprah was darker than me. I asked, my mom “why is her skin different.”” She too expresses the normative narrative that non-white skin colours are the ones that are “different” and that whiteness is the norm. A couple of other normative narratives are expressed at the end of Carmel’s story:
My race was not hidden from me. It was the town I lived in. At the time, there were not many other races then white. But now the town is much more diverse, where everyone is accepted regardless of their race.
Stating that her race was not hidden from her implies that she was aware of her race in reference to space and time. I do think, though, that one’s lack of awareness about “other” races reinforces the idea that white skin is the norm. Lastly, “everyone is accepted regardless of their race” is a normative narrative that I hear quite often. It can be used as an excuse for white privilege, implying that “other” races are given an equal position in society.
Dayle’s story reinforces the normative narratives in Carmel’s story, as well as my own. As a young girl, Dayle responded in curiosity to the first women she had seen with skin that was not white, stating that “she had all the makings of a human but colour wasn’t quite right.” For the third time in this analysis, we see the normative narrative that skin colours other than white are the “other” or “different” ones. In Dayle’s experience, we see people of colour being labeled as not “quite right.” Much like Carmel and myself, Dayle’s views were impacted greatly by whiteness from a very young age.
ii) Disrupting Normative Narratives
The normative narrative of whiteness being superior and coloured people being the “other” or “different” groups is disrupted in a piece of Robyn’s story. At one point in her journey, the questions ”What are you doing with that white piece of trailer trash?” echoed in her surroundings. In this particular instance, her whiteness casts her aside and labels her as the “other” race. In other parts of her story, Robyn addresses the normative narrative that whiteness is superior, just as the other stories did. However, she disrupts the narrative when she recalls being mistreated and labeled as “different” because of her whiteness.
Presenting a normative narrative, such as that of white privilege and supremacy, does not necessarily mean that our stories are untrue or contradicting. In the first three stories, whiteness is focused on as the commonality and other races are the minority. In Robyn’s story, situations of whiteness being the “other” race and coloured people being the “other” race are both represented. Robyn’s experience with mistreatment is harsh and worded in a way that causes immediate empathy for her. The first three stories, including examples of ignorance and curiosity toward peoples of colour, are not written with such emotion. I find myself reacting with a stronger sense of sympathy toward Robyn in her memory than I do toward the people of colour who were excluded in the other experiences, despite the fact that they relay a more common truth. This demonstrates the ability that some stories have, to silence others.
Whiteness is a position that I am very familiar with, as are many of my classmates. The normative narrative that I have addressed, the idea that other races are somehow “wrong,” is an all-too-familiar viewpoint for many of us. Tim Wise gives us, white people, some advice in his 2003 speech:
“And for whites, wondering where we fit in this struggle for racial equity and justice, I say to you that we must learn to listen, to follow, to be allies in the truest sense of the word; to challenge this society even when, and especially when, it provides to us unearned privileges because of our skin color, our history, and the inertia propelled into the present-day by that history. And not because of some misplaced liberal guilt, but because racism diminishes us as well, and steals a part of our humanity by separating us from our brothers and sisters of color”(Wise, 2003).
I chose to attempt to disrupt the normative narrative of coloured people being lesser than white people, because I believe that being seperated from “our brother and sisters of colour”(Wise, 2003) is negative and unacceptable. Although I understand the unfortunate realities of white supremacy, white privilege, and racism toward people of colour, I do not choose to simply accept it as the ultimate truth. I do not want to be complacent in my understanding of social structure and race. Now that I have been educated on white privilege, I feel a sense of responsibility to fight against it. I will begin by acknowledging my biases, my past experiences, and my own views on race. Seeing coloured peoples as the “other”, “different”, or “lesser” group is not the mindset that I wish to accept for myself.
Wise, Tim. (2003). Cleaning Up the Funk: Commencement Speech at Grinnell College. Retrieved from http://www.timwise.org/2003/05/cleaning-up-the-funk-commencement-speech-at-grinnell-college-2003/