How would you describe yourself?
Jamie: “White American with strong connection to my German heritage, as many of our customs/language stem from my grandparents’ German upbringing. I’m also ‘25% Irish’ according to my dad’s family, but aside from my last name and a few small things, there’s not much impact in my life from it. My mom brought us up in Christian churches (non-denom, Baptist, Evangelical), and while I am most familiar with it, I took a big step away from it. I’m at the ‘learning and waiting’ stage. Hometown is hard to describe, as we moved a lot and where I grew up changed a lot. Could be Milwaukee, Richfield, Menomonee Falls, Slinger.”
Ethnicity: Midwestern German American
Hometown: Milwaukee, Wisconsin & Slinger, Wisconsin
Place of Residence: New York City, New York
Any other places you consider home: Chicago, Illinois.
“I lived there in my first 9 years out of school, on my own, making my own world. Feels much more like ‘home’ than Milwaukee or Slinger (where my parents live now and where I graduated HS).”
How would you define racism?
Jamie: “Oy. Ideas, policy, treatment from people in positions of power or advantage that degrades, disadvantages and devalues a people group(s) based solely on perceived racial differences.”
How regularly/often do you engage in conversations about race/culture with friends, family, or peers?
Jamie: “At this point in time, about once a week. However, I’d like to engage more often, but I haven’t really found a community here in NYC that I can have deeper discussions with. I felt really engaged in the community at River City and my community in Chicago, but it’s been a hard go in NYC. I feel like I now have more convos on social media.”
Does race matter?
Jamie: “I wish it didn’t, but it does. Assigning race has been/is used to divide, marginalize, and disadvantage people groups across the globe. It also seems like an outdated concept, as we marry and raise children that are mixed races and the lines will continue to get blurred.”
When did you first realize that your race mattered?
Jamie: “We moved a lot when I was young, starting out in the city of Milwaukee, where my schools and friend groups included a great mix of races and ethnicities. We moved around, then landed in the small, white suburbs of Slinger when I was in 4th grade, and it was then that I learned that race and ethnicity were hot topics that not everyone agreed on.”
In your educational experiences, did you learn anything about race? If so, what did you learn?
Jamie: “No lessons stick out as particularly significant. I think I learned more about it out of school.”
Does everyone in your immediate family feel the same way about race?
Jamie: “No. My husband and I share the same values, although I tend to be more active in learning and involving myself in race related issues. My dad’s side of the family has racist ideas that grew generations deep. For most of them, they wouldn’t ever say they’re racist (no one ever does, of course), but they allow their jokes and political leanings to reflect those kinds of judgements. My father has grown leaps and bounds in understanding, but I also don’t think he’s one to question his privilege much unless someone he loves challenges him. So he’s content to believe that he became successful by all his hard work and that everyone should just do the same. My mother, she loves everyone. However, she is sometimes ignorant of the issues around race, choosing to believe that if people would just love each other, all things will be solved. She doesn’t understand the impact that race has in a larger context. My brother and his wife (mixed race), have beliefs similar to mine, although I’m sure there are slight differences.”
Growing up, to what extent did your family educate you about your race and/or other races?
Jamie: “There was not much discussion about race, until I started getting serious with a black guy. Then all of a sudden, I learned quickly that my dad’s side of the family harbored racist beliefs. Unfortunately, I learned then that different races drew different criticism. I’d dated one guy that was part Cherokee, another that was Mexican, had friends of many races. But dating a black man had crossed the line in his eyes. While my father said he had ‘no problem’ with everyone being friends, he thought that interracial relationships weren’t a good idea.
He thought that it would bring more problems, judgement, misunderstanding, and that ‘black men see white women as prizes’. He didn’t know much about this boyfriend, (he never knew much about any boyfriend), who grew up in a wealthy Chicago suburb, as the son of a dentist and a professor, but picked out his race as ‘the thing’ that would be problematic. Many conversations and many years later, he’s thankfully changed his beliefs.”
“He thought that it would bring more problems, judgement, misunderstanding, and that ‘black men see white women as prizes.’”
If you’ve ever been treated differently because of your race/culture, can you describe any/all relevant situations?
Jamie: “When I moved from the Milwaukee area to Slinger, I was bullied and was often called a “wigger.” I had to ask what that meant. Even though I was white and EVERYONE else in the new school was as well, they had clear thoughts about the way that I was living in their world.
As a white person, I have the luxury of being able to count the instances of negative treatment, but am probably unaware of the many times I’ve been treated better because of my white skin.
“When I moved from the Milwaukee area to Slinger, I was bullied and was often called a ‘wigger.’ I had to ask what that meant. Even though I was white and EVERYONE else in the new school was as well, they had clear thoughts about the way that I was living in their world.”
I’ve gone into a Starbucks, used the bathroom without buying anything, and never got arrested. I’ve done STUPID stuff in public and never got beaten up. I’ve been pulled over for speeding and only received a firm lecture. I received better treatment from service providers because I was white. I am able to walk into almost any establishment and get service. I’m not often questioned when going about my daily life. I’ve been welcomed with open arms to events with families of color. My word was believed over the word of a POC. I’m able to travel all over the world with little to no questioning. Etc, etc.
I was cast in a Christian play as the only white person in an otherwise all black cast. The storyline already controversial, the atmosphere during rehearsals was somewhat hostile. There were many times I was left by myself while the rest of the cast went to different areas of the theatre to talk about their personal lives. The cast and even the director made many mentions of what ‘white women were like’, what ‘white women liked’, and I was groped on more than one occasion. The audience was mostly black, and I had many nasty comments said to me after the show, even though I was nothing like the character I had just played, aside from skin color.
After our wedding, my husband and I went to Vietnam to meet his extended family. I was pulled around the village to take pictures with people I’d never met, often without my husband wanted in the picture. Comments about my beautiful pale skin were loudly made, in front of me, and I was poked and touched by every auntie. Many comments about his luck on marrying a white woman, how beautiful our children would be because they’d be mixed race…. I realize that a lot of this comes from the idealization of white skin, but it made me feel like a prize pig.”
“Comments about my beautiful pale skin were loudly made, in front of me, and I was poked and touched by every auntie. Many comments about his luck on marrying a white woman, how beautiful our children would be because they’d be mixed race.”
Have you considered how you might discuss race once you have children?
Jamie: “I am in a mixed race marriage, and I believe race will be an important topic in our household. We are years away from having kids, so I haven’t determined how exactly, but I intend to be quite open and vocal about the information/issues surrounding the topic.”
What frustrates you the most about racism and/or racists?
Jamie: “That it’s really based on ignorance. Especially when you consider that we’ve all basically come from the same ancestors, that our dna has been mixed around so much throughout history… we truly are all connected somehow. That we can hurt other people (intentionally or unintentionally) based on these made up divisions is heartbreaking. It also frustrates me that because it has become so ingrained in our society, policy, etc, that racist assumptions have implanted in our minds from birth without our awareness. It’s only when we really analyze ourselves and our actions/thoughts that we really realize how deep the seeds have been planted. One by one, we have to find them, rip them out, and replace with new, true thoughts.”
Is there anything you’re curious about regarding someone else’s race? For example, if you had the opportunity to ask someone of another race one thing—without the fear that it would be misinterpreted or considered offensive—what would it be?
Jamie: “Oh, I have no idea. I guess one would be ‘What is one thing you wish people didn’t assume about you based on your race?’ … OR… ‘What are your feelings on adoption, should agencies try to match the race of children and parents, or should adoptions be open to any pairings?’”
“’What are your feelings on adoption, should agencies try to match the race of children and parents, or should adoptions be open to any pairings?’”
Is there anything you’d like to add that you haven’t already mentioned?
Jamie: “I’m quite positive I’ve failed many times at being compassionate, judgement free, and informed. It’s a sign of my privilege as a white person that I get to think about race issues when I care to, and that I’m not forced to be aware of my race/identity at every minute of the day.”
Is there anything you’d like to ask me (Anjeanette)?
Jamie: “What is something you wish people didn’t assume about you based on your race? Knowing what you do about me, how can I personally make changes to how I think, behave, interact to be a better ally to people of color?”
***If you liked this post, feel free to check out these others. Let me know if you’d like to be featured in any of the upcoming Perspectives pieces!
- Perspectives on Race #1: Black, Muslim & Tired
- We Need To Have a Conversation About Race (Part 1 of 6): Here, I’ll Go First.
- We Need To Have a Conversation About Race (Part 2 of 6): Ain’t Gone Hurt Nobody
- We Need To Have a Conversation About Race (Part 3 of 6): And Other Exercises in Futility
- Should You Talk To Your Children About Race?
- Tuck Fexas: You Should Talk To Your Children About Race.
- You Don’t Get To Decide (Black on Both Sides)
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