Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 8

The term “white racial frame” was first coined by sociologist Joe Feagin to describe “how whites circulate and reinforce racial messages that position whites as superior.” He says that the racial frame is deep and extensive and stored as “bits”. I think of yeast in the dough. Work it in and the bread will begin to rise. The bits here refers to things like movies, TV, news, and other media, and stories told by family and friends. Constant use of these bits keeps the framework going and getting stronger and stronger.

The most general level of the racial framework: whites are superior in culture and achievement and people of color are generally of less social, economic, and political consequence. At the next level, because social institutions (government, schools, the military, etc.) are controlled by whites, white dominance is unremarkable and taken for granted. At the deepest level, the idea that people of color are innately inferior is reinforced and accepted.

DiAngelo offers questions we might ask ourselves about the framework in which we grew up. I will answer each of these from my memory…you might want to do the same.

  1. How old were you when you became conscious that there were people of different racial groups than your own? I think I was first aware during early school years, first in literature, ie. Uncle Remus, then in sports, Chicago’ Luis Aparicio and Ernie Banks come to mind. Later, while riding on public transportation or driving through black neighborhoods.
  2. Did your parents tell you that race didn’t matter? I believe my Dad did. My parents often got in arguments with politically racist relatives, taking the side of minorities.
  3. Did they have many friends of color? No, none that I was aware of.
  4. If people of color did not live in your neighborhood, why didn’t they? Now I think it was red-lining. When I was a child or teen, I didn’t know.
  5. Where did they live? In the areas closer to the center of Chicago and on the south side of the city.
  6. What images, sounds, kinds of activities did you think went on there? Most of what I saw was run down, absent of any parks or lawn areas, some garbage strewn about against the buildings and in the gutters. Sounds…the “el” train. (I realize now I never really penetrated the neighborhoods. I only saw the areas along the train tracks and along the highways.) I couldn’t imagine them hearing the sounds of birds except pigeons or growing flowers or vegetables.
  7. What kind of activities did you think went on there? People sitting on their stoops, talking, kids playing barefoot in the streets, watching TV.
  8. Were you encouraged to visit these neighborhoods or were you discouraged from visiting these neighborhoods? We had relatives living in areas that were turning black. We had to be cautious while we visited them or while visiting museums or White Sox Park, both in or near black neighborhoods.
  9. What about schools? What made a good school? Who went to good schools? Catholic schools were good, public schools not so  good. Catholic kids went to good schools. Protestants went to the bad schools. I didn’t think about white and black, rather public and parochial when it came to school. My cousins on the south side had black students in their schools, but they were Catholic, I assumed.
  10. Were schools in black neighborhoods considered equal to, better than, or worse than yours? I don’t recall ever thinking about that. I was pretty stuck on the Catholic thing.
  11. Why did busing go in one directions and not the other? This didn’t happen until I was an adult and I actually asked that question. In the rift between Camilla Harris and Joe Biden in the Democratic debates, I took his side…though I think he could have done a better job of articulating his position. I believed back then that the real solutions to equal education was to upgrade all schools and make them equal while working on the problem of redlining so neighborhoods would become equitably integrated. I saw busing as only a temporary measure and worried that it got people off the hook for improving the inner city schools.
  12. The next question does not apply to me, but I include it here for the readers to consider. If you went to school together, did you all sit together in the cafeteria? If not, why not? Were the honors or advanced placement classes and the lower-track classes equally racially integrated? If not, why not?
  13. When was the first time you had a teacher of he same race as yours? Did you often have teachers of the same race as your own? I never had a teacher of a different race until I went to school in the nineties for my masters. That was a teacher in my human relations class in which we studied diversity.

DiAngelo suggested to consider the geography. I lived in Chicago proper, not the suburbs, but in a middle class, white neighborhood on the north side. She didn’t mention age, but I think it is important to consider that. I was born in 1944.

I hope you will consider answering the questions for yourself. Write out your answers and send them to me, if you like.

4 thoughts on “Let’s Look Together at White Privilege – 8”

  1. Thanks for your comments, Diane. Being from the big city of Chicago, I was curious about the experience of those from rural areas. I am getting a lot out of the book, too.

  2. I grew up in the suburbs of Mpls. where there weren’t any people of color. I don’t remember my parents ever mentioning anything about blacks or any other race. Blacks were the people in my books, “Little Black Sambo”, “Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit”. I didn’t know the real name of brazil nuts for many years because we called them “Nigger Toes”. I remember feeling sorry for black people because they were poor, lived in shacks and weren’t very educated. I felt lucky that God made me white!! Now that I think about it, that’s pretty sad!

    1. Funny, we both mention Uncle Remus. For me, it was a very positive image I got from Uncle Remus. I saw a compassionate, humorous, positive man. Interestingly, Black Sambo also was positive for me bacause I thought he was so clever. Other racial innuendos escaped me. I kind of want to revisit them to see if I would see something different. Maybe my next couple of books.

  3. These are important questions. Our lives are, truthfully, shaped by our beliefs but also our immediate surroundings. I can only share my experience as a small town gal; I grew up in Little Falls, raised by a wonderful-but very prejudiced father. We were poor. My dad was a child of the Great Depression (born in 1917). He rode the railways looking for work to help his mother feed siblings. He spent time in Minneapolis and in St. Paul. I think these times colored his attitudes towards people who are racially different and so what he spoke to us was also shaded. He believed many of the racially negative beliefs about Black Americans and spoke freely his views: they were less intelligent, lazy, not to be trusted, scary and even dangerous. If we traveled to the Cities, we locked car doors and rolled up car windows “to stay safe.” There were no Black Americans in Little Falls that I knew of; even in LFHS (our school), I don’t remember any people of another race. It was college and a liberal education that opened my mind and broke down the stereotyping I had been exposed to while growing up. Thank God for St. Benedict’s College! This book is continuing my education into all of the unconscious, truly systematic ways of behaving, that I acquired while growing up in small town (Protestant and white mostly-although we were Catholic) Minnesota.

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