Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dialogues on race in 8 minutes

I’m a single, white woman in my thirties. For me this means I regularly take part in various forms of social/dating rituals: blind dates, internet connections, meet up groups, and most recently…speed dating.

In the last several years, as my voice on white identity and racism has strengthened, I’ve come to terms with the fact that any first date will involve a discussion on race. There are usually two ways this goes. Either the discussion resolves well, and a second date becomes possible (at least on my end). Or, it does not go well, and I downshift into becoming my best educator self for the remainder of the date.

I learned something about myself last week. It is this: No, I cannot share substantially with someone for even 8 minutes without talking about race. No, I will not submit to surface level chatter to avoid it. And, no, I am not afraid of what that might bring.

So, enter Bachelor number 4. Our 8 minutes together started with so much promise.

Me: So, what are you passionate about?

Him: Justice. (Very nice start!)

More questions, more answers…all of which made him increasingly attractive.

Him: So, what are you passionate about?

Me: Racial justice

Him: What do you mean?

Me: I’m invested in helping people see how our history of racism continues to impact people today and how the structures of our society still operate largely in ways that support inequity.

Him: So, you support affirmative action?

Me: I see it as an important step in our movement forward.

I could have said more…a lot more. Had we been sharing a meal he would have gotten an ear full. However, we had two minutes to wrap up and he felt it important to let me know how naïve I am and how he used to be liberal until he moved to LA.

There’s more to the story…and more to him. I’m sure it’s hard when you find that your business struggles in part due to policies that do not put you at the front of the line. I’m also sure that whatever I might have said, it likely would not have altered his perspective.

I’m sure of that mostly because of what occurred in the last 2 minutes. He received a call. (Yes, on an 8 minute date he felt the need to take a call.) Why? Because he had parked his fancy car in the loading zone of a high-priced hotel with a note on it saying that he was working inside the hotel. And…shockingly, he was actually receiving a call telling him that it was time to move his car. No tow truck for the fancy car, apparently.

Privilege oozed from him, and I had to laugh in order to cope with the situation.

I kept chuckling to myself, shaking my head, until the bell rang and the men were asked to switch seats. Bachelor number 4 raced from the room to rescue his car. I proceeded to talk about what happened to both the Latina woman seated next to me as well as the African American man who sat down next in front of me. We all laughed and shook our heads, sadly witnessing Privilege with a capital P, with a heavy dose of Denial to support it.

And, 8 minutes later, another white man sat before me, another white man with whom I could try to talk about race. Let the games begin! This last guy seemed to get it, thank goodness. And we actually had quite a nice conversation, one that lasted longer than 8 minutes since he was last in the lineup for the night.

And thus, the night ended with a tie, a score of 1 to 1 for the white men. And hope exists (floats up as they say) even amidst sad displays of entitlement.


  1. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! Thank-you so much for sharing your story! Your wonderful story and sharing has caused me to think of how our marvelous white anti-racist heroines and heros can endure many sacrifices and uncomfortable circumstances as you and the others do in such a valiant manner. I appreciate so much how you and other white anti-racist persons in your commitment to racial justice can experience conflict with other white people who are not like-minded. I see that this happens in terms of dating,romantic relationships, friendships, parents and other family members, bosses, supervisors, co-workers and colleagues at work, through school as teachers and students, with white neighbors,with the police, and in all of the areas in which courageous white anti-racists such as yourself witness to other white persons in these different areas among white people, or in the white community itself. I so appreciate the sacrifices white anti-racist people bravely make. I have learned that being an ally and an advocate for racial justice can cause conflict with white anti-racist folks from their less than enlightened other white people in their lives. I have learned that this can involve disapproval or even downright rejection for allies and advocates from their families and loved ones, and also shunning and other forms of ostracism from white people outside of their families. Over many, many years I have become aware that white families and white communities police how their members must tow the racist and prejudicial line, or face punishment,rejection, or even abuse. Innocent white children, like my friends and classmates who I grew up and went to school with learned racism from their parents and other family members, and were pressured to obey their parents, caretakers, and other important and major family members in thinking and enacting racist and prejudicial thoughts and behaviors. I firmly believe that many white folks as children are often abused and indoctrinated into how to be properly white, and very pressured to obey these rules. Also, white folks as children, preteens, teens,and adults often face outright hostility and possibly other complete and total abandonment when they fight as advocates for racial justice in confronting, challenging, and educating racist people and systems. Many white anti-racist people run the risk of losing their families, inheritances,their jobs,their very livelihood to put food on the table for themselves and their families, and to take care of their other survival needs for themselves and their families, and to be able to take care of their safety, or even their very lives, and the support and respect of their families and white communities, and I appreciate so much this great human sacrifice on your and their part,and the huge and major risks that allies and advocates are willing to take and endure. Also, I have observed that although we have had numerous white anti-racist advocates and allies throughout history, not just in the current early 21st century, and not only in the past 20th century like during the Civil Rights movement, but also even earlier we have had white sisters and white men in the struggle. I am so saddened at how there is often not a lot of information, mention, and recognition of these folks in our society, or in our history books and other materials. There are so many white anti-racist folks like yourself Shelly who are our heroines and heros! I have been actively searching in books and other reading materials, and other resources, and for people who are white anti-racist heroines and heros, to find your and their stories, and to validate your and their efforts, which I think is very important,and the key! Your story and sharing on your two speed dating experiences just served as the impetus to even further facilitate my thinking and my process, and I thank you for that, Shelly! Blessings To You Always, Shelly!
    Sincerely always,
    Sherry Gordon

  2. Beautiful combination of dialogue and narrative Shelly!

    I also admire your ability to go deep within less than 8 minutes.

    Keep up the good work!