Decentering My White Self
Many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) point to white centering as one of the most harmful aspects of racism and white supremacy. White centering is ingrained in our culture and in the bodies and minds of white people. If you've ever seen an interaction between white people and BIPOC, more than likely you've witnessed white centering. Centering occurs when a BIPOC is explaining their lived experience and a white person responds or interrupts with their own experience, effectively silencing the voice of the BIPOC and denying their lived experience. This is an easy trap for white people to fall into. I've seen this play out countless times, especially on social media and in the news.
Passing as white means your race is automatically centered and considered the norm. My family never had a discussion about race when I was growing up because we didn't have to, our world was made by people that looked like us for people that looked like us. As a child, it never occurred to me that because whiteness was centered people of other races were oppressed. I was always secure in my whiteness and people of other races existed outside of my segregated world. Because I was white, I never had to empathize with BIPOC or even think about what it was like to be anything other than white. There were very few spaces in my childhood where I was among BIPOC, which only deepened my centering of my white self.
There are countless ways in which whiteness is centered in America. As a white woman, I can go into a store and expect to find clothing, food and merchandise that is meant for me. I don't have to travel outside of my city to find food that I like or that I grew up with. I can go to the toy department and find dolls that look like me. I'm never inconvenienced because of my whiteness, but BIPOC are all of the time. One of my first experiences with white centering occurred a few years ago when I tried to find an Asian family of dolls for my child's dollhouse. I couldn't find them in any store, or even through online retailers. I had to go to eBay and find the dolls from someone who collected them. It was an eye-opening experience for me. That simple act required a lot of my time and energy and I was very frustrated throughout the process. I can't imagine what it would have felt like for an Asian person having to go through all of that just to find a doll that represented them.
I recently fell into white centering again when I listened to a podcast between two Black women writers talking about their work. I had read one of the woman's books, but felt it didn't resonate with me. I discounted the writer as a result, failing to realize that I was not her intended audience; she was writing for Black women. As a white woman, I have assumed that all art is made for my consumption, no matter who the artist is or what their background may be. I'm working on checking my inclination to center myself because in doing so, I minimize the talents, gifts and humanity of BIPOC.
This same centering of whiteness occurs in BIPOC spaces, because we white people often assume that we are welcome and entitled to be in any space. We fail to realize that our mere presence can make BIPOC feel unsafe. As I've been on this journey of unpacking my whiteness, I've become more aware of how I show up in BIPOC spaces. I've been in BIPOC spaces where those races are centered and it felt very foreign to me and I felt very conspicuous, but even though whiteness was not centered, I still retained my white privilege because outside of those walls white supremacy still existed. I'm trying to be more conscious of how I show up in BIPOC spaces and I'm questioning myself about whether or not I may cause harm by simply entering BIPOC spaces. It's taken a lot of effort to begin decentering myself, and I'm still working on dismantling my white person ego that assumes I'm welcome in every space and always the intended audience. White supremacy has taught me that everything is made for me just because I'm white. That's a lot to unpack, but we white passing people must make the effort to decenter ourselves. When whiteness is centered, it's easy to see why many white people feel entitled to every privilege our country has to offer, even if it comes at the expense of BIPOC lives.