Dealing with White Ignorance on a Daily Basis

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When I began at Northwest this year, I was incredibly excited, but my feelings began to falter with the common appearance of white ignorance in the school environment. White ignorance is white people’s racism, (also known as racial insensitivity) based on ignorance and privilege. A more factual definition from the University of St.Andrews’s philosophy journal*, writes that, “on the Cognitivist View, white ignorance refers to ignorance resulting from social practices that distribute faulty cognitive resources. On the Structuralist View, white ignorance refers to ignorance that (1) results as part of a social process that systematically gives rise to racial injustice, and (2) is an active player in the process.” 

As a student at Northwest, I regularly observe and am subjected to white ignorance. I am often asked the most intrusive questions about the color of my skin by many ignorant white students here at Northwest. I identify as POC, and I have been asked by several white students here at NWS “what kind of brown” I am. I have had to explain to many racially insensitive white students that I do not happen to be Black, mixed-race, Mexican, Filipino, Indian, or “any other kind of brown”, but that I am Samoan. I tried to wear a fake flower yellow Hibiscus clip, and a Plumeria which are both Hawaiian flowers, in the hopes that some of the ignorant white students who are constantly asking about my race when they shouldn’t, would at least possibly get my race right, but no dice. 

I was really surprised about the complete racial insensitivity and white ignorance that I had experienced with several students here. For example, I was in class, and began to talk about BIPOC folks in a class discussion. Once I had finished speaking, two white students asked me what “BIPOC” meant. Naturally because of how much this society is trying to educate about race, I thought that these two were joking, but I was disappointed to realize that they weren’t. These students who had been attending NWS for two years still didn’t understand the meaning of BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, People of Color. 

I am not the only BIPOC student facing these annoyances, and bothersome ignorance. I interviewed several BIPOC students to hear their stories about suffering from white student’s racial insensitivity. Three Black students that I interviewed said that something they have to deal with constantly is white people asking to touch their hair, or just touching their hair without asking. “Either way it’s offensive” one of them said to me. Several of the Asian identified students that I  interviewed mentioned the comments that they get about their eyes such as“Why are your eyes so small?” from white students. Another Asian student said that white students constantly tell her “Ni hao” even though she identifies as Korean. A student who identifies as Latina said that a white student had come up to her and asked if she would help him with his Spanish homework. She told me she wished “That people didn’t think that LatinX folks are only Mexicans or people who speak Spanish.” She explained that she’s Brazilian, and does not speak Spanish, but Portuguese. 

There are lots of other BIPOC students that have stories similar or different from these. There have been some major incidents at Northwest, which have made several students that I interviewed feel really uncomfortable. One major issue is intent vs. impact. A non-BIPOC student may not intend to be racist, but their words ended up being racist. If a BIPOC student says that something is offensive or racist, don’t get defensive. To be “defensive” when it comes to talking about race is when a BIPOC student or teacher tells you that something you just said is racist, prejudiced, racially insensitive, wrong, or makes them uncomfortable and you immediately deny or argue saying that what you just said was not racist, even though it was. Despite your intention, the impact was you made a BIPOC student or teacher uncomfortable. 

Words can have a major impact. Ignorant comments or statements may  make people feel unsafe, so when a BIPOC student tries to educate you, listen to them. no one will ever be perfect, but remember to think before you speak because your words can have a major negative impact whether or not you intended to cause harm. 

*University of St.Andrews’s philosophy journal “The Philosophical Quarterly”,Volume 71, Issue 4, October 202 Annette Martín

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