I’m on a committee. It’s not a big-board-of-directors kind of committee, it’s just a normal small-town committee. We had a meeting this morning and I met a couple of new people along with the woman I was there to see. We were going over some strategy for an upcoming event. It was nothing mind blowing, just how to get more attendees, etc., when one of the new women said, “We need to get the word out about volunteering.”
I told her that the best way to do that was probably not social media but to get an article written and placed in the town newsletter so everyone could see it—not just the people already active in the community through Facebook pages or Twitter streams. You know, find new blood to volunteer instead of just having people who already agree with you read a story on why they should agree.
She seemed to weigh my opinion with thought and then said (I’m paraphrasing from here on out because my brain was trying to figure out what to do), “We’d be so much better off if we had some people from the African American community helping out—I mean, how do you get to them?”
At this point I considered responding with a completely normal, “Like you would get to anyone else, by talking,” but she did not seem to be done and instead of interrupting, I let her continue.
What followed was a ten-minute, one-person discussion on how the majority of black parents don’t think they have to help and that school is a place to drop kids off and leave without giving anything back. How the kids that don’t help on the soccer field are always the black ones, while the whites and Mexicans do all the work.
Seriously, that one confused me because I wasn’t sure if she was insulting Mexicans by assuming they were good at taking out the trash or complimenting them by putting them in the same category as whites. Also, my brain kept going back to preschool drop-off this morning where the five of us in the parking lot were black, Jewish, pagan, and white. All laughing and talking about the kids going back to school. At that moment, anyway, we weren’t our cultural, religious, or racial labels—we were just one label: moms of preschoolers.
She continued with the obligatory portion where she says she feels bad because they have to work and the moms can’t stay at home with the children because they aren’t in the same position as us (her and me) where we can be stay-at-home-moms and “actually take care of the children we have.”
Looking back, that was probably the point I should have stopped her at, but I was seriously in shock. Did the other two women at the table hear her? Did they think what she was saying was off-the-wall, racist, and wrong? They didn’t seem to be taking it in at all and looked to be in a completely sidebar conversation with each other. So I sat, not defending anyone, not telling her to stop.
Which she must have taken as acceptance or—and this would truly shame me—agreement, because she continued on about how she believes in education for all children but “these people” are getting free lunch which also means they get free field trips and that’s going to “take away” the field trips for all the kids. I wondered what this had to do with volunteering, but was just confused and wanted to leave at this point.
After saying hasty good-byes and getting the heck out of there, I sat in my car and wondered which was more racist. What she said about black people, or that she assumed that because I was white, I would absolutely without a shadow of a doubt, see where she was coming from and agree with her.
Is it more racist to think of black people as a drain on the system’s resources, or to believe in the power of white privilege so completely that it didn’t even dawn on her that I might be married to a black man? I might have a job and today was my day off. Or that I might even be on food stamps, public aid, or getting some other kind of government assistance.
How should I have responded? What could I have said? The woman I was talking to did not realize she was being 100 percent racist. You could see in her eyes this is a problem she really did want to fix and she didn’t want to get rid of anyone out of town. She was what I call a liberal racist. She would tell you she’d give her life for a child of any color, and she probably would. That means I can’t just call her crazy and ignore her, because she’s on a committee that works closely with the one I’m on. I was in a crowded, public place and these people do have some power over my child’s future in the community.
What’s a white woman —or ANY woman—supposed to do in a situation like that? How do I promote community and show this woman that she was being racist at the same time?