Dear White Privileged People: This Post Is Not About Your Needs
One of the great things about the internet is how it lets people do things like exchange information. In many ways it has replaced things like the Green Book or word of mouth for transmitting info about places where stopping for more than gas (or stopping at all) wouldn’t be safe, where hotels will be welcoming, & where to avoid after certain times/at certain points of the year. Folks pass around info about where to find food/clothes/cocoa butter as well as what job markets are likely to be more welcoming and/or to require you to be a token in fact if not in name. This is important information. And yes, this information may make you feel something…unpleasant when you have to confront our view of the towns where you like to spend summers or where you grew up or whatever. Guess what? I feel something unpleasant when I can’t stop to pee for 50 miles because even though Jim Crow is over, no one in my car wants to risk a fight/jail/death because I forgot to tinkle in the last place we saw brown people walking around. Sundown towns had to put away their signs, but that doesn’t mean they had to put away their attitudes.
So, as you’re seeing these conversations roll across your screen, you may feel a need to jump in the middle & explain how that one family in that one town isn’t like that so we shouldn’t lump them in with the 35 other families in that town that are like that. Unless that one family in that one town is going to provide me with an armed escort? I don’t care about them. I care about the motherfuckers that might think it’s a fun game to run me over. And if you think that could only happen in the South? You haven’t been paying attention to where all those police brutality cases come up. Or what happens when POC go missing. Here’s a hint: Except for our friends & family no one really seems to bother raising a hue & cry over our disappearance.
Now, I know there are about to be some more feelings splattered all over the place because I wrote this post. Feel free to have them. You can even share them with me if you must, but do please give us all a break from your need to get in the middle of other conversations to insist that because your white self is safe in these predominately white spaces all other bodies are safe too. I’m sure you’ve never seen any racism in that all white neighborhood/town/region. That doesn’t mean it’s not there, that just means no convenient target has presented itself when you’re around. Now, if you want to do something to change the impressions of these places? Don’t waste energy arguing with us to go against all common sense. Go talk to your neighbors/cousins/friends about exactly why POC avoid the places where they live. You know why I advise you to do that? Because it would actually be a step toward resolving the problem, instead of continuing to ignore it in favor of hoping that we’ll make it go away. Pro tip: The people who are the targets of bigots aren’t the ones with the problem.
21 thoughts on “Dear White Privileged People: This Post Is Not About Your Needs”
Hi. Your post reminds me of a fairly famous Mexican Muralist and his Sculptor wife(both very indigenous looking with caramel skin from the sun) who came up to do a mural project with several groups of youth when I worked back East in Mass. They drove up from Oaxaca. Two weeks later when they were heading back home he told me that they had to leave right away because if they waited a few days there was a county near the Mississippi someplace that they could not drive through because of some sick racist festival that would be taking place. He also told me that They would only drive during the day and stay in a string of remote hotels/motels to avoid town centers. he had been attacked before. A 70 yr old man.
I am often taken aback by how many folks say things like, “That’s doesn’t happen these days.” or “Really? Is there still a racial bias issue in Louisiana in 2011?” *Sigh* Blessings to you. Stay safe.
I realize that many people will be angered by what you’ve said. And many will respond by being angry at you. I too am angry because of this post. But I realize that in no way can I justify being angry at you for saying what needs to be said. I’m angry because you’re right, the world isn’t as safe as I want it to be. I might be perfectly safe in most places in the country, but not everyone is, and for an abundance of reasons.
Thank you for the post.
Jim Loewens’ book _Sundown Towns_ was my illumination. I’m not from the USA and I truly hadn’t realised that many of these were northern.
I was never daft enough to think they didn’t still exist: I lived ten years in the city of York in England. Four Jewish families, two Indian families, and the only Black people in the city were students and they never amounted to more than ten families. The National Front used to hold rallies on Remembrance Sunday. I’m told it’s changed.
Hi. I have shared this post on Twitter and Facebook, and hope some of my friends and contacts read it too. I am white, and live in Barcelona (Spain).
I have had African and African American boyfriends and friends, and I am a single mother of a mixed race teen. I know how much hatred is around, and have been insulted for kissing a black person in public -twenty first century, in the cosmopolitan Europe, the trendy city of Barcelona… Yet my African American boyfriend used to tell me how bad it really was back home, and it was hard to believe even after experiencing racism in Spain.
I have spoken a lot about this ingrained mentality but, as you say, many people think it is not as bad, we are exaggerating.
Same as with violence against women, and so many other generalized oppressive habits.
How on earth could anybody get angry about this post and not about the situation?!!!
People are creepy. Mostly everyone. Everywhere. All colours and creeds and genders.
You seem nice, though. A big hug from over here.
Poli (white European woman habitually disgusted at humanity).
how can you tell if its a sundown town?
In my experience it’s hard to miss. One of the first clues is the reaction you get if you do stop in the wrong town. When I was still living in Texas some friends & I stopped in a small town for gas, snacks, & to stretch our legs. The very first thing the clerk said when we walked into the store by the gas station? “Oh, we don’t get a lot of tourists. Small town like this, you won’t find anything interesting here.” which seemed odd since we were parked directly across from a giant sign advertising all the shops & attractions you’d expect (local boutiques, some place with a name that sounded like an antique shop’s, some kind of museum, etc.) We kind of shrugged it off & then we realized that everyone in the store was staring at us. We weren’t dressed oddly (I was in the Army at the time & I was with a bunch of other soldiers so we were all pretty clean cut), & we had cash in hand with every sign of planning to spend it. One of the guys with me smiled at one of the women staring at us & she kind of ducked her head and bolted in the other direction. That was when we realized we were the only black people in sight. When we walked back to our car? Lots of people just kind of outside staring at us. Then a cop walked over & asked for ID. Seeing all those greenish military cards seemed to appease him a little bit, but he made it clear that we should get on the road before it got too dark. It was maybe 2 in the afternoon. We left of course & later when we mentioned it to someone from Texas & they told us it wasn’t a town to stop in.
Like Karnythia said, it’s mostly from personal experience and word-of-mouth. There’s also the media: The area my parents were weary of was featured in a story on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. And of course, there’s the internet.
The first time I learned about sundown towns was when I was in the 5th grade. We lived in Georgia and were driving to Tennessee. We were getting hungry, and after we decided where to eat, we started looking for any billboards or roadsides that would lead to the nearest McChickenKing or whatever it was. I saw a road sign leading to the next exit. My mom said we wouldn’t be stopping there. When I asked why, she said, “They don’t like Black people in that town.” I can still feel the chills down my back when she said that.
how big are these “towns”, I have a mental image of towns of 10 – 20 thousand people or is that completely wrong? are we they, what in england we would call villages? a couple of hundred people?
I’m just trying to imagine a whole town where even the police are openly racist to non white visitors, especially in this day and age. which isn’t to say that you don’t get racist police in england, but I can’t imagine even imagine them telling someone to leave town.
“Town” can mean any thing from 10,000 people to less than 1,000 people. Heck, I’ve heard it be applied to cities of a population of 1,000,000+. The towns talked about here are of any size, discrimination knows no population cap.
Although I do seem to recall some towns my distant relatives live in that were not safe for people of color, and they were almost all usually smaller than 1,000.
Does the “sundown town” phenomenon extend to major interstate highways frequented by truckers and non-commercial traffic? I travel across some of the territory mentioned in Jim Loewen’s book (St. Louis to Ohio, I70 across IL and IN). I see black travelers gassing up at my favorite truck stops off I-70, but I have no idea whether they would get the run-around if they tried to get motel rooms, etc. near I-70. Are people decent at public rest stops?
I learned a lot about the Midwest from Loewen’s book. I now recommend it to white newcomers to St. Louis coming from big cities, as well as to others interested in local race history.
I’ve never traveled that area, but there was an incident at another truck stop where men kept assuming I was a sex worker.
I find it hard to believe that supposedly non-racist white folk can really say with a straight face ‘it’s not that bad’ to the black folk they know.
In my experience, the racism goes up, not down, when black folk leave the room (and other people of color). The ‘in family’ discussions can be as blatant as any antebellum movie.
As for Sundown towns, they can be ‘lovely places’, if you’re the ‘right kind’ of person. I live less than six miles from one, right in the middle of a large metropolitan area (and not an affluent city, either). While the larger city that mostly surrounds it has become markedly more diverse in the last fifteen years, that city remains almost entirely White.
I guess my point here is all it takes for a white person to realize just how bad racism is and stop making excuses for other white folks is to pay attention — but privilege makes it possible to not pay attention, so we still have a ton of work to do (meaning us white ally folk, policing our own).
I think any white person who gets angry (when hearing about how racist our society is), needs to get over their defensiveness. and maybe their racism as well.
I am one of those dripping in White Privilege and I completely support your fight against it. Unlike a lot of people, I am at least aware of it. For example, I know that very time I am NOT followed through a store because I might steal something I am enjoying yet another manifestation of White Privilege. But that is such a minor thing compared to not being afraid cops will gun my husband down because he “looks dangerous”. Your posts are not about me. My fellow white feminists have thrown black feminists to the wolves multiple times, and it pisses me off, but please know that I support your ideological battle. If it is worth anything, I am wearing your team colors and making a ruckus for your cause.
My parents live in a “sundown town”. They would never participate in violence against another ethnic group, and have actively sought to stop any such violence, but cannot seem to understand that passively accepting the racism of their neighbors, friends, and family as “normal” is the same thing as condoning it.
Powerful writing. Thank you. I’ll be back.
I recently saw the following post on Facebook: “I wish Google Maps had an ‘Avoid Ghetto’ routing option.”
I responded: “Wouldn’t that make it hard for some of us to get home?”
I came back to re-read and re-appreciate your post. As a white woman, I Wrote about Whiteness and the N Word shortly before I left the above comment and have found that too few are interested in continuing the conversation. Thank you for speaking to this issue and I’ll keep spreading the word.
“I find it hard to believe that supposedly non-racist white folk can really say with a straight face ‘it’s not that bad’ to the black folk they know.”
Ikr? A lot of so called non racists white ppl think that they are’t racist b/c they have a black friend. Or they aren’t donning sheets and burning crosses. Or they’ll say something ignorant in front of me, assuming I’m of the same mind and the back pedeling goes into full on panic mode when I call them on it. I really wish schools could teach about white privilage ( among others) but I don’t see it a happening.
I feel like I could hug you! I live in Australia and my husband is white and he cannot understand why I feel so uneasy when we go on holidays into small towns. Im generally surprised as hell when people are kind and not the least bit shocked (like he seems to be)when they are nasty. Reading this blog has made me feel a lot less isolated especially when you spoke (in a previous blog) about your child being called a “darkie”. Here the thing seems to be to call children of color(which are a rarity) ” the little dark boy/girl”. It hurts me and pisses me off that my future children run the risk of being called “the dark boy/girl” by everyone including family who seem to have no problem with this term.
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