When It’s Tough to Be White in America

Note the words “an exceptional event.”

My daughter carries her mother’s soft brown hair and her father’s Germanic nose. She’s 16, and she lives in a multi-cultural community. To many, multi-cultural means black (with some white people peppered throughout). Same with the term, diversity. The “Silent P,” my city and the high school in question, are actually multi-cultural. I’m talking 30-30-30-10, in terms of ethnicity.

[Note: I find it interesting that in the 10% or so that are labeled “Asian,” we as a society lump Pakistani Sunni Muslims and Filipino Roman Catholics. That’s a pretty wide swath of cultures to throw under one ethnicity.]

This girl of mine, for all of her issues, has faced racism across the board. She has a black “friend” from the neighborhood who won’t acknowledge her in school. She has lost other friends because of her skin color and ethnicity. Yesterday, that seemed to come to a head–on the first day of school.

She has a boyfriend (though I was never directly told of this—HAS THE FATHER APPROVED??). This boy coaches a kids’ soccer team. It seems a key way to get my daughter’s attention is to be good with kids. In fact, she seems happiest when working with small children. This “boyfriend” is a Hispanic (didn’t I just tell you he was coaching soccer? Pay attention!). He’s also on the high school soccer team. I’m told he’s a “nice kid.” I’ll take everyone else’s word for it. For now.

Yesterday was the first day of school for the Silent P. In the morning, this young man attempted a Public Display of Affection (PDA) by trying to KISS my daughter. She dodged said attempt. This caused great consternation and frustration for both of them. He was resentful for the rest of the day. She was frustrated all day, as well. You see, I think she would have kissed him back…had he just made this attempt in the afternoon.

The morning was not a good time to be trying to kiss my daughter. That’s not because of some biological clock of sorts. Rather, it’s because on “A-Day” mornings, she is around her Asian girlfriends. These friends are quite conservative, socially. One was called a “slut” by her father when she was caught watching TV with her then-boyfriend and laying (clothed) with her head on his leg. Another is not allowed to have boys in the house. Period. My daughter and her boyfriend have only been “together” a short time—one day, by some standards. For my daughter to actually kiss a boy she had been dating only one day, she would be labeled a “slut,” as well. At least in her mind. At least in someone’s mind among this set of friends. Such a kiss would have been a point of contention. If word leaks out to a parent of just one of these girls, my daughter’s social circle could contract quickly.

All of these things had to be taken into account in the course of one, maybe two seconds. The boy didn’t understand the context. Hopefully, that has changed or will change. My daughter chose to keep her friends close. “Sisters before misters.” (Wait, isn’t that a black phrase?) Meanwhile, I imagine this poor young man could have been humiliated in front of his culture (Hispanic young males). Hopefully, nobody from his world saw the whole thing. On the other hand, word could get out that my daughter is kind of “cold.”

All in one or two seconds.

I’m convinced that a real conversation about race, ethnicity, and culture in this country will never take place. Generations will eventually assimilate, and that means Caucasian-Americans (!) will make further adjustments, as well.

It’s tough to be a teenager in this America, these days. Homeschooling, moving to the country, choosing specific neighborhoods, and talking about how a place is “a good place to raise kids” can be euphemisms for “the culture is more defined around here.” That’s true no matter which culture dominates, as long as the cultural rules are clear.

But throwing my kids into a place where you face “America” all at once…well, that just makes things difficult on them. (My apologies, you three poor Henley kids—I hope you don’t notice this blog this for a few years, still.) The goal was and is that nothing will bite you in the butt in adulthood that hasn’t hit you already. As a parent, though, it’s tough to watch the growing pains. I forced this life on my kids because I didn’t want them to deal with the ignorance I’ve spent 45 years overcoming. Right now, though, it feels like “ignorance is underrated.”

Song is worth a listen, by the way. So’s this song, where Ari Hest NAILS the attitude of a young man who left one specific place to find the “Silent P,” complete with kitschy pics and others from the Shawshank Redemption, no less. Glad to see someone else notices the motivational effect of Ari Hest’s “Aberdeen.”

I hope my kids look at this as a place to return, to call home. In the meantime, we’re all stuck here, stuck in “America.”


About Paul T. Henley, Ph. D.

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One Response to When It’s Tough to Be White in America

  1. What a powerful moment, encapsulating so much of our politics. And what micropolitics.

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