Stories from exile is a writer's collaborative, bringing you stories written by outsiders in christianity, politics and culture.

 

edited and curated by

nish weiseth

Tuning In to Racism and White Privilege

I drive slow, scanning street signs. Half of these streets are one-way and I swear there’s a traffic light every 25 feet so I circle the same block twice before I see the writing on the window.  

That unmistakable sense of nervous awkwardness is building in my gut. But it is what it is. I’m not too proud.

It smells like church. Green chairs, old carpet, long tables. A few sparse pictures on the wall.

A young African American woman and her son are waiting ahead of me. “Be with you in a minute”, an older white lady says to them.  I stand uncomfortably and wait while the young mother is given a set of forms to fill out.

The old woman looks up at me, curious. “Can I help you?”

“I need a set of those forms, too”, I say.

I wonder, did she think I was here for some other reason? A volunteer, maybe?

Is this white privilege?

The old woman takes the young mother to a back office and starts putting her in the system. I sit down at a long table and start filling out names, ages, etc. Another black woman comes in while I’m scribbling and sits down across from me.

“Be with you in a minute”, the old woman calls from the back.

“Do they have good stuff here?” I ask the new girl. “I don’t know”, she shrugs.

“There are a bunch of places like this here”, I say. I’m from an hour out of town and there’s hardly anything over there.”

“There’s a lot of places but they only help you just barely get by. They don’t help you rise up. That’s just my opinion, anyway,” she says.

The young girl and her son are finished now and the old lady invites me back to the office. “Would you like to get her started on her paperwork first?” I ask, nodding towards my tablemate.

“Oh. Yes, of course.”

Is this white privilege?

I sit on the other side of an old desk and hand her my paperwork. She asks me standard questions and I answer politely.

Another black woman enters the waiting area behind me and is greeted with a “Be with you in a minute”.

I tell the volunteer that we just moved here this summer for my husband to go back to school. She lights up when she realizes I’m married. “That’s wonderful!” she says. Suddenly she’s interested in where I’m from, what my husband is studying, where my kids go to school. “I just love when I get to help families”, she confides.

More black women trickle into the waiting area and their conversations begin to spill into the office where we’re sitting. “Be with you in a minute”, she calls over my shoulder again.

She looks back at me with a glint in her eye, “I want to get you something”. She leaves and comes back with a couple of stapled papers. “These are other places in town where you can go. This one is open on Tuesdays I know, and this one has more fresh things…”, she gives me a quick run-down of the list. She didn’t give the young mom and her son this extra list.

Is this white privilege?

I thank the old woman and head to my car with 6 paper sacks of free food.  

**********

The whole way home I think about the difference between “Can I help you?” and “Be with you in a minute”. The difference between getting by and rising up.

**********

My entire life I would’ve told you that I’m not racist.

It’s only been in recent years that I’ve had to get honest with myself and admit that growing up in the deep south has without a doubt planted seeds of racism in my social make up. I have barely begun to scratch the surface and untangle the complex nature of my white privilege.

The black lives matter movement has gotten under my pale, white skin and stretched me, made me acknowledge that I cannot in any way relate to what it is to be black in America.

But I’m paying attention. I’m tuning in to the micro-aggressions.  I’m making small talk across the table.

Just Putting This OUT There.

To Pee In Peace