What White People Should Know About George Zimmerman & Themselves

I’ve been stopped by the police twice in my life.

The first time I was speeding on a residential road. I panicked, having never been pulled over before, and tried to swerve down a side-street (signaling like normal) because I thought maybe if I pretended I didn’t see him the cop would go after one of the other people around me, who were also speeding. My nerves made me act as sketchy as possible (pulling down the side street, GETTING OUT OF THE CAR when the cop was taking awhile to come talk to me… I made many mistakes) but at the end of the day my overt sketchiness didn’t even get me an extra ticket (for evading arrest, for threatening an officer by getting out of the car… nothing.) I wonder how much my pale white skin had to do with it?

The second time I was in the same town as before, and somehow I managed to lock myself out of my car (with my phone and EVERYTHING inside!) Before I could even think about how to handle the situation a police officer had pulled up to see if I needed help, since I looked “confused.” He had AAA on the scene within a half-hour to get me into my car and on my way. He even let me borrow his phone while I was waiting, to try and track down the friend I was meeting. I wonder, if I hadn’t been so white or so young-looking or so blatantly female… would he have still seen me as confused? If I was black, instead, would he have still seen me as a citizen-in-distress or would he have assumed that I was trying to break into the car? I suspect the latter.

Biases exist everywhere. As a young, white woman from a generally well-off community I have been taught, through experience and other people’s words, that the police were people I should trust for my whole life. Moreover, I have been taught that people, generally, will look at me and assume I am trustworthy without any effort on my part. Not everyone is so lucky.

I have posted this older video from What Would You Do before, but I think it bears repeating. In this video the police are called by a man looking to report that he has seen three black boys laying down in a car (sleeping, in fact) – and he thinks they are going to rob someone. How the hell did he jump to that conclusion? Do you think he would have assumed a young white girl like me, lying down in a car, was trying to rob someone? Probably not. This all happened in the same town that I got my speeding ticket. The same town that I locked myself out of my car. The same town that I, as a young white girl, have never been given a single reason to feel unsafe in. Some people aren’t as lucky.

Relevant portion of the clip starts at 4:40

When I heard about what happened to Trayvon Martin I was devastated, but not in the least bit surprised because George Zimmerman’s attitude is one that I know. Its one that is illustrated very clearly in this clip above, that took place right in my own neighborhood. It is an attitude that has been expressed to me by certain well-meaning liberal-leaning family members & friends who tell me that those “gut assumptions” (read: racism) we make about people can sometimes be prudent- because statistics show that it makes sense for someone to be more nervous around a person of color since “they commit more crimes.” This attitude is complete BS, of course, because judging individuals based on sweeping generalizations is reductionist and wrong. (Yes, even those based on statistics.)(We’re not going to get into how messed up talking about statistics are in this particular case, since we’d be here all day.) Statistics don’t mean much on a micro-level, where individual experience trumps the bigger picture, and since the mico-level is where we are interacting people on a daily basis it makes sense not to bring big-picture things like crime statistics into our interactions.

The sick sad thing is that George Zimmerman thought that he was doing good, protecting his neighborhood from some danger. It is so easy to vilify Zimmerman and hold him up as an example of extreme racism. An example of something us good liberal people would NEVER even fathom doing or thinking. So easy to extend that anger towards the police force, who are dragging their feet in investigating and trying their damndest to cut Zimmerman a break. Racist monsters, all of them. Racist, but not like us. That’s bullshit.

Continue reading

My Problem With “The Help”

I started reading The Help for a few reasons: because it was sitting in the living room when I came home for the summer, because Emma Stone is in the upcoming movie adaption, and (more importantly) because I had noticed quite a bit of criticism being written and linked to regarding The Help on some of my favorite blogs. I don’t like reading pop-culture critiques without an understanding of the source material if I can help it (as evidenced by the fact that I plowed through all four Twilight novels a few years ago), so I read the novel.

The Help is a well executed book from a marketing standpoint. It is nicely paced, wonderfully dramatic, and it features a classic (but always satisfying) struggle of good vs. evil. If we lived in a nice little whitewashed vacuum where this was just a good story, where real women’s lives were not being used as fictional fodder, where the privilege that the fictional white characters possessed never really existed and didn’t still exist… if that was the world that this novel was published in, then this one “guilty pleasure” book wouldn’t be such a big deal.

We don’t live in that world.

There are plenty of things about this book that are just plain offensive. Most glaring, to me at least, is the very affected “accent” that Minny and Aibileen’s sections of the book are written in, while Skeeter’s parts are devoid of even a hint of a southern accent. This sets the two main black characters in this novel off as “other” from the very beginning, which is off-putting. Additionally, Aibileen’s comparison of her own skin color to a cockroach (among many other comments the character makes against her own skin color) is appalling. As are the historical errors in terms of incorporating Medgar Ever’s death into the novel (claiming he was bludgeoned to death, rather than shot) which just show a lack of respect for the topic she was writing about.  The stereotypes – from absentee or abusive black men to sassy or saintly black women don’t help anyone either. I could go on, but these points and many others were already made beautifully here.

Still, the book is quick and easy to read. The conclusion of the book provides a nice, neat, ending sure to make any white person who finds themselves identifying with Skeeter feel good. I can understand why so many people were quick to jump to this books defense because, quite frankly, I’d feel quite a bit better if I could be one of them. 

It would be much easier, much less uncomfortable to close my eyes to the privilege of constantly seeing a variety characters who look like me in the media, enough that I am sure to identify with one… a privilege  that allows me to decide whether or not to be unsettled by another stereotypically written black character because I’m not being discriminated against and, thus, that punched-in-the-stomach feeling that goes with subtle discrimination is missing.

It would be much easier to ignore the privilege of being considered “default” in my whiteness, of knowing that people will not assume that I hold my opinions simply because of the color of my skin. A privilege that comes with knowing I have a much better chance of having my words taken seriously by the mainstream media, especially when talking about marginalized groups, than an actual member of that group.

I would be so easy to indignantly insist that I deserve to be listened to because I work hard on my blog posts (which I do), ignoring the fact that plenty of less-privileged people also worked damn hard on their writing, writing that is often ignored because it lacks “mainstream appeal” meaning, it is not white enough to be lifted up by mainstream feminist blogs.

But I can’t, because that is what The Help is. A whitewashed, declawed version of history that simultaneously manages to condemn racism and absolve the white people who let it continue or who do “enough” to help the cause, by offering up Skeeter as the “good” anti-racist white woman we can all identify with.

READ THE REST AT PERSEPHONE MAGAZINE!

Other Great Related Pieces:

(This is one of my favorite posts from the entire blog dedicated to analyzing this novel.)

Who’s Allowed to Tell the Tale? (And Which Tales Should They Tell?)