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How? By placing ourselves in situations where we are the Other.

This is really hard for me to write about. That's what really drew me to post about this exercise. I'm a middle aged white woman with really only one black friend. I work in retail. I'd say we have about 20% black employees in our store during the day, the night shift is probably about 80% black. Recently I was commissioned to paint a mural in the employee lounge with a "working together" theme. We have a company mascot who happens to be a white male. I was asked to create a white female and a black male with the same "look" as our mascot shaking hands. Our company big on diversity in all their propaganda, but I never saw our mascot in any shade other than white, I have seen a female version before, however. I had a few interesting moments painting this mural, and a lot went through my mind as different employees came in the room as I was painting.

What is going through your mind during the moment?

I wanted to get the black guy the right shade. I decided to make him as dark as possible so he would be noticed. Not just a light cocoa color, but a nice mahogany. As I was painting, a lot went through my mind. I live in a different world than they do. Even though we work side by side, I know so little about their lives. How they have to deal with all the discrimination that is an undercurrent everywhere. I have a deep appreciation for the African American culture and the history of oppression in the US. My one black friend is very close to me and he is obsessed with racism. I am highly sensitive to it from his influence and from just educating myself about our history.

What is going through your head about the people who surround you?

I felt a little tense when a black employee came in. I was hoping they liked my mural and felt happy that they were being represented. I was shy around people I normally joke around with. One older white guy really annoyed me when he came up and started whispering to me about Imus and his forced retirement. He said "they get all bent out of shape over that stuff, you know" I told him I don't blame them one bit, and that ended our conversation. Every now and then I get little comments like that from people I work with and I always set them straight ASAP. It's sad to think these people think like that about every black person they see. It just pisses me off so much, they have no idea what they are doing.

One thing that annoyed me about myself, I confided in a few of my co- workers when they asked me what I was painting. I told them the male was going to be "multicultural", it did seem somewhat eye opening to see our mascot in a different shade. But I only told this to a few of the white employees I spoke to. I just couldn't say that bit of information to a black employee. I felt embarrassed to mention that bit of info to them. It's just so pitiful somehow. It should be trivial, but it's anything but trivial really.

What do you perceive will be their treatment of you?

I was waiting for the night crew (mostly black) to come in and see what they thought. Would they say anything? This mural was just so hunky-dory, it kind of made me sick of painting it. The subject was so blatantly multicultural. I was feeling more white than ever painting this black guy! I was hoping they would come in and maybe say a few good natured jokes to break the ice. If they were quiet about it I knew I would feel very uncomfortable, I was just dreading that. As they began to trickle in to start their shift a few of them started joking around and I felt so relieved! Whew! These guys are so nice and just down to earth and funny. Why was I so tense and worried? That feeling of being scared for a few brief moments just felt betraying somehow. It's just depressing knowing those fears can come up so easily.

How do you act in response to all this stimuli?

I felt humbled, cautious and just kind of weird and sad coming home from work late at night. Why do things have to be this way? I'm still not finished with my mural. I'll be going back again today to do more. I wonder what else has been said about this mural between other employees at work. I was thinking about other famous figures like Santa and Jesus and how I react when I see a black portrayal. I'm not conditioned to see them like that, so my very first reaction is a little surprised, but then I have another reaction very quickly.. why the heck not? And then I get a little angry that I was conditioned to expect a white guy in the first place.
 
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