What does an all-white room mean?


written by Love Isn’t Enough guest contributor Renee; originally published at Womanist Musings

Living in a small town means that quite often I am the only POC in a room full of white people. There is always an undercurrent in these situations, which causes me to be hyper-aware of my race. It does not matter whether or not the white people involved say or do anything racist; race is very much a part of the atmosphere. There is always the unspoken question of why I am there, because Whiteness jealously guards its space.

When Destruction was little, I took him to a breakfast with Santa. When we walked into the room, it was filled with white people. Though no one spoke to us except for a local politician, it was clear that we had invaded a space. I found myself thankful to have my brown child sitting next to me.

As person who faces multiple “isms,” I am well aware of the need for a safe space: A space in which the marginalized can speak to each other openly and honestly; however, the idea that Whiteness needs such a space is ridiculous, when the world is designed to assure its comfort. An all-white space is not about safety, it is about excluding others. It is about maintaining white supremacy.

I sometimes wonder when white people gather in groups without a single person of colour, if they are aware of the dynamics in the room? I wonder how often they drop their guard and stop the so-called “politically correct” speech? I question how long it takes before they realize that even in a gathering of friends, such a grouping is a reflection of privilege? You see, if you have all white friends it says something about who you are as a person. No matter how post- racial we claim to be, most largely still live very segregated lives.

There is always some excuse why this segregation continues to exist. All-white neighborhoods abound and then every February Whiteness waxes on about how great Martin Luther King was. They’re not racist, but are quick to call blacks they hardly know friends, because the reality that their real social circle includes no POC is just something many don’t want to admit. To be a friend to a POC means work. It means actively challenging your privileges and learning when to keep quiet. Whiteness is not used to working and pretty much believes that POC are desperate to be around it, as if the glamor and supposed beauty of Whiteness will rub off on us with repeated exposure.

These things have become obvious to me over time and yet each time I bring this up someone is ready to make excuses. OOOh the mean, angry black woman is always picking on Whiteness and it simply cannot win. Damned, I tell you, damned. I don’t want to be anyone’s token black friend but I am tired walking into a room to find that I am the only person of colour. I am tired of the pregnant pauses, the failure to engage or those that outright move to get away from me as though I don’t recognize their discomfort for exactly what it is. White spaces don’t create solidarity they only undermine the tiny degree of community that is in existence.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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