I was the only white girl for years in a black community
I grew up in a Midwest town that had a good mix of white and black people. And, unlike some areas in America, it was common to see white and black people together.
No one looked twice when they saw a couple mixed with dark and light hues. It was normal for black and white people to co-exist. There were just as many white people in the displaced, impoverished, and crime-ridden areas as there were black people. There were pockets of the community, though, that held mostly black people. And it was not uncommon for white people to exist there too.
I was one of those white people for the first five years of my adulthood. And in most situations, I was the only white person. I was the only white person at the club, at church, at gatherings and, usually, even at the gas station.
There were, of course, some who disliked me because of my whiteness and were downright cruel. But even the ones who were the closest to me sometimes teased me because of the color of my skin. It was all in fun, or so I thought.
At the time, I did not see a problem with it. Even today, I am not offended. But I would like to use my experience to bring up an important conversation — the existence of, or lack thereof, racism against white people.
And, no, I am not speaking of systemic racism. What this story brings to question has little to do with systemic racism and more to do with individual racism.
The above definition is the one that we used to know. Most definitions went somewhere along these lines, no matter where you looked. It is also the definition that I understood.
I never questioned the meaning of this word until 2020, when I started hearing that minorities, particularly black people in America, cannot be racist — and that white people cannot experience racism or be the victims of racial violence.
Of course, based on the definition above, the notion that only certain races can be racist is absurd.
In the first explanation, it says “typically is a minority or marginalized” — implying that (in rare circumstances) this prejudice can occur towards people who are not. Not to mention, a white person can live as the minority in America, although it may be rare. I know this because I have.
I may not have been the minority in America, but I was the minority in my community.
You could go straight to arguing that I have privilege in America and therefore I cannot qualify as a minority because I live in America. You could say, “The difference is that you chose to live there”, or “You could have left any time.” Although both of those assumptions are debatable, they are irrelevant. Remember, I am referring to individual racism — not systemic.
The second definition is very clear and is the closest to what I always understood racism to be. My understanding of a racist person was always someone who either thinks someone is inferior or treats them differently, based on their race or the color of their skin.
If this is the definition of racism, then yes, black people can be racist. Spending years of my life around mostly black people, I did experience this on multiple occasions. One occasion almost cost me my life. And I will share some of those experiences with you today.
If this is not the definition of racism and we are collectively exchanging it with the more progressive definitions — that do not separate systemic issues from personal issues — I beg the question, what do you call it then?
And since it is against a white person for being white, instead of a black person for being black, does that make it okay? And if it is okay to belittle, discriminate, or abuse a white person for being white, is that true equality?
There are a plethora of lists about white people being racist and what white people need to do if they wish to fight racism. Listicles litter the internet about what white people should or should not say or do if they wish to be antiracists.
Articles like 8 Things White People Do that They Don’t Know are Racist, by Rebecca Stevens, are all the rave. They cover everything from what white people can and can’t say to whether a white person should invite a black person to sing karaoke. (No, I am not joking about the karaoke. I wish I was.)
Setting aside the legitimacy of these things being racist, we will focus on them as if they are. The question that remains is this: if a white person doing these things is racist, are these things racist if a black person does them?
Regardless of what you call it, the act of stereotyping and ridiculing people for being white is not uncommon. And in the communities where I lived, there was no shame in it. It was accepted. And I accepted it too. I even participated.
The White Girl
Being the white girl in an all-black community did not bother me. I didn’t even mind when they called me “the white girl”, which was what everyone called me who didn’t know my name. Unless they were a little cruder, in which case they would call me snow bunny or my milk of magnesia.
Some would even refer to their white friends and girlfriends as “my white girl”, or “my white boy.” That reference always felt wrong, even then, as it sounded like they were referencing their white friend as property or a pet.
“The white girl” didn’t bother me, however, because that is what I was. I was the only white girl. So it was the easiest way to describe me. Right?
Our rhetoric included many other words and sayings that support the mental construct of division between black and white people.
White people can’t dance
It is no secret that many people, both black and white, believe that white people can’t dance. White people are believed not to have the rhythm and soul required. But we cannot know the Justin Timberlakes of the world and reasonably claim that white people can’t dance.
I was teased a lot about not being able to dance because of my whiteness, although I always just laughed with them and agreed. Whether by nature or nurture, I admittedly have never been a natural at dancing.
One time, I was at the club on a Friday night.
This was around 2005, and the most popular song was the Laffy Taffy. My (at the time and adopted) family loved the song and had been practicing the dance all week. They had been rigorously trying to teach me and I gave it a shot. After much practice, I could finally do it. I still wasn’t as good as them, but I was good for a white girl.
Of course, they played the hit, again, at last-call. They must have played it ten times that night. This time, I let Mama pull me out onto the dance floor, and I did it. Right there, in front of the wall-to-wall club.
People began to shout,
“Look, the white girl’s doing it! The white girl’s doing it!”
Before I knew it, the whole club was cheering me on and clapping. I was very proud of myself that night. I felt included and like I measured up to those around me. I felt special. You may think that my thinking was deluded. But based on my reality, it was an honor to be a white girl who could do it.
I still cannot say that I am offended by the actions of my friends that night. Some may think I should be, but I’m just not. It made sense based on our environment and the zeitgeist of the time.
No one meant any harm. It was just the way things were — the way people believed. They didn’t know any better, and neither did I.
Wet white people smell like wet dogs
What we called roasting was a part of the community culture. Roasting was considered a term of endearment. While others were roasted for their big forehead or choice of clothes, I was roasted for my whiteness. That’s just the way it was.
I never minded being teased for being white. But there was one thing people would say that did hurt my feelings. And that was that when white people were wet, they smelled like wet dogs.
I mean, was it true? I didn’t want to smell like a wet dog. Maybe I did, and I couldn’t smell it because, you know, we can’t smell ourselves like others smell us.
I was very insecure about getting wet around people or having wet hair.
Apparently, this belief is not a secret or uncommon. Someone even wrote a book about it.
White people are stupid and gullible
In this black community, white people’s alleged stupidity was common knowledge.
White people were perceived as overly trusting and naive, which was the epitome of their so-called stupidity.
There were those among us who made a living off of what we called hitting licks. And everyone knew that the best target to hit-a-lick on was a white person.
Seeking out good white targets was a common and accepted practice among many. And no one ever questioned whether this was right or wrong or whether it was racist. It’s just the way it was.
White people being more stupid was common knowledge and this made them targets, not only for black criminals, but for white ones.
White people are weak
I won’t go too far into this because this isn’t the place to write a book — which is what I would have to do if I wanted to explain this perception, its cause, and its level of truth.
There are aspects of our body composition that are inherently different and cannot be denied. So technically, assuming that my body has different levels of strength and endurance would be reasonable. But the stereotype of white weakness stretches far beyond our physical realities.
Living in an environment where I was often the only white person, I faced this daily. People assumed that because I was white, I was weak — not only physically but also emotionally.
People would automatically assume I didn’t have boundaries and would be easily taken advantage of. This made me easy prey for predators, until I established my reputation and associations in the community.
The belief that white people are weak was no secret.
When a white person is accepted into this paradigm, they are no longer considered white
When a white person established their reputation and associations, to the point of being respected, (aka once you got street cred) they were no longer considered white.
When I got to the point where my black friends would say things like, “She just look white”, I knew I had obtained their acceptance and approval. And this was a common reference for white people who had been accepted into the hood.
“They aren’t white, they just look white.”
This meant that although they are white, they can be trusted. Although they are white, they aren’t weak. Although they are white, they like good food and listen to good music. Although they are white, they are welcome here. They may be white, but their allies are black. And what this all boiled down to was that if I had all these qualities, I was no longer white. I just looked white.
I happily acquiesced to this label and separated myself from the real-white white people. I looked at white people the same way they did. Perhaps that was the final requirement for my non-white whiteness.
No one was ashamed, in the least, by this paradigm.
White people are snitches
You may have heard the saying, “Snitches get stitches.”
Like so many other urban colloquialisms, this is not a saying based on an exaggeration. It is literal. But not all snitches get stitches, because some die. Many die.
If there was one thing white people were known for — above all else — it was snitching. This ties into their perceived weakness and stupidity, which are the only two things that would lead someone to snitch — at least according to street mentality.
The idea that all white people are snitches or po po was, undoubtedly, the most dangerous stereotype that I experienced. It is also the one that nearly cost me my life.
I was beaten, within an inch of my life, because I was white
I had talked with a few people, throughout the night, who were connected to those who attacked John Doe. Because of these interactions, his people assumed that I had told my friends about him “putting his hands on me.” They concluded that to be the reason for his attack.
You could say that this assumption had nothing to do with the color of my skin, but the events to come would prove otherwise.
Come to find out — John Doe got jumped because he was carrying the stolen pistol of someone highly respected in the community. That highly respected individual noticed it before the club, because John was flossing it like he had no street smarts.
That didn’t matter for me, though, because they didn’t wait to find out before restraining me inside the house. They made me wait for the girls to arrive, who were assigned the task of beating me.
I tried to tell them I had nothing to do with what happened and that I hadn’t told anyone to retaliate against any of them, but they didn’t believe me.
They taunted me about how I was a cracker bitch, and they should have known I would be a snitch who couldn’t handle my own shit.
For about 20 minutes, they made me sit in the middle of the room while about 12 of them sat and stood in a circle around me — mocking me about what was about to happen to me and calling me a whore, cracker, honky, white bitch, and the like.
I was crying. I pleaded for them to investigate further and promised that I had nothing to do with what happened the night before.
I begged. I pleaded. They laughed.
I was very afraid. And I was weak in comparison to all of them. But that was not because I was white. I was terrified because I was being held against my will, to be beaten by multiple people. And even worse, they were making it into a show. They even made the kids watch.
When my purveyors of so-called justice arrived, I begged even more.
The kids began to cry. They knew me, and we loved each other.
I knew I had no chance in the world. There were like 15 of them and one of me. So, in the split-second I had to make the decision, I decided not to fight back.
Not giving the satisfaction of me trying to hurt them in return was all I had the power to do. And, the kids. They knew I wasn’t bad. I wanted to stand in that. I wanted them to see that what was happening was wrong, and I didn’t deserve it. I felt like if I didn’t resist, that reality would be much clearer.
I don’t remember much from the beating. I remember the beginning when they continued to yell at me to stand up and to fight. I remember refusing. I did not ball one fist.
I remember being on the floor in a ball and one of the girls yelling at me to take my hands from in front of my face. I remember the warm urine that slowly drenched my pants and them yelling to beat me harder for messing up the carpet. I remember finally moving my hands so they could kick me in the face, because they threatened to kill me.
All I remember seeing, when I opened my eyes for split seconds, was the faces of the children. By this time, I couldn’t feel anything anymore, physically. But my heart was not numb. And at that moment, the tears running down those little faces broke it into a thousand pieces. I remember that the most. I can still see those faces.
The last thing I remember was when the girls finally stopped, and I ran into the bathroom. One of the men came in as I looked in the mirror. He then yelled, “Y’all didn’t fuck her up bad enough!”
When everyone started shouting for someone to “Finish that bitch off” and “Bring her back in here”, he lifted me over his shoulders, carried me back to the middle of the circle, and body-slammed me onto the ground. He did this a few times, before calling the girls to stomp on me some more.
Then, they finally let me go.
I was on bed rest for weeks. And, yes, I could feel it after my adrenaline wore off. Let’s just say this gave new meaning to feeling like you have been run over by a truck.
It hurt to move. But that wasn’t the worst part of the aftermath that was my torn-up body. The worst part was when I went to brush the tangled mess of my hair, and it started coming out in wads because it was ripped out of my scalp.
Plenty of people talked to those who were involved in the attack that night at the club. Almost everyone talked to everyone. I was blamed and targeted because of the color of my skin. As I was beaten, I was berated for being white and called various racial slurs.
I could have died that day. It was a real possibility.
If the world wishes to redefine racism, fine. If this redefinition means that all the experience I shared above is non-racist, that will be how it is perceived. But if my beating didn’t count as a hate crime and the names I was called are not racial slurs, what are they?
If the ways that white people are viewed and treated as inferior in many black communities is not racism, what is it?
No person in their right mind can say that the paradigm I described above is okay. No sane person can say that it’s okay for minorities to do these things, as long as white people don’t do them.
You cannot rationalize discrimination because of the skin color of those who are being discriminated against. You cannot say that white people do not deserve to be treated equally, on a personal level, just because we are treated unequally on a societal level. No, you cannot say that and also say you stand for equality.
Being black or brown doesn’t give you a free pass to stereotypical mindsets, discriminatory behavior, and racial violence. And being white doesn’t mean the world has permission to discriminate against you or treat you poorly because of it.
Systemic racism doesn’t justify individual racism, regardless of what race is being antagonized. If you want to call it something besides racism, call it whatever you want. But know that no matter what you choose to call it, it will have the same definition that racism does.
Written by Holly Kellums