Recently I asked readers to respond to the following question:
I received more responses to this than any other question I’ve ever posed online. Apparently Dairy Queen is a popular topic.
I don’t know much about how to present data in graphic form on an iPad. But, here goes. For those who like bar graphs:
It’s pretty clear that Blizzards and dipped cones are way out in front. I was surprised no one asked for a banana split. So I put one in. I like banana splits.
Here’s where things are going to go a little bit sideways. Well, maybe a lot. The reason I posed this question was because of my own response when I saw the original illustration.
Ok folks, you’re at a Dairy Queen. Fill in the blank…I would love a…
…and my brain said: an integrated neighborhood.
Oh, but that’s not following the directions! Perhaps not. But it was an immediate response. Part of that is because my brain doesn’t always work like everyone else’s, and part is because I have become more conscious of this issue in recent years.
This is a picture of whiteness where whiteness isn’t just the norm, it’s the only thing on the menu. No one else is included or invited. As a child I wouldn’t have noticed this. Now it leaps out from the page, creepy, almost malevolent. Pornographic, even.
Recently I read an essay from Newsweek:
'I Was Asked To Agree to a "White People Are Racist" Contract at Work', Nicole Levitt, Newsweek
The writer is a white woman who is articulating her reasoning for filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against her employer. In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder her workplace began to engage in self-reflection on issues of race and to advocate for active anti-racism as an integral part of their mission. Ms. Levitt does not identify her employers but notes that she works with domestic violence victims in Philadelphia.
We are based in Philadelphia, and unfortunately, Philadelphia has a lot of problems with crime, with poverty, and with domestic violence. Most of our clients are our people of color…
The changes in her workplace upset her. The expectation that all employees would engage in anti-racism training was offensive to her.
If my clients had experienced racism and there was something I could do about it, I definitely would. If I saw an instance of racism, I would do something about it, but I hadn't.
There it is. “If I saw racism…”
But what if we don’t see? To be white in our culture is to be able to “not see” those issues because they do not affect us, do not harm us. The writer of this essay is filing a suit with the Equal Opportunity Commission to protect her right as a white woman to not see.
I came across this Tweet last week and a lightbulb went off in my head.
Cis people don't get to decide what trans allyship is.
Exactly. Who knows best the experience of being trans? Not cis people, no matter how kind or well-meaning they are. In that same way, white people don’t get to decide what Black allyship is. Period. Levitt wants to frame this situation as one where everyone is equal and everyone’s opinions should be valued equally because they’re all good people and want what’s best.
That, in itself, is a supreme example of not seeing. The violence and injustice experienced by black people in this country is not an innate part of who she is. Being a Black human being in America is a unique experience that carries with it the wounds of every manner of racism from the thousand tiny paper cuts of daily microaggressions to the heavy weight of police brutality and murder, plus the history of slavery and the present reality of opportunity denied.
White people don’t get to decide what Black allyship is.
Ms. Levitt is telling us that doesn’t feel good. She’s right. It doesn’t always feel good because we are undoing a lifetime of not seeing. We have been protected from seeing painful, unjust, and violent things. We learn to soften the edges of systemic racism by insisting on pleasant and unchallenging conversations. We will do anything to maintain a world where we can tell ourselves, “I am a good person and that’s all that matters.”
I didn’t lure you here on false pretenses. That Dairy Queen illustration got under my skin and I just had to know if anyone found it as disturbing as I did. And maybe you did. But I didn’t ask you that directly and you followed the directions. Would I have gotten as many answers if I asked you to comment on the picture itself?
I don’t know.
Alas, there is no Dairy Queen in Columbia/HoCo. On the other hand, every day we have opportunities to learn to see in ways we have been carefully taught not to see. We may, like Newsweek essayist Nicole Levitt, experience them as threats or challenges.
But they are invitations.