Understanding Racism as a White Woman

Let me begin by saying that I believe that you are probably more racist than you think that you are.  I am too.

I was surprised to find out last week that someone who I considered a friend has been repeatedly telling my friends and family members that I am racist for the past year.  She has never discussed this with me.  My brother was kind enough to fill me in.  This friend and her family spent several days staying in my family’s home last year, not long after the adoption of my daughter.  My daughter has a tendency towards dry skin, so every morning I lather her in cocoa butter or shea butter, whichever I have on hand.  My husband and I have casually referred to this morning ritual as “buttering the baby” or “putting butter on the baby.”  My friend heard me say this, and this is why she believes that I am racist.  When I heard this I was confused.  I truly had no idea why this might cause offense.  I googled “buttering the baby” and “putting butter on the baby” and found nothing but adverts for shea and cocoa and other baby butter products.  Finally I entered, “butter as racist term” and finally found this, courtesy of the Urban Dictionary, page 7, entry #48 for “butter.”

“The word sometimes used in place of “N*****” by racists and just plain mean people. Often to describe one or more African Americans. It is used to get the same feeling as saying “N*****” without anyone knowing that you actually are.”

This is the only reference of this kind I found.  I was horrified.  Let me say that I am being honest when I say that I have NEVER heard “butter” used in this way (or any other derogatory way) in my life.  To learn this in such a roundabout way is unbelievably frustrating.

I am white.  I can’t help that, but I do realize that because of my whiteness, I am blinded to many facets of racism just because I live in a world of white privilege.  I confess that for much of my life, I have lived in a state of ignorance.  This was not deliberate, but being white and being raised around mostly white people, I simply did not know.    I really became more intentional about educating myself on matters of race when my husband and I began our adoption process.  I read blogs like this one and studied volumes of information here.  I watch documentaries on the subtleties of racism.  I know I still have lots to learn.  I can read books and blogs and study documentaries, but the knowledge I gain from those things is limited.  I depend on my friends of other races to teach me, to gently guide me and point out where I may unintentionally cause offense.  There is still so much that I do not understand.  I also know that there is a very penetrating and muted sort of racism that exists in my country, in my community, in my family, in my mind, and among those of any race.  Humans naturally fear those who are different and naturally compare themselves to others.  We do this to encourage our pride, mask the fear, be better in our own eyes.  Humility is not natural for anyone.  This desire to be “better than” produces racism, agism, sexism, and all sorts of -isms even in people who are generally intelligent and kind, who would never consider themselves anything of the sort.  It is there.  I fight this thought pattern every day and beg God to give me compassion to help me see as others see.  I don’t want to be that way.

My daughter is African American.  I adore her.  I love her smooth chocolate skin, her tight black ringlets, her big brown eyes.  I love her just as she is.  As her mother, I take my responsibility to raise her, a brown-skinned girl in a world of white privilege, very seriously.  I want my daughter to be comfortable around people of any race.  I want her to value and respect cultures that are different from her own.  I know she will have questions.  I have questions.  I need the kindness of others to educate me, to share their culture with me, and to tell me their stories.  I want to teach my daughter humility, but she is unlikely to be humble unless she sees it modeled in me.  God help me.

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