‘She Sees Me Wield My White Privilege Like a Blunt Instrument’

Carrie and Andrew are an upper-middle class white couple in their early 40s. They live in Harlem and have professional jobs. A year ago they became foster parents to a nine-year-old girl they call Blitzen, and they blog about it. Blitzen is African-American and has spent much of her life in fostercare—they don’t share details of her background beyond that it has been unstable and traumatic (“I am sure a lot of you are wondering what the hell happened and I am not going to tell you. It is part of Blitzen’s story, maybe she’ll tell you sometime”) but even with details unknown, the story of their little family is compelling and page-turning. The honesty and vulnerability that Carrie and Andrew  is beautiful—parenting a child in pain seems so, so hard, and they’re so, so good at it. One thing I love is that Carrie and Andrew do not shy away from talking about race and class.

Here’s Andrew responding to Blitzen hating her hair: “I’m pissed about the recordings in Blitzen’s head: ‘You’re not pretty.  You’re not smart. You’re not lovable. You’re not able to make it.’ Those are the voices of institutional racism, and they’re not from 1850, they’re in Blitzen’s head right now as she stands at the mirror with a hair dryer and a brush hoping that her hair turns straight.

“What I’m really pissed off and embarrassed about is my role amplifying and reinforcing the voices in Blitzen’s head. Blitzen moved into a home where every single photograph on the wall was of a white person; it’s pretty clear what I value. I’ve worked exclusively for culturally white institutions, even when, damagingly enough, I’ve been ‘serving’ primarily kids of color.

Blitzen sees me wield my white privilege like a blunt instrument every time I sidestep the line, every time I casually break a rule knowing it doesn’t apply to me, every time I tell our agency or our school exactly what I need. My white privilege has gotten me jobs, credit, housing, access to power, and the opportunity to raise another parent’s brilliant child. I don’t have to use words to tell Blitzen it’s better to be white. She notices everything, and my internalized white superiority isn’t that well-hidden anyway.”

 

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16 Comments / Post A Comment

highjump (#39)

I love foster wee which I found through Rebecca’s fosterhood blog (which I spied a picture of Logan on recently – internet worlds colliding!). Thanks for sharing your story Carrie and Andrew!

Ellie (#62)

I know this is totally beside the larger point about racism but it really pisses me off to read things like “she woke up 1:00 am with her hair back to normal: curly, gorgeous and alive.” Or in the other blog post from Carrie, “And I think her hair is so beautiful in its natural state that I wonder why she wants it different.” That is really patronizing. If she doesn’t like the way her hair looks, WHY IMPLY THAT SHE’S WRONG TO FEEL THAT WAY? It just makes the problem worse because then you can have your kid feel bad about not being self-confident enough to appreciate her hair as is in addition to feeling bad about what it looks like. A woman in the comments does the same thing by saying that her niece is foolish to want to have straight hair when she has “amazing auburn & extremely curly hair. She has spent most of her life trying to minimize all this, while wishing for straight ‘normal’ hair. This, despite being brilliant and becoming an environmental engineer” like she’s not smart enough to appreciate her own hair.

I know that many more things are more important than appearance but it is really hurtful and frustrating to have preferences dismissed as not valid. I also know that these people are ostensibly blaming “patriarchal standards” set by “white European males” (or Disney, you know, whatever) but it also comes down to telling girls that they lack self confidence and that their preferences are wrong. Maybe I just fucking like the way it looks a certain way. The way I like Ilya Repin but not Picasso. Aren’t we all entitled to our own aesthetic choices, about the world at large and our own appearance? Of course, there’s a limit to this where it becomes unhealthy, but I think that limit is more like “90 lbs at 5’6″, body dysmorphia, still thinks she’s fat” than “I wish I had straight hair.”

deepomega (#22)

@Ellie You’re basically saying “race has nothing to do with physical appearance.” Do you really not think that racism affects self-image and self-worth? If she were saying it about something besides hair (skin color?) would you say the same thing?

Markham (#1,862)

@Ellie no, just, no.

You’re seeing this entirely from the viewpoint of, well, a white person where switching from say dark hair to blonde is just within the scope of European appearance.

It’s different for people of different races, particularly within the context of our society.

When someone desires an appearance that doesn’t occur naturally within their race, it’s less about preference and more about wanting to be of another racial group, self hate and messages sent that you’re abnormal, can’t be attractive, etc., because you’re not of the dominant group.

E.g. growing up one of three Black kids in an all white town I asked out a girl for homecoming, and people questioned me: “But dude, why would she go out with you, you’re not, well, you know…”

The struggle of a young Black girl wishing she had straight hair is less about preference, and more about wishing she were white.

It’s not healthy, it’s exactly like wanting to be 90 lbs at 5’6″ tall.

When I’ve visited Asia I’ve seen ads for “skin whitener” (Black people and Indians do this too), there are also services where people get their eyes “fixed” to make them look more European.

Black people will get their noses fixed, especially if they’re lighter complexioned.

It all comes from the idea that only European features are attractive, it’s far beyond preference.

As far as the blog overall….

I’m all for acknowledging privilege, but I think she takes it a bit far.

So what if most of your pictures are of White People? Most of the pictures in my house are of my family members, and sure, you see Whites, Asians and Blacks, but hell that’s who I’m related to, and you still see mostly Blacks anyway, because, well, I’m Black, so…

I can’t help but think that a lot of the White Privilege she thinks her daughter sees, is more from her OWN feelings of how much better is to be White, rather than the reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, just that she was taking ish a bit far.

I hate it when people act as if everything good in their life is from White Privilege, as if every time a Black person applies for a job, credit card or mortgage we get rejected and arrested. It’s not 1940 anymore.

The blogger sounds like some of the women I’ve dated who would go on and about their privilege as if to make feel better maybe, but I would think: “You may not get followed around a store now and then, but, I make more money, have better credit, etc, things aren’t that clear cut anymore”

I mean, why is she feeling guilty about working for “White Institutions” when the country is 77% White?

Does she think that Black parents can’t demand things from the school? Mine did, and she was one of oh, FOUR Black parents in town.

In general – I think the word privilege is thrown around too much and is often more about making the author feel special.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the struggling millennial story that also references privilege, “I have an education and an iPhone” – no, you’re not privileged or you wouldn’t be struggling. Privilege to me = your parents paid for your Ivy League education cash, not paid for your iPhone because you spent all your money on student loans.

Okay, I’m ranting now…

Ellie (#62)

@deepomega Wait, what? I am not really sure what you are responding to, or how you think I said that race has nothing to do with physical appearance or that racism doesn’t affect self-image (I don’t think I even touched on that issue in my comment).

deepomega (#22)

@Ellie Markham explained it better than I did.

deepomega (#22)

@Markham I mean, speaking as a white dude, I think privilege (in a social justice sense, not a financial sense) is things like “not getting followed around by security guards at department stores” (which I saw happen to a friend in college). Or knowing that if you get caught by the cops with weed you’re a lot less likely to get arrested. Institutional racism doesn’t just hurt black people, it benefits white people, even if the white people in question aren’t being racist themselves. And not having to think about that is privilege.

highjump (#39)

@Ellie This is the part you need to re-read: When someone desires an appearance that doesn’t occur naturally within their race, it’s less about preference and more about wanting to be of another racial group, self hate and messages sent that you’re abnormal, can’t be attractive, etc., because you’re not of the dominant group.

There’s nothing funnier than white liberals discussing black hair.

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings What about white people dancing? Or shopping?

@deepomega Or governing?

WhyHelloThere (#1,398)

@Markham Why are you assuming the author here is female? I don’t think Andrew is a she!

RVA_TXN (#1,461)

@Ellie I agree with you. I can’t speak for this little girl but I am a black female who straightens her hair and I do it because I prefer the look on myself not because I’m self-hating or wish I was another race… I just like the way it looks. Gracious!

This little girl probably sees a lot of the black girls at school or around Harlem with relaxed (straightened) hair. It is pretty much the norm, although more black women are going natural now.

Markham (#1,862)

@deepomega I didn’t dispute that White Privilege exists, I just think some White people go out of their way to acknowledge it sometimes.

“I have a job, damn my White privilege”

I remember sitting in a restaurant with my ex-girlfriend and we had waited a bit for service, and then “oh the White Privilege, the white couple over there has gotten served” –

Me: “I think we just have a crappy waiter, the interracial couple behind us isn’t having any issues”

“Oh”

Yes it exists, but some people are falling over themselves to acknowledge it.

It’s annoying.

Markham (#1,862)

@RVA_TXN I think the author is expressing the delta between liking a certain hairstyle and hating your hair because it isn’t European. Because even straightened, Black people hair doesn’t suddenly look Caucasian.

Plus this is a kid who was adopted by White People, we don’t know what her social circles are like, what she says to her parents, if she’s comparing her hair to her Mom’s, etc.

Mal*Pal (#1,597)

Well Meaning People Have the Wrong Idea about Everything.

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