Sunday, October 14, 2012

Being Othered

I am the white girl. The one that stands out in a crowd of minorities. The one who doesn’t “get” black culture. The suburban, privileged diva.  This is who I am.
                How did I get this label? Well, I participate in a variety of social justice programs in the city closest to my surrounding suburb. I have made documentaries, art galleries and wrote articles. I have also learned about oppression, privilege and power dynamics, sexual violence and prevention. Because of my experience, I am a proud activist.
                All of the projects/programs I have participated in have been in an urban area. Because of this, I have to venture out of my cozy suburban ranch into the city with the poor, gunshots and government housing.  Because of this, nearly every, if not all, of the other people I have worked with belong to a racial minority.
                Thus, I have been othered. I experience what it is like to be different, the odd one out, the black sheep. All of the awesome people I work with share a culture, history and identity. They talk about racial prejudice and understand it in a way that I never will. But at the same time, I now know what it is like to be them, at least symbolically.
                The suburb I live in is probably 95% white. It is quite a rarity to see anyone belonging to any other racial group. If there is someone, they are quietly outcasted and looked at differently. Even if these attitudes aren’t completely external, they exist. You can feel them during a class lecture on slavery. You can hear them when a rap or hip-hop song comes on the radio. You say them, when you talk about the “black” kid.
                Engaging in my social justice work has opened up my eyes to a whole new way of examining racism. I never before saw the prejudice within myself, or those around me. Racism was not something I ever really thought about. It just wasn’t a part of my life.
                Hearing of the experiences of Blacks, Hispanics, Latino’s and Asians, has made me think more critically about race. I now understand just how the intense racial history in our country still echo’s in our institutions to this day. Also, being the different one has allowed me to acknowledge my own privilege. I feel what it is like to be different, to feel like I don’t belong. Even if nothing is said, everyone knows there is something different about me. That I am not like them and have grown up with numerous advantages they have never had. And while this makes me sad, more than that, it inspires me. It inspires me to work hard to fight against racism. It inspires me to keep pressing on and moving forward. To acknowledge my own racial privilege and think critically about race. To stop prejudice that I see towards others of racial minorities in my own life. To embody equality.
So being the white girl isn’t all bad. For once, I get to experience what it is like to be othered. Even for just those few moments, I see it with my own eyes. And that is the most powerful thing of all.

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