When I was in college, I got a job bussing tables. In a Thai restaurant. Several white American customers expressed their objections to my working at an “ethnic” restaurant. I was disrupting their experience of “otherness”. This struck me as incongruent with their expressed desire to “respect” the foreign culture they were “patronizing”. In their response, I caught a whiff of imperialist assumptions about the ways race and class are “supposed” to intersect. My job cleaning their dishes had nothing inherently “Thai” to it, nothing about my cultural background made me unqualified to wipe down their tables, and my presence in no way interfered with the “authenticity” of the Thai chefs in the kitchen–chefs who had already modified their traditional recipes for American palates.
But patron comments on my race as being inappropriate for my job fired off a lifelong journey to better understand my own race privileges as a white American. For example, I could–and did, with some degree of ease–apply for and get jobs outside the service industry. Many of my coworkers from that restaurant remain in waitress jobs to this day, despite advanced degrees and fluent English. The same assumptions that inspired rude comments toward me as a bus girl, also made it easier to leave blue-collar jobs when I needed to.
We are very, very far from being a civilization that does not “see” race, and this is perhaps most evidenced in the ways whites talk to each other about race. Or rather, refuse to talk at all.
Awareness is insufficient. But it is a necessary beginning. These 23 quotes posted on “My Truth Captured” perfectly sum up the problems with any refusal to “see” race or to challenge white assumptions about the hierarchies that surround race.