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Lol: An open letter

Samantha Coughlin | Tuesday, November 12, 2013

“One day I’m gonna write an open letter to white girls and I promise I’ll lose every white girl friend I’ve ever made…and I’ll just have to deal lol”
Posts like this are pretty regular on my news feed from some former classmates from high school. I went to a private school in the suburbs of New York City that pushed diversity. Still, the racial divide was regrettably visible to everyone, with the majority of minority students only interacting with themselves. Unless you were involved in the choir or theatre, chances were you never really befriended any of the “kids in the hallway.”
White privilege is a tricky thing to talk about, because everyone knows about its existence and very real impact on our lives. My life as a white female was shaped by my relationship to society, and I have to admit America’s social and cultural standards advantage me in nearly every category conceivable. Media over represents my face, beauty products are tailored to my skin, I am never asked to speak on behalf of my racial group and I feel welcomed in public life. Et cetera. Et cetera.
They write books about these natural inequalities, and I was born to what mainstream culture perceives as the “winning team.” I have worked to educate myself about the invisible, institutionalized systems that govern American society. And, trust me, I understand where the hostility and anger that underlies my former classmates’ Facebook posts is rooted. I understand, but I will never know.
I live in a country tailored to people of my skin color. It’s a simple as that.
I often feel the desire to comment on the Facebook threads, possibly share some of the articles I’ve gathered from my sociology classes or ask a question. But I don’t think I ever will. I’m too scared to talk about race in a non-academic context. I’m afraid of being misinterpreted and vilified.
It’s hard to talk about race, especially when I know I am privileged and will never be able to know what it’s like facing the world otherwise. My lack of communication makes me, in part, responsible for helping to maintain a polarizing environment between myself and non-whites. I am saddened by my cowardice, but I only represent one side of the conversation. It is hard to find courage to communicate when my conversation partner assumes I’ll never care enough to try to understand – when my opinions have already been misconstrued and blindly interpreted – simply because of the color of my skin. How can any progress come from this? Change is certainly not rooted in silence.
I’m sad that for many of my classmates – like the author of the original quote – the prospect of actually discussing the subject openly and honestly possibly entails destroying relationships. Because that just reminds me how much more truly needs to be said.

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