Victoria is a student majoring in Secondary English Education. She is a native south Floridian with a lifelong interest in racism and a more recent interest in feminism.
Many times I’ve seen the suggestion that white people should work harder at dismantling racism by genuinely listening to people of color when they speak, talking about race – and not just with people of color – and stepping in when a person or people of color are facing racism. When someone is being openly racist, that is a rare opportunity to say or do something because normally people keep this hidden. Part of the logic is that a white person will listen to another white person – mostly because he or she is white, and assumed to not stand to benefit from getting another white person to think differently about race. This logic has worked for me on many occasions, both online and in person.
So when I came upon this post on Sociological Images, I felt that something wasn’t being said. In fact, something I don’t think that the OP intended to say was being said. You’ll probably want to read the entire thread to fully understand this post. I entered the thread thinking, “Surely, on a site like Sociological Images that someone else will have already picked up on this.” But since no one did, I made my first comment: The white author of the post, and the white woman she quoted were not qualified to make statements about how black people perceive the stereotype of the 1950s’ housewife because they were neither black, nor had done any research to fill in for that fact. Honestly, whenever I talk about race with white people, I expect that I will either be berated or have to give a long, drawn-out explanation, complete with a laser lights show, diagrams, and 4-D clay models. So I waited, and as you can see by the length of my comments, I was not disappointed.
As the day wore on, more and more white people* hopped on the bandwagon. They decided that I pretty much didn’t know what I was talking about and I was making irrelevant points. I had to email a couple of people who are well-versed in racial discussion to verify that I was not making something out of nothing. It seemed so obvious to me. I was baffled at how these people who are normally so liberal, so with-it, so astute in their comments, were defending this one-sided and inaccurate post/argument.
I turned to dismantling the argument because no one seemed to grasp that their white-constructed stereotypes were only “obvious” to themselves as white people. So, I chose to point out the flaw in part of the argument that was being used to uphold the exclusion of black women from the stereotype of a 1950s’ housewife – one which was irrefutable, and I backed it up with links to reputable websites. And, as you can plainly see, 100% pure logic and truth were totally overlooked by all of the people who wished to argue that my point was irrelevant, and they kept shooting for protecting their white-as-default world view.
Even in the face of proof that black women were NOT involved in the “welfare queen” stereotype in the 1950s, as the article claimed they were, they all glazed right over that – skipped that part of my argument every time (never mind that black women had to work because they were denied welfare in the 1950s, by the way). And then I went a step further in showing the stereotype that would place black women as housewives, not only to their own families, but to white families in the 1950s as well. Again, you can see for yourself what it takes for people to "get it." Only one came back to say she understood (even though her explanation showed she didn’t). It was rare for anyone to work up the nerve to agree with me or express the same sentiment, but some people did. Overall, those who disagreed and argued, stopped arguing with me when confronted with the evidence they chose not to respond to.
It may make people wonder what we are to do when we want white people to step in and say something about race and racism, but when they do they’re actually being dismissed and shut down in many of the same ways people of color are. I think that it’s still important for white people to step in and dismantle flawed racial thinking, even with the potential of being dismissed. It would be “typical” to a white person for a person of color to say what I said, but they will remember clicking the link to my blog and finding a white woman’s photo there. And white people never EVER forget being insinuated to be racist or not racially “hip”, especially when they really believe they are. They will later go out of their way to not make the same type of comment again, just so that no one will accuse them again and make them look bad. Sometimes this fear that people will perceive them in an unflattering light is enough to help them understand the things they didn’t before. Sometimes it’s not, but there’s nothing lost in trying.
* One of the people I thought was white, later in the thread says he’s black.