Take out the trash.

There were many painful and awkward situations which led me to a somewhat early awareness of race and class. One of my favorite authors/speakers, Dr. Cornell West once said "People wake up at different times" in reference to (white) people coming to an awareness of race and class issues, and Im thankful that I had a somewhat early awakening in life.

My earliest lessons on all things race and class were fostered by my mother, not in a higher education theoretical framework understanding kind of way- but by a real life, single mother, strong as steel but teachable, white woman in the city with interracial friendships and relationships kinda way. Its better, trust me. Real Life is a way better and more dependable classroom.

School also was a huge component in how I have come to understand issues of whiteness and its inherent privilege, and all things race and class based. For high school, my mother, sister and I moved into a close neighboring suburb of Chicago. I could throw a stone and hit the city limits, but my mother had hoped to save us from what was, and still is, the "difficult" situation of Chicago Public Schools. I can't promise the school we attended was THAT much of a better situation, but I survived. 


My high school was almost evenly split between white students and hispanic students. The half of the student body that was hispanic was again split pretty evenly between students who didn't speak English and were new arrivals to the country, and students whose families had come to America before they were born or when they were very young. We had a few African American students, a small but close knit group of students of East Indian descent, and many students who identified so closely with their Italian heritage that they probably didn't choose to ascribe to the "white" moniker I have graced them with.

One of my best friends throughout high school was a girl whose family was from Guadalajara, Jaslisco. (this is in Mexico, Im sure you knew that) She was light skinned and her loathed but unshakeable nickname was "Guera," which is Chicano slang for white girl. (Google Chicano) Her group of friends hated me and didn't like that we hung out. Her other best friend in particular wanted me to disappear and was pretty open about that and would stare me down in the hallways. A lot of it had to do with that she was Mexican and I was white, and we knew that. Good thing I don't scare easy. They didn't care that I was scrappy or had lots of other Hispanic, Black, or more of the "tough" white crowd as my friends....I was white, so I wasn't right. Even then I understood why they dismissed me, at our high school white girls on the whole were snobby, condescending and afraid of them and so often times the Latina chicks capitalized on that fear. I thought it was marvelous, it just didn't work on me. 

Well, my friend Erica had this bright and awful idea that we should all hang out. We went to Baker's Square and somehow ended up with 4 Mexican girls on one side of a long table, and me and my other white friend on the other side. It was like an unintentional ethnic face off with chicken tenders and pie. My friend I had brought for "back up" to ride with me through this awkward situation was one of the toughest white chicks Ive ever chilled with. Her name was Alta, and most people pronounced it "Ulta" but it was more like "Elta." Her father was literally the meanest person Ive ever met, and Im still confused about it. I could write a whole love-filled blog about her and our mis-adventures and what she taught me the few years we were friends, but thats another time. 

There we sat and they spoke in Spanish and I don't know if Alta and I spoke much or looked on trying to be cool or hard, or both. They were talking about us and we knew it. Erica tried to graciously facilitate conversation bilingually on both sides of the table but no one was going. At one point they interrupted their Spanish conversation to point to a white garbage receptacle at the  waiter station and say clearly in English, "Some needs to take out the trash. The White Trash." I remember being like "What? Why?" and just pretty much confused, conflicted, confounded. Alta laughed it off in a pissed off kinda way and probably seasoned the conversation with several F bombs and what not. The conversation escalated, probably because we were done with our delicious pie. I don't have a road map for how it continued, but I remember it culminated in louder voices as they repeated "white trash" in new and creative ways. They were daring me to reciprocate, to call them the derogatory term for someone who had just arrived here from Mexico, particularly by swimming through the ocean or some body of water. Alta flung that word at them with a middle finger after they basically told her to, but they seemed more interested in me. 

And then, I followed suit.  I said it. First, I quietly said it... almost like a question. They looked at me with their eyebrows up and then I said it louder and more confidently and raised my arms like 'What?"
Abruptly, The situation changed. The commotion died down and I remember her other best friend, the one who hated me, turning to Erica and saying, "See? I told you. Just like all the rest" with a smirk. I remember Erica looking at me like "Really?"
I think our relationship cooled off for bit, but we picked back up and we never really discussed it. 

I understood. I get that they wanted to see how far they could push me, if I harbored the same racist, ignorant, condescending mentality as the flock of other white girls they had encountered. At that time, they hadn't ever met a white chick that was true.....and they didn't find that in me at that time either. I could have called them any variety of swear words, insults, talked about their momma, even hit them (this would have been a bad idea. It was freshman year and I hadn't hit my growth spurt or learned how to fight yet. They would have crushed me), or even reached across and eaten their pie. Im still guilt-ridden and beside myself that I did exactly what they knew I would do. 

I learned a lot that day. Ive always remembered that it matters not how other people act, but how I act. Other people can act a total fool, but it is not an excuse for me to lose myself or what I know is right. It didn't even matter what those girls said to me, or dared me to do. None. 

That'll preach. Jesus, be self control. 

The only act that mattered in the situation, and in my friendship with Erica, is that I rose (or descended) to the expectation to use a racist word as a white girl.

Many of you will get this. I roll with a pretty woke crowd. But in case anyone out there is confused, I don't want to leave you there. In case you are thinking, BUT they came at you first? They used racially loaded and derogatory words to provoke you, but it only matters that YOU said it? 


Here is where I might lose some of you, but just try to read through. As a white woman, Im winning in this country. White is the majority. Yes, even if you don't think you are. Even if you grew up what you consider poor, or under resourced. (Google White privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack and scroll down the the list) And even when white stops being the ethnic majority in this country, for the foreseeable future white people are the ones in and with all the power. (google a quick pic of Congress or Presidents of the US except Barack Obama) So my prejudice was coupled with power. That what racism is, it's prejudice plus the presence of power. Its a painful history of white people that looked just like me not only using that word and many others to keep ourselves on top with all the rewards and spoils that accompanies it, but the presence day and future realities of continued oppression and constant struggle just because they weren't white. 

While those girls might have disliked white people, did it really affect my life in the same detrimental ways? Sure, I cared. But over and over again, the ones with power (white people) disliking and not showing equity or favor to ethnic minorities has lasting, generational, financial, life altering dire consequences. They were trying to "save" Erica from a friendship they thought would hurt her in the end. They didn't think a white chick could be down for her because at the end of the day when we were pushed into a corner at our limit, we choose our own. We resort to drawing lines by race and siting on opposite sides of the table.  They proved it and I have had to repent of that tendency every day since. 

Including today when I texted Erica and told her I loved her and missed her and told her to send me updated pics of her Kids and Husband. 

Here is your mostly happy ending: Over the next 3 years, I became good friends with everyone on both sides of that table, everyone that is---- except for her other best friend who until the day we graduated high school looked through me as if I didn't exist. 



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