Weaponized whiteness

You follow her as she searches for the perfect Mother’s Day gift, and grimace your saccharin smile. May I help you? becomes a threat, a how dare you enter this domain, a who do you think you are?

I watch as she shifts uncomfortably, aware of eyes that track her dark hands like radar as she reaches for her phone, a tissue, her pride.

I watch as you close ranks in the park, the daycare, and at school; how you exclude and judge a child who sees the world through the same hopeful eyes as your own. Whose acting out is instantly labeled as aggression.

I know how you huddle and gossip, and roll your eyes as your colleague passes, a threat to your equanimity, your perceived superiority, your guaranteed career track.

What do you know of such humility? Such strength? What it took for him to get here, only to watch the next door swing closed, the averted gazes, the shake of a glossy head? The two degrees because one wasn’t quite enough to get his foot in the door that your B average swung open freely for.

You won’t see how his family never had your opportunities, your education, your generations of wealth, your summer home on the Cape, your social advantages, your access to the best doctors, the most desirable neighborhood that openly welcomed you because your face fit.

All you see is a person who seems angry with you. Did you ever stop for a moment to analyze what may have triggered the attitude you believe is so inevitable?

Did your child who scores higher than every other child in their class get passed over repeatedly for recognition? Of course not, you would never have allowed such a thing, would you? You would have marched into the principal’s office demanding an explanation, and not one person present would have considered calling the police.

If an item goes missing in your presence, does every head unconsciously turn to glance at you?

Do you feel people stiffen and become vigilant when you enter a room, a business, or walk down a street? Do car doors lock as you take an afternoon stroll on the first warm day of spring?

If a realtor had repeatedly steered your family to the poorest neighborhood with the worst performing schools in the county, would you have tolerated such disrespect? You would seamlessly transfer to a new realtor, who always accepts new wealthy respectable clients.

Because you consider yourself respectable, don’t you? Your whiteness has opened well-oiled doors your entire life. It has never, for one moment crossed your mind that your presence may cause offense.

Has the room ever fallen silent when you entered it? Did anyone clutch their belongings a little more tightly, or whisper warnings beneath their breath because you dared to sit too close? Have you ever thought about what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes?

When you call the police because a family of color is having a peaceful barbecue in what you consider your park, do you ever stop to consider the potential consequences?

I watch as people of color may never appear out of control, work three times harder than you for fewer accolades or income, and sit silently in fear as their son leaves home, each time, every time. I see how families have to teach their children to negotiate a white world that is not kind, not fair, and not equitable to people that look different from them.

You are completely unaware of how you wield your weaponized whiteness like a sword. I watch the damage you reap with your archaic assumptions and your deep-held fears of perceived otherness. I see the wreckage in your wake.

I see your privileged denial of prejudice.

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Louise Ortega

Louise Ortega

I write poetry, recipes, shorts, and novels, and talk about relationships and current events. I’m a driving instructor and amateur photographer.