Are we THOSE White people?
The Farmers Market
“That’s the polyamorous permaculture place, right?” White man-bun says to White dreadlocks.
“We don’t vaccinate, either. I don’t really trust doctors,” White babywearing mama says to White amber necklace-wearing toddler mama.
“Fluoride is such a harsh chemical. What do you recommend to clean my child’s teeth?” White all-natural mama says to essential oils salesperson.
“Are these non-GMO?” White, impossibly fit yoga lady asks at the baked goods.
I’m at a local farmers’ market in the Puna district on Hawai’i Island. I’m surrounded by all kinds of crunchy—earth mamas, WWOOFers, new agers of all stripes, old hippies who moved here in the 70s because Berkeley was too mainstream.
“Ugh,” I think to myself. “White people.”
From dizzying heights of self-righteousness, I start ticking off the ways we are better than them. We vaccinate! We read the science behind GMOs (not categorically bad) and amber necklaces (not effective)! We vote! We call our representatives! We don’t appropriate hairstyles outside of our culture! We don’t fall into the gender stereotypes of “natural parenting!” We think critically and acknowledge moral ambiguity!
Later that afternoon, I start cooking with my toddler, and I sense a dawning realization. My heart beats faster and great waves of dread wash over me. I look around, panicked. We live in a “tiny house.” We’re vegan. We have a yellow 1972 VW van parked in our yard. We have jars of hemp hearts and nutritional yeast. And what am I cooking with my toddler? Granola. To put on our chia pudding. Oh, goddess, are we those White people?
But it’s not really funny, is it? People of color are being killed. They’re being killed by law enforcement, at routine traffic stops, in jails and prisons, playing in parks, and even when they call the police. And they’re being killed by civilians when they’re camping or walking home from McDonald’s. The stories come almost daily.
And all I am is smug and snarky about hippies.
Maybe we aren’t those White people, but we are White people. And that’s probably more important. Because Whiteness is an identity, one that, ironically, is overlooked because it is so pervasive. When we talk about racial identity, we usually mean minority groups—Latinos, Asians, Native Americans. But what are we defining these identities against? Whiteness! Whiteness is the universal, normative racial identity. Anything else is “exotic” or “ethnic,” a curiosity.
What’s more, because of White supremacy culture, Whiteness is not just the default race but also the better race. People of color are far more likely to be viewed as suspicious, unintelligent, mischievous, and untrustworthy. Whiteness, in a White supremacist culture, is a protective veil, a ubiquitous set of unearned, and usually unacknowledged, advantages that begin when we are children and include everyday things, like being able to find shampoo for our hair texture, and major things, like being far less likely to be shot by police. This is what we mean by “White privilege.”
One day, my spouse was wearing her “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt, when an international tourist asked her about it. They ended up having a meaningful conversation. Afterwards, he repeatedly told her how brave she was to be wearing it. “But I can just change shirts if I don’t feel like talking about it,” she replied. That’s also White privilege.
I recently saw a Native Hawaiian mother and her child, who was about 4, in Safeway. The child had a little box of milk that, I learned later, they had just gotten at Starbucks. An older White man approached the child and told her that he saw her stealing it from the milk section. The mother explained that they had already bought it, and the man went on his way. Then the mother turned to her child and said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. Don’t let them make you think you did something wrong. Don’t let them tell you that you’re wrong. Don’t ever let them tell you that you’re wrong.” And there, folks, we have the heartbreaking scene of a mother preparing her child for a lifetime of being stereotyped and presumed guilty, simply because of the color of her skin, in her own homeland.
So, are we those White people? Who gives a shit? We’re White people. All of us—the crunchy parents, the aging hippies, the overt White supremacists, the moderates, the “I don’t see color” crowd, the racial justice advocates—all of us benefit from and contribute to the maintenance of White supremacy.
So maybe instead of judging other parents, I’ll focus more on my own parenting. We will talk to our child about racism. We will make him aware of his privilege. We will talk to other White parents about racism. We will read books that depict people of color in positive and everyday ways. We’ll talk about and advocate for social policies that bring about justice and equality. We will prohibit pretend play about police and jail.
We will stumble and get confused and not always say or do the right things, especially as we learn more about the unique racial history and politics of Hawai’i, but we will take what small steps we can to uncover and dismantle White supremacy. We will not rest easy in our privilege. When our child grows up and asks us where we were or what we did, we will, we hope, be able to say more than, “well, we posted something about it on Facebook.” Because who wants to be those White people?
Elizabeth Lee is the Administrative Director of the Holy Women Icons Project. Please visit our homepage (www.holywomenicons.com) to learn more about us, buy artwork/merchandise, or make a contribution.