The Expectation of Discrimination
A couple of years ago I attended a weekend retreat in the Black Mountains near Asheville for the staff of the school at which I worked at the time. After the day’s activities a group of us – all Black women – went into Asheville to sight-see and hang out. We pulled up at an Applebees during their peak hours and saw a predominantly white crowd outside waiting to be seated. The van erupted into lively chatter, with everyone telling me to go check out the place since I “looked like them” and report back as to whether I thought our group would be welcome. Unwilling to wait the required 45 minutes, we went to another restaurant where I was once again the designated scout. The whole thing was pretty funny, but in truth it masked a serious concern for many people of color in America.
One piece of this week’s reading dealt with white privilege, that invisible and generally unacknowledged social norm that permeates so many situations, unconsciously influencing assumptions and decisions, and thereby skewing experiences and outcomes in favor of white Americans. Many times I have heard members of my community cite the scarcity of black people in a particular restaurant or other venue as a reason not to go there, commenting that we’re not welcome in these places. This is of course an assumption, and any negative experience or perceived slight is offered as proof that they were unwanted guests.
I think these attitudes are formed as we grow up, hearing our elders speak among themselves, or else telling us in one way or another to stick to our own kind and to avoid those situations. Having grown up in a culture without white dominance, my husband and I never internalized this viewpoint. We also discourage our kids from taking the view that some places or experiences are for other people, but not for them. We go wherever we think we’ll enjoy, and quite often we’re the only non-whites in the room. We enter confidently and project a positive expectation, and so far we’ve never been made to feel unwelcome. While I recognize that there is no guarantee that this will always be the case, I hope that never changes.