White People Invisibility

There are moments when I walk into a room and the other people don’t see a lesbian or a disabled woman. They see a white woman and they think this gives my tacit permission for them to use racist language.

I was in the notary’s office today, completing paperwork for the Pittsburgh Dyke and Trans March which is (hopefully) taking place on Saturday June 21 in Bloomfield. When I opened the door, a large older white man possibly in his 50s or early 60s was talking with the notary about some legal issue. He caught my attention when he said “my daughter let some jigaboo spook drive her car and now I’ve got legal troubles.” 

I’m pretty sure I gasped and stared at him. I just stared because I didn’t know what to say. The notary realized I was in some way displeased because she nudged him and he turned, waved at me and said “Sorry for my language.” Then he continued his tale of woe about his daughter allowing young men of color to drive her car and probably sell drugs and all the attendant drama that has brought to his life. He slipped twice and almost said ‘nigger’ but caught himself and said “friends” with a sheepish glance at me.

I just stared. I’m standing there with the paperwork for the Dyke and Trans March in my hands with no idea what to say to this man who assumed that our shared whiteness makes this whole conversation okay.  To seal my tacit endorsement of his racism, he said “Lock the door behind me because it is getting really dark on this street these days” and winked at me as he left.

The notary apologized profusely, then locked the door.

She is also a white woman, probably in her 50’s. She didn’t know what the word “indigent” meant. For some reason, that bothered me.

I called Ledcat when I left because I was a little shocked. It is a harsh reminder that in spite of the huge leap forward in equality that we lesbians and gay men gained yesterday, a lot of folks are left behind. It was a reminder why I volunteer for the Dyke and Trans March.

And it was humiliating and disgusting and shameful. I wish I had said something, but I didn’t. I still don’t know what I could have said – he clearly picked up on my disgust for his comments, but didn’t care beyond toning it down a little. He was much larger than me and it was a small space and I was a little uncomfortable. It reminded me of the time another large man called me a dyke and I confronted him – that didn’t end well for anyone. Except him I guess.

I didn’t write this to ask people to reassure me or help me sort out how I can better challenge racism. I wrote it to remind myself that my helmet of invisibility that comes with being a lesbian who is white and middle aged also comes with a cost. I also wrote it to remind YOU that this happens. Every day. I’m not talking about the cost of ridiculous anonymous people who write mean things about me on social media.

Ledcat suggested I get certified as a notary to offer people an option to get their work done without racist or homophobic overtones. That’s not a bad idea. I’m pretty sure that Black Pride had events on the North side last year so that’s another opportunity for me to get involved in challenging racism in these neighborhoods.

I had an uncomfortable experience. That’s completely different from the experiences of people of color who encounter this man will have, even if he uses better language, right? And a different experience than his daughter and her friends and everyone else will have.

Working out my angst is my issue. Acknowledging that it happens to almost every white person in this City is a common issue because choosing to remain invisible in those moments supports racist structures and hurts people. Pretending that it doesn’t happen or that it doesn’t matter is dangerous, a slippery slope of denial that ends up in our own backyards when they come for us.

I can’t help but wonder what I would have done if he had used gay slurs in that conversation?

White Racism