Anti Racist Identity
Join us as we explore Tema Okun's Ladder of Empowerment - a chart that outlines the 9 stages white people experience throughout their anti racism practice.
Beginning with "I'm normal, and ending with "Community of love and resistance", white people will continuously move up and down the ladder regardless of how long they have been committed to antiracism work. And that's ok, in fact, it's expected.
Similar to how understanding the stages of grief can help us identify emotions and move through inner turmoil, it's important to understand that the feelings unearthed along the way are to be expected.
Anti Racist Identity: Exploring the Ladder
Noelle: What up!???
Miranda: Welcome to The Unpacked Project.
Noelle: We're your hosts. I’m Noelle.
Miranda: And I’m Miranda.
Noelle: We're here to explore all things social justice. It's through casual conversations, interviews and storytelling that we hope to inspire others to take action towards a more compassionate and equitable world.
Miranda: Because honestly, it kind of sucks here sometimes.
Noelle: For real. We can do better, people.
Miranda: Alright. Let's start unpacking.
Miranda: Welcome back, Nono.
Noelle: Here we are.
Miranda: So, you know, obviously we're going to get into our last episode and we're going to be talking about today but, you know, we always kind of welcome everyone and I do this whole shoulder shrug and it's like the emoji with like all the hearts around the face and when we were doing our branding so we did some branding yesterday, some branding work and we worked on our brand archetype and we're the lover.
Miranda: Yeah. So, we're a lover brand. We love all our folks out there, we love everyone doing this work, we encourage everyone on this journey. So, I think I want to start with that. I was happy that that was the first one that came back for us because it like reaffirmed why, like we're doing it.
Noelle: Yeah. And also, I mean from my perspective of being responsible for all this, I’m like oh, we aligned, great job. We were both on the same page.
Miranda: It was your activity. You did a great job by the way.
Noelle: Yeah, I walked into Miranda’s apartment and she had all the poster paper everywhere, I’m like I’m here for the training, where do I sign in? It was like triggering feelings of work even though I’m not at work but this is work but when we went through it, it was meaningful and I thought that it was great idea and I think that I was happy with what came out of that.
Miranda: One. you know, when we really talked about who are the personas that we're catering our information to, you know, who are our listeners, who are our ideal client once we start selling things and one of those personas really is, you know, a white person, you know, particularly most likely a white woman that is a lot of our followers and so I think the information that we're sharing today specifically, you know, last well, two weeks ago was really on caucus work, decentering whiteness, the need for Black caucuses within, you know, work spaces but also just in general.
Noelle: Yea, safe spaces.
Miranda: So, today we're going to get into the need for white caucuses and the work that typically happens in those situations and so, you know, there's so much information out there, there's so many resources. People are bombarded every day by information and I’m not here to say honestly that our information is any better than anybody else's but I really encourage folks to be following various anti-racism groups that are doing this work, individuals that are doing this work, consultants, trainers, DEI educational specialists, anything kind of in that realm that scope of work, it transcends many different facets of life. So, today we're really going to be talking about white caucus groups and the ladder, which we'll be talking about in a second. And this this linear movement up and down the ladder of journey within anti-racism work.
Noelle: Yeah. And I mean, I think, you know, like we talked about last time, you know, we have different kind of places in this work, right? And I think as white people, we need to do a lot of inner work, recognizing our whiteness. I think that we talked about the colorblind movement, right, the last episode and how that was like a big deal for people, oh I don't see Color like I just want to treat everybody the same and that's really not the approach that works and not the approach that we advocate.
Miranda: It’s not it, don't do it.
Noelle: Right. And the reality is that like we do need to be aware of our whiteness in the way that it has been harmful and in ways that we can take responsibility to make change and there's a process that we need to go through for that, right? And we need to find our place in all of it and the one of the quotes I had found when we were doing, the research for this episode I thought kind of really called attention to why we should do this work and why we need to do this self-exploration as white people as much as we've gone through this world as white people and have had everything be our privilege and our power and we've had all the resources and not really had to think about it. Now, it's uncomfortable to have to think about it because we have to acknowledge certain things, right? And so this quote, it was from an article Centering Equity in Collective Impact and the quote is “centering equity requires rethinking the supposed facts that define the problem by recognizing that marginalized populations within any community have experiences that are very different from those of many individuals and organizations who work to help them.
Noelle: As outsiders - white people - we often don't know enough to be as helpful or effective as we should be. So, we need first to talk, listen and learn”.
Miranda: And I think, you know, we are specifically talking about really people of Color, Black people of Color and white people but this quote applies to everything. If you are not part of the marginalized group, right, you do not have that shared experience. I think of people with disabilities, I think of men when it comes to women's groups, you know, like there are plenty of groups that I am not part of, you know, and I want you to go and do your work and like I need to do my own learning as well, okay? And then come back and figure out how we can move together and how I can best support you and what you can teach me and then we move together forward.
Noelle: Yeah, because this work involves like well, I mean we talk a lot about racist, anti-racism, how racism, systemic racism and the impacts of that but we've also brought in conversations like you said about other isms, right? About sexism, about ableism, about lots of different topics like you said that this still applies and when we think about intersectionality, I’m not just a white person, you're not just a multiracial person, right? We're women, we have different qualities about us that might sort of interact in other ways and we go into this world, experiencing the world through that lens, right? And when we have interactions with people, we're bringing our person into it and our experiences and our thoughts and beliefs into it, and that's sometimes colliding in some ways, right, if we haven't truly done the work. So, one of the things that I came across when I was doing research was this ladder.
Miranda: The ladder…dun dun duuun.
Noelle: Right?! They call it the ladder of empowerment, which I was really uncomfortable with it because when we think about white supremacy and white power, right, we already have so much of it. I’m like we're taking this tool that's come together, and they say at the beginning of it, I’m a white person, this is by a white person, about white people and they kind of like put that disclaimer but this ladder was put together through like thinking and experiences of people that did work through the dismantling racism process and they also quote a lot of Beverly Daniel Tatum from the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting together in the Cafeteria, so that's like, you know, dispersed in there but I agree with nearly everything that's in the ladder but just calling it that, I’m like do we really need to like have more empowerment like, fuck white people, like we already have.
Miranda: And I think the other thing is, this is work that you should be doing. So, now, we're giving you brownie points for doing stuff that you really should be happening already, you know.
Noelle: But then yesterday when we were doing our branding, right? I forget what question it was or one of the sheets that we had to write on. But I wrote empowerment to make change or something like that for white people then I was like oh my god they wrote empowerment, shit, the ladder. So, I mean, I guess from a sense of like using your power in a responsible, safe way.
Miranda: When we talk about using our privilege in a certain way, you know, white people do hold power right it needs to be dismantled and deconstructed but you can still use that for good, right?
Noelle: Yeah.So, yeah, so I mean that was just the one thing that I saw but as you kind of go through and like read, I will just say the stages of the ladder and then we'll kind of talk about, you know, something, thoughts that we both had related to this but one of the things that they note in this is that it is linear in terms of moving up the ladder so through the stages of it.
Miranda: So, you move up step by step.
Noelle: Yeah, step by step.
Noelle: But like at any point you might fall down the ladder.
Miranda: Like three or four steps.
Miranda: You could skip three steps and start back down at the bottom.
Noelle: Yeah. I mean, some experience might happen and we're right back down to, I’m normal and everyone should be white like me. So, I’m going to just go through the stages and just quickly kind of like give a summary of what each stage is and then we'll talk a little bit more about it. So, the “I’m normal” stage, that's known as the innocence/ ignorance stage, where we don't see ourselves as white and like racial differences aren't really important. Then the “what are you stage” so that's just kind of like our first contact with someone outside of being white. So, first and I hate saying that like not white. So, first contact with people of Color, Black people, brown people, Indigenous people, I said that in the last episode, I’m like no your friends aren't white. It's like no, they're Black and brown like it's right like those times of like catching yourself that we have to be okay with like admitting and catching and not wanting to like hide from and that's in a later stage, right?
Noelle: But like yeah, like just realizing like those things are going to happen like we're not perfect, we're not like anti-racism robots saying the right thing all the time. So yeah, that first contact, noticing that they are not like us, okay?
Miranda: So, the difference there.
Noelle: Yes. And we said that this can happen as early as three. We've talked about in previous episodes, right, of like we noticed these racial differences young like –
Miranda: Oh, for sure. Yeah, I’ll tell you about the story of my friend's nephew, who like came up to me I think he was two and a half and he's like rubbing my skin. He's like you're dirty and I was in high school, right? I’m like, what, like not knowing, you know, we just talked about like, oh, you just shut down and I’m like what do I say to this kid like his mom is here like someone should be handling this situation, I’m like 15. I don't know, you know, but I’m just like oh my gosh, you know, so yeah.
Noelle: Then the next stage is the “be like me” stage. So, also known as “we're all the same, you're the problem”. So, want to be seen as an individual, begin to see white privilege but no awareness of like the power of it yet and see racism as a problem between individuals. So, it's just a very individual level at that point. We don't see ourselves as a part of the problem. The next stage would be “denial and defensiveness”, so also known as “I am not the problem”, so we're forced to see ourselves as part of this dominant group but believe like people, kind of like to pick yourself up by the bootstraps, people of Color aren't trying as hard as they need to.
Miranda: Yeah, this is people's issue with CRT, like well, you know, it's not a whole collective group.
Noelle: Exactly. Believe in the power of the individual above all. So, again, denial, defensiveness. Moving on to above that, now if we get past that level, guilt, shame and blame, which we see a lot, right? So, really feeling like racism is a big problem, we're part of that problem but we feel guilty, we feel shameful and then we get stuck and this can lead to resentment, right? Like if I let that guilt and that shame fester and I don't manage it and move on to the next level in kind of a quick way and we just fester in those emotions, that's when we start becoming resentful.
Noelle: So blaming people of Color, racism.
Miranda: That's really interesting that you can basically move almost halfway through the ladder and then start to feel resentment.
Noelle: Well, and think about like how many the five steps or whatever that we went through, right, and still they're all like negative, right?
Miranda: That’s a lot. So, essentially, it's a lot of shit to work through. It's a lot of feelings, it's a lot of uncomfortable situations, a lot of questioning yourself. It's a lot of doing shit wrong. And that's okay, continue making progress.
Noelle: Right, and I think things like this are important to me to speak to or talk about because as a psychologist, I think about how this relates to trauma work and how we have the stages of trauma, right? The stages of grief, essentially. Grief from trauma but the stages of grief and we use that in therapy, and a lot of people are comforted by knowing this is normal that you're going through this, right? Like you had a major life event, you had something traumatic- something awful that happened, this is grief and these are the things that can happen as part of the grief process. Oh, you're in this stage, right, like you're in this stage of grief or you're in anger or you're in denial, whatever. And it helps people frame, they don't feel like this is out of control. Okay? And so I think as white people moving through this process. Like you said there's a lot of shit here to move through but this is what's to be expected when you're confronting something you've never had to confront before, right?
Miranda: Well it makes sense if you're also possibly in a space where everyone else is white like you or you have very few Black friends or people of Color that you can kind of talk to about this or also you just understand that it's not their job to do this work so you can't confide in them. To understand that this is normal, is in a weird way refreshing.
Noelle: Yeah, you know, yeah. Okay. So, then after if we can get past guilt, shame and blame, okay, not then we don't go through resentment and fall right back down the ladder, “opening up and acknowledgement” would be the next stage they call it and this is also known as “Houston, we've got a problem”. We see racism as illogical, relate to people of Color who are like us, right? And we talked about that in previous episodes like we often have more in common than we don't. Just because we are different races, we probably actually have a lot in common. We just don't get to find those things out because we're not engaging with people from different races or different ethnicities than us and again, that's something that's expected.
Noelle: That's something that has to be a conscious effort, really to do that but we find we have more in common than we don't. I have differences between me and other white people way more than you and I have differences, right? And that's what you start to learn when you start to get to know people. In this stage, you might feel apologetic for our privileges. One of the things that I found was interesting we talked about caucusing the last episode and it said that this is where people will feel frustrated by separation. So, I think that's interesting because when I think of people frustrated by separation, I think of them at a lower level than that.
Miranda: Yeah, for sure.
Noelle: Right? But I guess, if we like tried to kind of think about, it would be like okay, I’ve gone through all this work of realizing and this is just a guess, this is nothing scientific, right? Maybe we've gone through all this work of trying to move through guilt, move through shame - I’m now identifying with you, I’m connecting with you and now you want to say we need to be apart?!
Miranda: And that's so funny. No, yeah, I completely agree but what's funny is we talk about, there's all this shit that you have to work through and what it all boils back down to is decentering yourself…and our ego is strong. So, here you are at level six.
Noelle: Yeah, where are we at?
Miranda: There’s only nine, eight or nine levels and you're STILL making it about you. You're saying, well, why do you need these spaces and I’ve done all this work so we shouldn't have to and it's like - wow, we're still here?! You still gotta keep digging, you know? You gotta keep going, you know?
Noelle: It also says here this is where you start seeing racism as a result of flaws in the system as opposed to understanding that the system is founded on that.
Miranda: Systemic racism. Institutionalization.
Noelle: Are enthusiastic about celebrating diversity without understanding the power dynamics of racism and this is like that conversation, right? Where we talk about what is actual diversity, right, and how does that contribute to inclusion? Like…are we checking boxes here?
Miranda: Yeah, are we only interested in the food? Like are we, oh, I had this great ethnic experience on vacation?
Noelle: I am so diverse!
Miranda: Yeah, it's like no, it's not. You're missing the mark, those are not the things it's about, you know?
Noelle: Okay. And then the next stage after that, if we are continuing up the ladder, it is “taking responsibility and self-righteousness” so also known as “white can do right, especially me”. So, see ourselves as part of the white group, understand and begin to take responsibility for our power and privilege as part of the white group, are comfortable with separation when we talk about caucusing, we talk about safe spaces and we talk about, I’m looking at your shirt that says sisterhood is how we survive. We talk about these things, right? We're comfortable with that like as white people, we understand it values self-reflection. So, when I was going through this ladder because of what the last stage is, which is community of love and resistance, the idea of that final stage on this ladder, they quote Beverly Daniel Tatum and it says those who persist in the struggle are awarded with an increasingly multiracial and multicultural experience. And I was like, our existence. And I was like if you value that, right? So, like I think and we've talked about that in previous episodes like what do we value as a society, what do we value as people, you really, are you even going to approach this ladder if you don't value that end result?
Miranda: Well, and I think, you know, I don't know if this is off par but you may not value that and still come to the ladder for various reasons and never make it to the top, you know, essentially because it really depends on like you said, where your values are rooted. I’m just kind of picking things out of thin air but, say you have a child that's multiracial, you're, you know, in a relationship with someone if you're a white person in a relationship with a Black person, right, you're coming to do this work to support them per se but the value isn't in - I want this diverse experience for my children. It's a value shift, and shifting your values over takes time and it happens over time. So, you know, I kind of think of people getting to the top, near the top and then also continuing to have a struggle because you really have to change alignment in your life and when you change your values, that means that a lot of people are going to drop out of your life and so it's a life change.
Noelle: Yeah, if you're engaging in this and your values change or we do it for like a surface level reason, right? I am blanking on the term right now. We're doing it, oh god. I don't know. When we do this work and it's just we talk about it with like ally ship –
Noelle: Performative. Yeah. I’m like what the heck was that word? Just performative allyship, right, because you are trying to do it for a reason where there's not value-based action. It is not an action that you're doing because intrinsically you value the fact that we should have these rich diverse multicultural, multi-racial experiences where people are affirmed and feel safe.
Miranda: And just FYI, that's who we want following us.
Noelle: Yes. And this is what we're trying to have you learn, right, like maybe that's also something you've never thought about. Maybe that's something you've never realized doesn't exist, that people are literally living experiences where they feel unsafe in spaces, in grocery stores, in everyday things that are happening.
Miranda: Walking out of their front door, in their job, in their house and their neighborhood.
Noelle: Yeah, in their homes. Yes, in their home. Yes, especially, we talk about race but like when we think of the LGBTQ community, I think of youth and people, youth that are rejected by their families and live in unsafe homes and yes, I mean that we talk about intersectionality, this can apply to so much, right? That that is a lived experience and a reality for so many people and if that's not a value of yours, again, I think that requires self-reflection of realizing that you've maybe never had to, you've taken for granted how safe and comfortable you've been in your life that there are people out there that don't have those same experiences. So, then after taking responsibility and self-righteousness, we move to “collective action”, which actually in our next episode, we're going to get into, we've talked about caucusing, we're going to talk a little bit more specifically today just about what a white caucus would look like. We talked about a Black caucus and affinity groups last episode but in this collective action, we really participate in individual and group work to address racism on personal levels, institutional levels, cultural levels. We're working collectively with white anti-racist allies and people of Color and we're trying to cross lines to do this work, claiming our identity as a white person in a racist society, like no one's asking you to not realize you're white. No one's asking you to not be white or even take pride in being whatever you take pride in of being, I don't know. We have ethnicities too. I mean, I know like growing up, I was like I’m Greek.
Noelle: Like, you know, my mom's always like you're Italian too. I’m like I know but on the holiday- like the country holidays, I’m always bringing the Greek food like I know because not a lot of people were Greek, like everyone was Italian. I’m like I am Greek.
Miranda: You're happy to be Greek. Yeah, but that's very different than white pride.
Miranda: Which is not what you meant but I do want to clarify.
Noelle: But what I mean by that I guess is like I have no problem being like I’m a white girl, I mean, you know, like I am.
Miranda: But you've also moved through feelings of guilt and fear and feeling like that is something you should feel uncomfortable about and like you are then causing harm to other people because of your withitness, you're not because you use your voice in an appropriate way, you've moved up this ladder, you know what I mean? You let go of those feelings.
Noelle: Yeah, you can accept your whiteness in a way that it doesn't harm other people.
Noelle: Right? And that's what has to happen because right now, what white means in this country is that you killed people that were people of Color, you stole land. You were to be harmful. Yeah, I mean all these things that we don't want to talk about.
Miranda: They happen.
Noelle: Exactly. Like critical race theory, oh my god. But like that is what the history is, right? And so we want to deny that and we want to pretend all that doesn't exist, we're not getting anywhere by doing that. And then the last step is “community of love and resistance”, which I was like oh my god, community of love and resistance because I got you the Christmas gift that said community is resistance.
Miranda: Oh yea you did!
Noelle: And it said community is resistance but this was after I bought that and I was like, oh my god, community is
Miranda: Full circle.
Noelle: So yeah, I mean I just thought, you know, like looking at this ladder, I mean I can obviously look at it and think of white people I come into contact with my own journey, right? There were definitely stages of my life like when I was an adolescent, where like I rejected white people like I didn't want to date them, I thought they were all racists, you know, I connected more with like people that were different ethnicities than me. I wanted to hang out more with those people because like anytime I was around white people my age, some shit was said. And so I was trying, I was turned off.
Miranda: The experience of most people of Color as well.
Noelle: Yeah. So, I was turned off by it and that's part when I was reading through the stages, I’m like oh my god, that's like a stage like rejecting white people because you start realizing, you know, I definitely see white people getting stuck in that denial defensiveness, shame, guilt, it becomes a cycle. It's like they want to get up that ladder, they just can't get past that. I mean, we got questions on Instagram and I posted the ally ship post those series of posts that we put up about like white guilt and how you work past that and it's like any other negative emotion, you know, you need to deal with that shit, figure out how we're dealing with it and use it in a constructive way. Otherwise, you are going to get stuck in resentment or in some other.
Miranda: Or fall back down or fall down. So, you know, one of the questions you pose, so what happens when people do fall down the ladder?
Noelle: I mean, I think one, you have to have self-reflection to realize that you are triggered by something, right? I think it's like important to try to figure out like why am I here again or like what, I think it's also very possible that white people move up the ladder and then something happens somewhere could be an experience at work. It could be someone. I’ll give you an example. I was in college and I applied for a scholarship when I did my like short business minor stint. I realized that I hated it.
Miranda: You hate business. Any time I try to bring it to her attention, she's like, fuck this, fuck that, fuck everything, I hate it. Quit. I want to quit. I’m like, okay, sure.
Noelle: You're like I’ll just keep pushing you and you're going to grow along the way.
Miranda: You will.
Noelle: You say that or you're like, okay bye. Those are the two Miranda reactions I get. But, okay, so I applied for a scholarship and I didn't get it and the letter that I got was like, I guess I didn't realize when I applied for the scholarship that it was for like girls of Color like Black girls but the letter was basically like –
Miranda: Bitch, you're not Black. Stop trying.
Noelle: I mean, I must not have realized, I was just trying to get money but when I got the ladder, right, I was just like oh, like I get it, like I get why, you know, that would be the case, why we offered these things, whatever. Something like that could have triggered me, right? Oh, how cool, we're giving hand out all the arguments you hear about if we have conversations about affirmative action or we have conversations about specialty like programs and things that, affinity, you know, we talk about affinity groups and caucusing but we have plenty of, we're going to have interviews, right, like programs for Black boys, programs for Black girls like why they're important. That could have been a trigger for me. I could have fallen down the ladder of like, oh well, that's not fair like I was just like when I want my life like okay, I understand that, I get it.
Miranda: Because you understand social conditioning and our history, and right, all that, yes.
Noelle: I had done the work up the ladder. I mean, you know, well before that, this was in college like my sophomore year in college, you know, or even like I think of like interracial dating, right? And I’ve been rejected by families like when my boyfriend was Black in college but he dealt with the same thing, right, for very different reasons like I wasn't being harmed. They were having issues trusting me for correct reasons of why they would as if, you know, I’m dating their Black son like, I’m a white woman, am I going to harm you or am I going to, you know, like I get it. Him being not accepted was just racism. So, all these things that could be like triggering events that can like drop you right back down if you don't fully understand the system or like everything like behind it. So, I think that could be ways that you could get knocked down the ladder.
Miranda: Well, yeah, and I think, you know, all that reminds me of this quote that we kind of want to end with before we ask our questions. So, where does this come from? It comes from The Guardian, I don't actually know who says it but an article Confronting Racism Isn't About the Needs and Feelings of White People. That was found in The Guardian. “If your anti-racism work prioritizes the growth and enlightenment of white America over the safety, dignity and humanity of people of Color, it's not anti-racism work, it's just white supremacy.” And I think, you know, that really kind of sums up this progress up the ladder and where your values lie and why you got invested in this work in the first place. And also, I think when people fall down the ladder, they need to recommit, you know, why did you start this in the first place? Recommit to what your goals are and move forward, you know, like all this other stuff is just rubbish, you know. I haven't used that word.
Noelle: It's a rubbish. Well, and I think that is the decentering whiteness. Right? Like we're doing this work not to have this white empowerment, I think that's why it bothered me, right?
Noelle: Like seeing like the ladder of empowerment like here we are again, trying to like get our empower but yeah, I mean I think it's doing work for what end, you know, the values, the trying to create a society where people are safe and we're having meaningful interactions with one another in ways where people aren't threatened and they can be their true selves.
Miranda: And thrive because of it, yeah. For sure.
Miranda: All right. So, we're going to end with a question. So, question is, when is the first time you realize you belong to a certain racial or ethnic group and I’ll kind of change that a little bit, maybe a significant time you realize just something that stands out to you when you really realized that you were part of?
Noelle: So, I had an experience in college, if you're talking about like significant time, sure. Yeah, I mean I guess interracial dating, like I bring up those stories a lot because it's like gave me the most exposure, I think, in an intimate way like crossing. I mean, I’m still in an interracial, inter-ethnic, interracial marriage, right? And in some ways even more so than just interracial because it's different language, different cultures and customs way more than the Black guy I dated in college. You know, like totally way more and I value that but I had a situation in college where we went to school in Buffalo. We used to go to Canada to like get cheap liquor but the rule, the law was that when you, they had this rule. The law was that when you went to duty-free, you had to stay for 24 hours for you to not pay taxes on the liquor. So, I went with my ex, who was a Black guy, very tall, six eight, large, Black man.
Noelle: Noticeable. We go, we get the free liquor. We don't stay for 24 hours, we loop back around at the border and just come back through cusp like come back through to go to New York, back to buffalo. We get stopped. We're like, you know, what are you guys doing? Was the nature of your stay? We're like, oh, we went to the casino, we stayed over, whatever. They like asked to see our stamp of the casino and we're like, whoa, we were going to go to the casino, this whole thing. They're like pull over. We pull over. They pull me out of the car and the border patrol is like, just tell us what's going on. You'll be okay. Just tell us what he's trying to do. It was like this whole conversation of like criminalizing him, blaming him, right? And I was like nothing.
Miranda: White victimization.
Noelle: Exactly. I’m like nothing, like we literally, I was like we went to duty free, just trying to buy liquor and not pay taxes on it. Like I’m trying to not pay three dollars in taxes or whatever it is like that's it. They separate us, they sequester us in two different rooms. They bring all these people to interview us, they pull my car apart, they search my everywhere, pull my seats out, everything. People are coming in to me and like, you're not going to get in trouble for whatever is going on, just tell us. Ultimately, all we had was the liquor from the duty free place, like there was nothing for them to find, right? When we finally come back together because they don't find anything, I was like did they say anything to you or he's like they left me in that room alone the entire time, no one asked me anything. Like the whole time they're asking me to tell them what you're doing to me. Ultimately, at the end, we didn't have to pay taxes and we got back to buffalo with the liquor.
Miranda: well, and unscathed.
Noelle: I remember thinking that whole time like that was just the power of being white. That was the power of having a white border patrol guy see the white girl with the black eye and think I’m getting taken advantage of somehow in this situation. Luckily, no one harmed him.
Miranda: Or you weren't scared and came up with some story.
Noelle: Yeah. I mean, yeah. But I think that was probably the first time. We've had always gotten looks, we had always dealt with family, both of us had dealt with family. No one wanted to, you know, we always had that but that was the first time I was like, damn, like that I mean and also I had an overtly racist roommate.
Miranda: Oh, wow.
Noelle: Like, yeah. So, that was probably like another time where I felt like I had to really protect against like a really harmful white person. Like you had always dealt with like comments or whatever, like someone who you felt could harm someone and that person ultimately moved out. But that and that was all in the same year, my sophomore year. And I was like, wow, like this shit is crazy. So, that's probably. I feel like from like a, when I think just realized the power of whiteness.
Miranda: Yeah. I don't, I think there's two things, you know, and I realized from a young age, right? The thing is I’m adopted. My family, my mother, you know, my adopted parents, my mother's Black, my father was Puerto Rican but they're both white. They're very light, they're like light tan, you know, I was negrita in the family so I’m clearly the darkest one in the family like I was, I’m the dark one, you know, so there's always been this level of just feeling different and not necessarily belonging because I’m adopted. So, like that's always kind of been a foundational feeling but then like you filter into elementary school and you always kind of notice but I remember in fifth grade, we watched Roots and shout out to TJ Hill, you know, my teacher was Mr. Holderman, big, scary, white guy. And I think, you know, from at least from my memory, there's only one other brown person in the class and that was TJ. I remember just watching Roots and feeling uncomfortable because I’m in this room. We're all watching the same thing and if I feel uncomfortable and I’m Black like, you know, it was just like the surreal feeling and it's like I wasn't able to talk to anybody. I don't even remember my parents trying to talk about this experience. It was just…weird and I just remember feeling solidarity with TJ, even though we never talked about anything. I’m like you're brown so you must be feeling the same way I do. But then in sixth grade, we went to our sixth grade science camp and science camp, you raise money, you know, all school year, you go away to camp for a week. It's like in the Santa Cruz Mountains and you explore, you go on field trips, all this really cool stuff. And my elementary school was fairly diverse. There was one cabin of girls. They were all friends, they were Chinese. And I guess, from what I understand, I think they were like, you know, we had our doors open. We're like cleaning. It's cleaning time. They're cleaning their cabin, they're wiping the tables or whatever. A group of boys, I don't even remember what they were but a group of boys passes by their room and says to them something along the lines of, they call them Chinese servants, right?
Noelle: Oh, my god.
Miranda: These girls, I somehow come around at some point, you know, within a couple minutes of this happening. They're crying, they're upset. I’m like, what happened? They tell me and they're like don't tell anybody. I’m in sixth grade, I’m like okay. A chaperone - then it's this whole commotion at this point. A chaperone comes around. She's like married to the son of one of the teachers, she's a white woman, she has some experience in like medical care or something like that. That's how she's there as a chaperone. She's like, what happened? I’m like, well, they told me and they don't, you know, I’m young. I don't know how to navigate this situation and at this point, there are other kids around. There's like a group of 10-15 kids and she's like, you know, a grown-ass woman in my face. If I called you the n-word and she says it out loud, how would you feel about that? You need to tell me right now so I could fix this. And I’m just like –
Noelle: Oh, my god.
Miranda: And in my mind, I’m like - spit in her face! But I’m like, you're going to get in trouble, I like it here. I don't want to go home, you know what I mean? And I think I just like ran. I don't even know. If someone could corroborate the story because I don't even know what the fuck happened after. You just have all these, you know, emotions. And so, I think in that moment I realized so much. Here is this white woman asserting her power over me as a young child, here is also another group of girls who have been harmed. They're of a different race and they're part of another group experiencing another type of oppression, right? Like, so just, it was just so much in like this moment, right? And then to be in a space where I’m like, I don't really feel like anybody understands me. Luckily, we had a teacher Miss Mahuna. Shout out to Mrs. Mahuna, and she was like, you know, true Hawaiian, right? Like, you know, and so she came and she talked to me and she's like it's not okay what happened. You need to let us know, you know, and she was like there for me but I think that was really the first time. It's like oh shit, you know, this is real. You know, things your parents have told you about, like oh, they exist in this world and you see them, you know, very overtly. So, yeah.
Noelle: All right. Well, you know, I mean these are our experiences and we really encourage you to think about your own and how you're moving through this world and we will, you know, post more resources, post more on the ladder and the resources that we used in our episode today for you to do more learning. Thank you so much for joining us today. In a couple weeks, we will be talking more about the collective action, how we can take the work that we're all doing separately and come together to really, you know, again, aspire to everybody being able to engage and thrive with one another. So, thanks for joining us today and we will see you in a couple weeks.
Miranda: We love you, bye.
Noelle: Show The Unpacked Project some love and be sure to like, subscribe and review our podcast. You can also check us out on Instagram at The_Unpackedproject.
Miranda: And if you enjoyed today's episode, visit our website at theunpackedproject.com where you can make a donation that supports the research production and operating costs of this work.
Noelle: Shout out to all of our listeners who unpacked with us today.
Miranda: See you next week.