A friend of mine shared the song Glorious by Macklemore on Facebook the other day, and I hit play on the video. The song was catchy, and I enjoyed the video very much; however, this isn’t about Helen’s 100th birthday extravaganza, it’s about the song that played next, White Privilege 2. It was a story that had been going through my head for months. The lyrics touched on so many of the conflicts I have been feeling about where I fit in the puzzle that is racism in America.
This may sound crazy, but I first became aware of my whiteness when I was working as a nanny. I had joined a few nanny groups that were a collage of different races, ethnicities, and nationalities. It was in this mix that I first recognized my white privilege; strike that, it was the first time I had my white privilege pointed out to me. The non-white or non-American nannies had a completely different experience than I did. When I first thought about becoming a nanny, I posted an ad on a parenting forum with my picture and a short bio. It should be noted that I was a twenty-year-old, college drop-out working at a daycare center in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Within hours, I had six agencies and dozens of families wanting immediate interviews. I had families fly me to all corners of the country, and it was up to me to choose which one I wanted to work for. I was promised all sorts of things: private living quarters, lavish vacations, fully staffed homes where all I would do was care for the children, luxury vehicles for my private use, and of course, top salary for the field. I thought it was my stellar resume (hahaha), but it turns out it was probably just the color of my skin. Sure, the agency I chose checked my references, which were from great families whose children I had cared for, but I was never in danger of not finding a job. Like I said, this was not the experience of my non-white nanny friends. They worked more hours for less pay, were not given keys to the houses they were living in, they couldn’t find agencies to represent them, and they were treated badly by friends of the people they worked for; the list goes on and on. I thought my experience was standard; now I know that in some circles (NOT any of the families I ever worked for), having a white nanny, no matter how young or inexperienced, is prized over having the most experienced nanny of any other race. I had experienced my white privilege even earlier, I just didn’t recognize it for what it was. At the daycare center I left to become a nanny, my nineteen-year-old self was promoted to Assistant Director after only six months working there ahead of several African-American women who had worked there for years. In the Macklemore song, there is a section that speaks to this: “The one thing the American dream fails to mention is I was many steps ahead to begin with …. White supremacy isn’t just a white dude in Idaho. White supremacy protects the privilege I hold. White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home. White supremacy is our country’s lineage, designed for us to be indifferent.”
This is a system I have greatly benefited from and most likely will continue to, but it is also a system I have grown to hate. Which brings me back to the song. There is another part that says, “Am I on the outside looking in, or am I on the inside looking out? Is it my place to give my two cents? Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth?” This spoke to me because this is how I feel, like saying nothing is being complicit, but speaking out is out of bounds. Where does a white, southern girl fit in a movement that fights against a system she benefits from?
To be continued…..