I am not who you think

Fredericksburg, VA

White woman here. I grew up in a town that was mostly white with a small percent of Latin Americans. Black people were a rare site—I would see one maybe once a year. We had TV, but I didn’t watch much. I had no experience with black people. I didn’t, and still don’t watch or read a lot of news or participate on social media. When I was thirty, I moved to Virginia where there are black people. Imagine my surprise when I learned first hand of the “angry black woman.” Why was she SO NASTY to me? What had I done? Imagine my consternation when I continually encountered shockingly rude behavior from black women? I once ran for the elevator that had one person in it: a young black man. I called to him to wait for me, and he smiled and held the elevator door open, and the two of us had a pleasant one-story trip together.

Imagine my shock when, a few days later, I read an online comment that said many white women avoid riding elevators alone with black men. How odd! Why would they do that? I’d heard of racism, sure, but never really knew what it looked like except for national news stories that I understood to be outlier events like the beating Rodney King. That every once in a while a white man beat up a black man. I had no context—no knowledge of the endemic casual, as well as more overt, racism in mixed race populations. I had no idea I had lived such an extraordinarily sheltered life. I moved to Virginia because I felt I was lacking a richer world of diversity. I wanted to make friends with peoples of different races, ethnicities, and religions to have a richer life experience. Why have Cheerios every day when you can continually have a variety pack in your cupboard to choose from?

The difference are delicious! They make life enjoyable. I was naïve in thinking I would move to Virginia and become friends with a cornucopia of diverse fellow humans. There isn’t a whole lot of social cross over in race or ethnicity. What I’ve experienced far more of than anything else is being accused of taking part in racism from the mere fact that I am a white woman. A shy white woman who begs the pardon of a street sign for bumping into it. Im so fearful now of black women in general that my default is to quickly cater to them (e.g. let them cut in line, move out of their way, etc.), and I resent that. I haven’t been around any black people to oppress them (not that that is an objective), but I get treated and spoken to in general (online, at work) like I have personally done them wrong. I’ve gotten to the point where I fantasize about ranging a sign around my neck saying “I’m new to racial diversity. I know a lot of people have been awful, but I’m haven’t been nor will I be, so let’s go get cookies and play together.”


Tweets by Michele Norris