I never thought I was one of those white people with privilege. As a mixed race child born under no predetermined God or any such religious sanctions, as a child raised hearing broken English and a slight Texan drawl as my first language, as someone with no sense of nationalism, patriotism, or race, I didn’t feel like anything but a soul in a female meat suit which, in a world run by mostly male patriarchy, is not very privileged in and of itself. As an attractive mixed race girl with no affluence I was assigned descriptions better suited for furniture and food like “exotic” or “rare”. I wasn’t, and am still not, taken very seriously as most of us Hapa’s (asian/white mix) look eternally youthful. As a teenager in Japan, I was treated like a cartoon character and would get pushed into random family photos made up of short asian people flashing their infamous crooked teeth (which I too would inherit) and holding up their middle and index fingers like happy little “V’s”. This was not reality and I was not a part of them and I often felt like I should have been paid to be in these photo ops.
However, it wasn’t until I entered college for the first time at the ripe old age of 40 in 2019, with the intention of learning more about our Public Health System while acquiring any kind of certifications that will help redirect my career onto a more meaningful path, that I could see how I have been privileged as a white woman. I learned how social systemic oppression in redlined zip codes has segregated brown skin and white skin, even amongst the same social class. I learned that white people walk into an establishment and expect something to happen for them whereas brown people do not expect anyone to do anything for them, ever. I learned that I have exuded these same expectations, and not because I think I am worthy of being waited on like a queen, but because I’m posturing as someone who has money to spend and am terrified to be outed as a broke ass bitch. So, instead, I flex my whiteness when convenient and act like I have every right to look at the things that would cost me an entire paycheck.
A middle class white woman is really the most overlooked group of people whose influence on society seems to get lost, or has historically been overshadowed by her white male counterpart. Factor in how attractive a woman is, according to the social standards set by the Kardashians or any other famous person who makes their living off the insecurities of the entire world, and that is how much more or less relevant that woman feels in our society. It appears that the women fighting the loudest for equality are still women of color, women of the LGBTQ community, women who have been marginalized in more ways than her gender and therefore with less to lose and so much more to gain, while the middle class white woman seems to still be a snug little bug in her safe little rug sort of quietly getting by, maybe feeling sometimes emboldened to support her “sisters” in her pink beanie with kitten ears when it’s time to march down to City Hall, maybe posting awareness videos about healthy smoothies and self care, or otherwise regurgitating the latest buzzwords or hashtags that indicate her ‘wokeness’. It’s hard not to be judgmental of the privilege to be able to select a stance on these matters, for women of color who have been the most oppressed in our human history have no such choices to just work on herself, hence the fight.
The modern day fight for gender equality in the workforce, in terms of pay and respect, has been on high demand for decades, and now with cameras in phones more injustices can be captured without the shadow of doubt. However, within these same handheld devices are the pictures that we present to the world of our perfect lives, of our perfect broken lives, of our reborn or reawakened lives, or anything else we choose to present about our lives. Within these devices lives the ‘You’ you would like to be whom seems to take precedent over the ‘you’ that is, actually. And to whom do we hold ourselves to?
I think about this person, the white woman flying under the radar of social responsibilities and not swaying from her husbands social and political views for fear of losing her security. I think about whether she’s afraid to lose her livelihood or afraid to have to successfully create her own. Who has time to fight for women’s rights and start over when you have a job and kids and a home to tend to? I think about me as this woman, and how I am also this woman that I have tried to deny. I never felt white enough or Japanese enough, I’ve never even felt womanly enough so I didn’t accept any responsibility for the paralysis that occurs in women under the construct of male patriarchy. I thought not identifying with a group of people somehow made me immune to their constructs. Not feeling wholly part of any demographic I have conveniently picked and chosen the aspects of whiteness that suited me and denied association with all despicable parts of white history. I realized that’s not a thing, I can’t very well accept any part of white culture without accepting the ugly darkness behind its whiteness.
It really wasn’t until the most recent Women’s Rights Movement that I realized how I have deceived myself in thinking that I don’t rely on my whiteness, or that I am truly independent or don’t lean on men to support me or provide security–after all, he, who is conditioned to take on the pressure and scrutiny of success in this world is just… better at it.
If I believed in shame as something useful, it is in this grey area of existence as a woman that I would admit to feeling some shame. I confess there is a part of me that doesn’t actually want to be the bold independent woman that needs no man around, that indeed I love being the nurturer and the one to iron out the wrinkles when he brings home a sorted mess to work out, that I rather like being the soft touch to his rough edges. Half of the time I’m too tired to fight for myself and I’d rather work on loving others. Can you fight society with love? In these movements I feel I’m working counterintuitively, trying to be a brave independent soldier on the front lines of civil justice, and yet, I feel further from safety and truth and quite inauthentic in the process. Can they tell? Isn’t this awkward social displacement I feel just a drop in the well of discontent that the truly oppressed have been submerged in for generations? If I have any noble act in this movement, it would be for me to really feel and know this displacement, this uncomfortable swell of uncertainty for where we are with each other as a society; because my brothers and sisters of color, my LGBTQ family, and any persons who have been marginalized by our society has only been allowed this discomfort and are, they themselves, breaking out of it and redistributing it back to the source. Therefore, I must be uncomfortable, too, at least if I believe that we are in this together.