116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
White people. That statement alone could be interpreted a lot of different ways but, in today’s current climate, I’ve come to notice white people get defensive and upset about being called just that: white. Now, some of that stems from the embarrassment and shame that comes with a long and unsavory history of slavery and ongoing racial discrimination, which is understandable. But some of what I’ve been experiencing as a Black, multiracial woman as of late from fellow white co-workers, friends or mutuals is rather an agitation at being Othered — or at the very least singled out to put in real work for actionable change rather than just reap the benefits of white privilege without being questioned. And then there are the folks who feel being called white people is racist and exclusionary.
My response to this offense that white people may experience at being called white is this: Get over yourself.
I saw a tweet the other day that succinctly explains this:
White people often get really offended by being called white or settler. They say it's racist because for white people racism is about hurt feelings. Being excluded.— 🔥 daanis 🧡 (@gindaanis) October 7, 2022
For Black and Indigenous people it is about dying.
For white people, being called white is about hurt feelings. It’s about feeling singled out and put on the spot for some of the privileges they may be afforded, based on their race. For people of color and Indigenous people, being called the N-word or an associated derogatory term based on their race is about survival, as their race informs almost every aspect of how they live their life in society. For minorities, racism is about dying — not hurt feelings.
And how do we see this play out in real life? Food insecurity, housing displacement and segregation, unequal access to health care and health care inequities, the school to prison pipeline, police brutality … the list goes on. All these factors can lead to a premature death. And these things are also normalized. It’s no surprise. We know it exists. We know it’s a problem. We know it’s a pervasive system that affects virtually every aspect of how we live our lives. And we’ve become complacent with that reality — comfortable even.
Just one example of this is that while Iowa’s state population of non-white residents is 9.9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Iowa had the fifth lowest Black homeownership rate among all states at a rate of 23.4 percent, with a white homeownership rate of 74.2 percent, reports the U.S. Census Bureau's 2019 American Community Survey. This should come as no surprise as Iowa is already known to suffer some of the worst racial disparities in the country. In fact, Iowa is ranked as the thirds worst state for Black Americans, according to a study published in February by 24/7 Wall St.
That all said, race is tricky. It’s a social construct. Racism is less tricky, as it’s specifically “the state-sanctioned or extralegal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death,” says prison abolitionist and scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore in her book, “Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California.” It’s about power and control.
In a world today where white people seem to be fascinated by minority culture — cue the cultural appropriation — they take what aspects they like and want without considering the consequence of their actions, without considering how those actions affect the culture they’ve exploited. And then those white people reap the profits. And as people of color, we are left with nothing but the broken pieces of our identity and a small semblance of the autonomy we kid ourselves into believing we had.
I suppose what I’m asking is that we all take accountability for what we can to make this state, this nation, a better place. Iowa used to be known as the place with “fields of opportunity.” I hope one day, it can live up to that slogan.
Nichole Shaw is a Gazette editorial fellow. Comments: email@example.com