Pet Peeve: “White” is not Me

2 Apr

Dozen Eggs

Out of sheer curiosity (and annoyance), why is “white” the only color listed under race on forms?  I kid you not; I have applied for 19 positions in the past week, and “white” showed up on 17. The only reason it didn’t show up on the last two is because all they asked was whether I was a citizen or foreigner.  And just stop right there with the whole “Decline to Comment” answer–that’s an assumed “white.”  Again I ask, why “white” of all terms?

Let’s back up.  How long has it been since you saw forms that appropriately used “red,” “yellow,” or “black” to describe those of other skin tones.  Uhhuh, that went the way of all bad things like saying “fa****,” “n*****,” and other derogatory terms–we admitted that they were inappropriate and cutting at best, illegal at worst.  In fact, I won’t even put them in this article as an example of bad words (note the asterisks!)  We all know why the other races have abandoned the color-basis; the fact that judging by color is racist was settled ages ago.  (Seriously for those who didn’t get the message; don’t use these terms).  But with that history as a background, I’m pretty offended whenever the term “white” pops up in turn. Why are my people the only ones who can be defined by our color? 

Let’s get the first possible answers out of the way. Is it because “white” automatically says we are better than anyone else so nothing more is needed? Nope. Not true.  Is it because “whites” are  automatically the lessor race and thus no more information is needed? Nope. Also Not true. Conclusion: Whether or not someone is white, pink, purple, or blue  has no bearing on their value as a human.

Now perhaps, the answer is that “white” tells the reader something about my personal background.  This seems more plausible since every time I have to choose “white” on an application form,  I can immediately guess the reader’s response–“Ooh, goody! Another one of those privileged white girls who grew up with a Smartphone, a Trust Fund, and No Work Ethic!”  Appealing image, amIright? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I have never been able to afford a Smartphone. Trust Fund? — Trust me, I’m typing as I roll on the floor with tears of humor streaming down my face.  I grew up in a single-parent home, and I don’t think we ever had more than $7,000 a year.  We didn’t take food stamps, and we didn’t get welfare; we just learned to have fun with what we had.  Silver spoons? Plastic spoons rather.  Now don’t get me wrong; this is hardly a complaint.  Because of where I came from, I’m very motivated and innovative. I cut my business teeth young, using new and improved ways of selling sand-cakes to the neighborhood children (I’ve always had a bit of the car-salesman in me).  Today I can slap onto my ever more desperately distributed resume the terms “inventive,” “creative,” “analytical,” and “industrious.” You name it, I’ve tried to make money at it (stop your dirty minds, “legal” activities only).   I can sew my own clothes; I know how to use spices and 99-cent macaroni like a pro; and I can proudly state that  I have worked hard non-stop to get to where I am today.  The only privilege I grew up with is the fact that I came from an amazing, hard-working, social-work minded mother who loved me dearly and never stopped telling me that I could achieve anything I set out to do. Conclusion: “White” doesn’t say anything about my financial/family’s background.

 

Since the presumptions that come with the term”white” don’t reflect my background, maybe it shows the culture I was raised in?  Wait. . . “White” isn’t really describing a culture–the Italian culture is pretty significantly different from the English culture.  So “white” can’t really tell them much about me from a cultural standpoint. I’m a cultural historian, meaning that I thrive on immersing myself into a bunch of different cultures, and I have always successfully collected a mis-matched group of friends from other races.  Probably 80% of my closest friends hail from non-“white” cultures, and their ways of thinking and living have rubbed off on me.  Plus, My grandfather was accepted as an honorary member of a local Indian tribe because he devoted so much time to preserving their history and supporting their rights.  Translation: I spent time playing with their kids at the meetings, adding to that “non-white” cultural background. To adequately use “white” as a definition of culture, it’s going to have to be expanded to “white (from a German/Scottish heritage with bits of African, Asian, and Native American thrown in).”  Conclusion: “White” doesn’t explain my background (and even undercuts all of my different cultural traits).

Maybe “white” is supposed to reflect me personally somehow? Perhaps I do particularly “white” things?  Fine, you pulled it out of me; I’m “white” enough that I refuse to eat bugs. . . but isn’t that really more of an American/Mid-west thing than a “White” thing?  I’m Christian, but so are people from other races. I like music, nope not really a “white” thing either (in fact I really enjoy Asian and Middle-Eastern traditional music – by definition not “white”.)  I’m smart. . . I like to write . . . I went to a good college . . . my passion is travel and history. . . I grew up without a dad . . . I think a confident man who can dance is hot . . .  I’m introverted . . . Bright colors entertain me . . . still not finding the “white” thing in me here.  There are a lot of other ways to define me, but “white?”  Conclusion: You get my point.

Well, I’m going to have to go with the “physical description” use (even though that is by definition asking about my SKIN COLOR), which plays no role in anything and should not be allowed to be a question.  Still, that doesn’t actually work.  I’m personally very, very pale. But my Greek friend is pretty dark.  My mixed friend is very dark, but he was still required by the school to register as “white.”  To tell you the truth, if this is the proper use of “white,” I don’t fit here either.  Because I’m actually very, very spotted cause of my silly Scottish heritage and their massive freckles.  And the parts that aren’t freckled turn red in the summer thank’s to sunburns (I am not so lucky as to tan, but many “whites” are actually brown by the end of swimming season).  If you saw me walking down the street in July and needed to report me for my almost illegal hotness, you’d have to describe me as something in the realm of “that stunning brown-spotted red lobster.”   Conclusion: It doesn’t even work as a “descriptor.” 

Other people are defined by their geographic history, the accomplishments of their ancestors, and their pride in their culture–“African Americans”, “Latin Americans,” “Native Americans.”  I get the derogatory “color.”    Why not “European-American, German-American, Scottish-American, or just plain AMERICAN?  Even the official name for my race, “Caucasian,” would have been better. Get it right people.  Besides, in the name of the world moving away from racism, shouldn’t that question be somehow unnecessary? Why do you have to know if it isn’t going to impact my chance of acceptance, my rights, my opportunities, etc.?  RACE DOESN’T (or at least shouldn’t) MATTER, so QUIT ASKING. Or at least ask appropriately.

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