April 12, 2014

If I Became White Overnight.

woman face eyes beautiful

If I were white I would not have to teach my black children that someone somewhere is going to call them a nigger. 

I am currently taking a course called Beyond Duality: Yoga and Social Justice. It’s a course that is part of the series of workshops that Off the Mat and Into the World offers.

It is an interesting course designed to address social justice and how we can harness the power of yoga and awareness to affect change in the world. It’s an ambitious project but we all know that yoga will change world right? Right!

Our exercise last night was an interesting one. We were asked by the facilitator to envision what it would be like to wake up one morning belonging to a different culture. We had to choose a race or culture that was anything other than our own. For example, I would go to bed a black woman and wake up as a white woman.

I have to say I was instantly annoyed by this idea.

How in the short time span of just 10 minutes were we going to address this incredible task? And in a group discussion, no less. I thought to myself, I don’t want to be white and I don’t want to contemplate how my life would change—it was going to just make me angry. I’m also not sure I want to discuss this in a group of predominately white folks who have no idea what it is to be different and are going to find it almost impossible to identify with the idea of being a different culture or race if they have no history or connection to it.

With only 10 minutes to address this idea, the conversation consisted of our own experiences around racism which was interesting but I didn’t get much out of the exercise—until today. I had gone to bed thinking about it after the class; it actually kept me up during the night. I thought I might just wake up a white woman.

If so what would that look like? Would my life be better? I wonder…

I took the idea with me on my meditation and morning walk and this is what I came up with:

I live in an affluent, culturally homogenized city. When I go anywhere in my this small city, I am generally the only person of any color. My children go to a school of over 700 kids and there are only about 10 children who are ethnically different.

If I were white, my children would be white. I would not have to teach them the survival skills that black children learn pretty much at birth.

Someone somewhere is going to call you a nigger. You need to let me know when that happens and we need to teach our you how to deal with it.

My first experience of being called a nigger was when I was four.

I need to let my children know they may be the only person of color in their class, grade or the entire school. I tell them:

It may seem lonely, but remember that there is also only one sun in the sky so that makes you special, too.

If I were white, I wouldn’t have to worry that my children’s teachers are discriminating against them because they are brown. I wouldn’t have to wonder if their teachers have been trained by society to think that brown kids are not as smart as the white kids. I wouldn’t have to worry about my kids being bullied because of their color.

How would life be for me if I was a white woman?

I could walk into any store or restaurant and not be the only person there who is different. Store clerks wouldn’t watch me carefully. When I go for walks in the neighbourhood, people wouldn’t stare at me like I don’t belong or perhaps they would even say hi to me when I pass by them.

People wouldn’t be surprised that I am educated and have my own businesses.

Would my business be more successful? Everywhere I go I would be judged on my merits, as white people are, and not on my skin color. It would be nice if I didn’t have to talk about my race and culture every single day. What must that feel like?

On the flip side, would I walk around feeling entitled and privileged because I am part of this homogeneous culture?

I would see myself everywhere, in magazines and television shows. I would be a face in a crowd of faces that look alike. Would I expect everyone to do as I ask without question because I look just like them? Would I miss the beauty of other cultures because all I see is my own culture and race represented everywhere?

Would I be out of touch with the human condition of discrimination and race because it wouldn’t affect me personally?

Would I lead just an ordinary life without the challenges that make me great as a person of color? Would I be weaker in my tolerance of things that are different? It would be nice if I didn’t have to talk about my race and culture every single day. Would my life be better? I wouldn’t feel like I am constantly under a microscope.

At the end of the day I can’t change my color, my race, or ethnicity.

Nor do I want to just because it would be easier.

Instead I want to change the world and stand up and been seen. The world is changing and in as little as 20 to 30 years there will be no dominant culture. White culture will not be the ideal standard for which all things are measured. We need to start thinking about what it is like to be different.

The sooner we embrace the world of change the greater our experience of life will be.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: kris krüg/flickr

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