Before those of us who are White form any opinions about racial matters, it is useful to be aware of our majority status and our racial isolation. All of us are in the majority, and most of us are isolated, which is to say we spend most of our time in largely White contexts. Combining majority status with racial isolation is a recipe for ignorance and lack of empathy. The best solution is to simply change the very structures of our life so that we are less isolated. But many of us do not have the opportunity to do that in a substantial way. The good news is that there is a shortcut that should help us at least a little bit. So, I have a list of questions below to help us think about what it actually means to be a racial majority. If you're White, have opinions about race, but have not seriously meditated on these questions and others like them, you're in dangerous waters.
How often have you been the only White person in a room? How did you feel? Do you believe this affected your behavior or the behavior of others? (The latter two questions can be asked of each of the questions below).
How often have you been the only White person in a classroom?
How often have you been the only White person on your dorm floor?
How often have you received an important grade from a professor of a different race?
How often have you been the only White person in a place of worship?
How often have you received religious instruction from a person of a different race?
How often have you been the only White person in the room during a job interview?
How often have you received an employment evaluation from a supervisor of a different race?
How often has your loan application been decided by a person of a different race?
How often have you rented an apartment from a person of a different race?
How often have you sent your children to a school where most students were of a different race?
How often does the color of your skin make you stand out in your own neighborhood?
How often have most of the police officers in your town been of a different race?
How often have you been the only White person in a store?
How often have you been the only White person on a sports team?
You can think of your own questions too. Obviously, the point here is to think about what it's like to be a racial minority. But we're not done! Indeed, I haven't yet mentioned the most important part of this exercise. Consider this: even if you, as a White individual, leave your White world and answer "lots of times!" to all these questions, your experience will still be distinct from people of color. You'll still be living in a society where power operates along a racial hierarchy and stereotypes run in specific directions. Let me show you what I mean.
Alicia and I have been in many situations where our race really stood out. It can be uncomfortable. It can change the way others treat you. It can even change very concrete outcomes like employment and housing. But here's the thing: for Alicia and I, the stereotypes and assumptions are almost universally positive. People have assumed I am more competent than I am. They've assumed I'm wealthier than I am. They've assumed I'm not a criminal even when I matched the description! They've treated me with extra deference. All because of my race. Heck, our race appears to have been a factor in allowing us to secure our current house on favorable terms. For people of color, these assumptions work in exactly the opposite direction. They're alone in the room (literally or metaphorically) and instead of the positive stereotypes that have worked in my favor, they are often assumed to be less competent, poorer, criminal.
So don't be a clueless White person! Think about this. We shouldn't feel ashamed to admit that we are isolated and ignorant. Instead, we should be a lot more embarrassed to have opinions about things we haven't actually thought about.