I Thought I Understood White Privilege. Then I Married a Black Man.
Photo credit: Ash Adams
For the first 37 years of my life, I kept myself largely free of the blind spots of white privilege. I knew the definition of the term intellectually: white privilege is the inherent advantage associated with white. But I assumed I knew better than letting these benefits hinder my progressive lifestyle. I had worked in New York media for years and did a great job in magazines to become director of creative engagement for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. I helped organize the women's march. I founded my social impact agency Invisible Hand to help companies like Instagram and organizations like Planned Parenthood do good work in the world. I was the favorite progressive of your favorite progressive.
Photo credit: Nick Merril
Then I met Jordan. He was so pretty, I thought I could die. He was sharp and charismatic and when he smiled it looked like he was lit from the inside. I'm startled to say that I loved him immediately, here's the thing: but I pretty much did it. We didn't take it slow. In fact, we've lived a decade of life together in our first 24 months. We moved in together, started businesses, got pregnant, had a miscarriage, renovated an apartment, and got pregnant again just to spend the last trimester of pregnancy separately while pursuing a scholarship in another city. In the beginning, when we struggled - which we did quite often - I found it stressful to stuff my whole life in such a short time. But I soon realized that something bigger was involved: he is a black man who grew up in the south. I am a white woman who grew up in Alaska. My white and my white privilege really bothered me.
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Of course, I knew Jordan and I would have cultural differences. On our first date, he asked me if he was the first black man I had an appointment with (he wasn't) and told me that his relationships had spanned the card too. We discussed how our families would react and what role our upbringing had played in our identity. I thought we covered it. We do not have. Almost immediately I began to understand my white privilege and my subconscious bias in new, disturbing ways.
Just a few examples:
Last winter Jordan and I drove up a freeway in upstate New York to see real estate when I casually mentioned that our license plates would expire soon. He got so angry with me that I was afraid he was going to crash the car.
"Do you realize that if a cop pulls us over for the expired day, I could be killed?" he said.
I would not have noticed it.
Then, just this weekend, he mentioned on the same freeway that we were in the same neighborhood where Eric Garner was murdered.
I mean, I really hadn't noticed.
Photo credit: Genevieve Roth
Then there was the time when I urged him to negotiate a higher salary. I thought the problem with his offer was in his negotiating skills and I didn't notice that black men were underpaid serially, far more so than white women. And black women have it worse.
I have fought for equal pay throughout my career. I hadn't noticed that.
Or the time we spent with friends in Malibu, California, and I made it difficult for him to isolate himself in our room with his iPad instead of participating in group activities. He finally said, "You don't understand. You white people move through the world as it is for you as it is for everyone. I am trying to tell you that this is not the case. People are treating me different here. They cross the street when they see me coming. Stop trying to get me to do your hike. "
I would not have noticed it.
Or every time we fight and I say, "When you start screaming, I stop listening" without realizing that I only hear a scream as they speak in his family and half the time in i think i fight with jordan he is not even angry. I am not used to this tone because I never had to shout to be heard: the world was always listening. But instead of softening my reaction, my impulse is to ask him to speak differently - hey, husband, change your tone so I feel more comfortable. Please familiarize yourself with me. Come over to my street side.
I have too many stories like this, and the moral of them is always the same: it doesn't matter how many marches I have planned, how many progressive candidates I have campaigned for, or how often I have sung Black Lives Matter on the street : I am full of internalized racism and unconscious prejudices. And for all non-blacks reading this, we have to be clear about something: you too.
To be educated in America means to say in countless little ways that it is right how you live. It means that your image and values are reflected in you - in the education you have received, the toys you have sold, the ideals of beauty that have been given to you. Over time, this message becomes so deeply embedded in us that we can no longer recognize it as the false narrative that it is. We lose our sense of guilt and misunderstand racial inequality as something that we can empathize with, rather than something that we have created and that we have to solve in a unique way.
This spring, when Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered, a fog rose in our house. As protests raged across the country, I wondered what we would tell our daughter, who is now two years old, about the people walking down our street. Just a few weeks earlier, we taught her to wear a mask when she left the house. Now we adjusted our rituals and added: “Good night, protesters! We love you! "For the blessings, we wished the city every night before going to bed. During the days I did what I normally do when our country is hit: I got to work with other activists worked together to fight for political change, and advised companies and friends on how to participate in the hard work of systematic change, it didn't feel enough.
Photo credit: Genevieve Roth
Systematic changes are crucial. Better schools. A functioning judicial system and an end to police brutality. Reparations. But until white women like me do the job of examining our role in this racist system and repairing the collateral damage we cause, the blacks in this country are never really liberated. Systems, hearts and minds - that's the combination.
With my husband's blessing, I recently went to Instagram and outlined how my own bias and internalized racism had harmed our partnership. I hoped that if I put it into words it would help my family and friends to investigate their own guilt.
It is hard work. It's embarrassing and embarrassing, and every time I post something I'm afraid that this last admission might make me insoluble - too privileged to deserve the man I love, gone too far to be a suitable mother for me to be black daughter.
But every time I get a message from a white friend saying "I only drove yesterday with expired days" or "I had no idea about the wage gap". I was worried about concentrating on these stories (something that white women tend to do terribly), but my black friends and family were broadly generous and said they were grateful that they didn't have to do the work to clearly disassemble the things they do live with each day (although, as they said: "It's like racism 101 in your feed, but if that's what people need, please God, give it them."). If I can redirect some of the work - or even the trolls - that are sent too often in their direction, it's a good day for me.
I am the mother of a black daughter.
I am the wife of a black man.
If I want to be worthy of them - and I do - at least I have to start here.
Do you wanna join me
Genevieve Roth is the founder of Invisible Hand, a New York-based agency for social impact and cultural change. Previously, she was a Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, Creative Engagement Director for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, and Executive Director for special projects at Glamor Magazine. She is a born and raised Alaskan who thinks she is important for you to know her. You can connect to her on Instagram. Genevieve donated the fee for this essay to Black Lives Matter.
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