Swans Commentary » swans.com January 26, 2015  



"White-Girl" Problems


by Grace Williams





I am 5'6" and 150 pounds. I wear boot-cut jeans and unflattering shirts. I own five pairs of shoes, three of which I wear on a day-to-day basis.

I get frequent headaches, and caffeine and sugar make them worse, so I rarely drink soda or any sort of coffee-like beverage.

My father is an alcoholic. During the year that I was fifteen, we constantly fought until we came to the agreement that we couldn't be around each other. I haven't seen him in five months.

My mother has been the main breadwinner in my family since before I was born. She has nearly single-handedly supported my eleven-year-old brother, an alcoholic husband, a cat, and me for seventeen years. There have been times when we have had very little money. I have lived in four houses in as many years, all of which were rentals. My little brother is prone to depression.

I am a feminist and a supporter of equal rights for all people, no matter their race, sex, gender, sexuality, age, class, or religion. I want my life to hold meaning to other people. I want to help people in my country and in countries around the world. My role model is Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese human rights activist. I want to get into a good college and get a good education and then a good job that I enjoy.

I despise alcohol and other drugs and while I respect other peoples' right to use them if they want to, I also hope that other people will respect my decision to refrain from any usage, recreational or otherwise.

I have made the decision to try to be the best person I can be. I make strides to accomplish this every day. I have also decided that what I want, more than anything else, is to be happy. This is something I understand will take my whole life to accomplish fully, but I do what I can to be the happiest I can right now.

I constantly struggle with my inner demons and myself. I get angry and sad and frustrated. I have deep thoughts and true feelings. I have dealt with depression and anxiety and self-hatred. I have been incredibly fortunate and extremely happy.

I am a sixteen-year-old, white, girl.

But I'm not a white-girl.

I go to an all-girls Catholic school in Oakland, California. Most of the student population is black, but there are also a few white and Latina girls. I transferred in during my junior year. When I walked into my first-period class on the first day of school, one of the black girls said, "Look, another white-girl!" She, of course, didn't mean anything by it and, at the time, I didn't think anything of it. I didn't really understand what was happening. The understanding came later.

When I say white-girl, what I mean is the label seemingly given to all girls who are white. Race, at least where I live, seems to be very organized. Black people and then white people. White people, unlike black people, have two subgroups: white-boys and white-girls.

Though I am white, I'm not a boy. This means that I can't give a first-hand account of the white-boy prejudice, but from what I've seen, the white-boy label includes every boy who is vaguely white. It assumes that all of these boys dress in shorts, T-shirts, and tennis shoes. These boys also typically play a sport such as soccer.

The white-girl label is a little more detailed. It assumes that every girl who is white wears leggings and Uggs. She has an unhealthy addiction to caffeine and thus spends far too much time and money at Starbucks. She incessantly instagrams, snapchats, facebooks, tweets, and uses all sorts of other social networking apps. She weighs 100 pounds and has blonde, straightened hair. She is rich and wants for nothing. She is shallow and has no original thoughts. White-girls seem to have their own language (even though it is also spoken by girls of other races).

I have known my best friend since we were in first grade and we have been friends since fifth. She struggled through battling anorexia and bullying and is the strongest, most beautiful person I know. She is also a bit of a punk.

We were texting each other about how stressed we were for finals. I was feeling very overwhelmed and hopeless and I chose to express this by saying, "I can't even." This is a phrase that I had heard used by many of the girls at my school, all of varying races. I picked up this new way of talking the same way an American picks up a British accent after being in England for a while.

My friend told me to stop, stop, stop. "Did you just white-girl on me?" I paused. What? So I asked her what she meant. "I can't even," really? What? So I jokingly began typing other phrases that I had picked up from my friends at my new school. Sorry, not sorry. Flawless. Haters gonna hate. Turnt! She laughed at me and told me that I was turning into a white-girl. What?

Understanding slowly dawned on me. Unknowingly, when I said, "I can't even," a phrase that my friend associates with the white-girl label, she disregarded everything that she knew about me and replaced it with the person the label describes. Simply by saying one phrase, our whole relationship, even if only for a moment, was meaningless. She saw me not as myself, but as a 100-pound, legging-and-Ugg-wearing, Starbucks-drinking, blond-hair-straightening white-girl. What?

How could this be? How could one phrase that I hear all the time turn the speaker, if white and female, into a white-girl? How could it make the people that know her best dismiss everything that makes her special and an individual and replace it with someone who is nothing like her? Even girls who, at first glance, fit this mold must have more to them than the label describes.

The white-girl is shallow and unoriginal. She cares only about her appearance and credit card. She doesn't think, just simpers and flips her heat-damaged hair.

What real person is like that? Honestly, like that? Who doesn't have feelings and thoughts? Who cares only about caffeine and money? Name one person who is that shallow. Name one person who truly has nothing more to them than that. If someone came to mind, think harder. Do you really know this person? Have you ever really made an effort to get to know this person? Are you absolutely confident that your accusation is educated and unbiased? If you're being truthful, I believe that you will find that no one is wholly a white-girl.

So why do we keep using this term?

Why are white girls allowing this prejudice to control their lives?

A white girl walks down the street and people (white people, black people, girls, boys, and otherwise) label her based on the way she dresses and the color of her skin. Do they talk to her? Interact with her? Find out who she really is? No, they don't. They are happy to call her a white-girl, laugh, and move on with their lives.

Isn't that prejudice?

Isn't that racism?

I was talking to my friend's mom -- a lesbian, Jewish, feminist living in Berkeley. I pointed out how racism goes both ways. How, yes, a white person can be racist towards a black person, but a black person can also be racist toward a white person. Wasn't that racism, too? She got huffy and simply replied, "That's not racism, that's different." What?

How is racism against white people different? Why is it not racism? Racism is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as "the belief that some races are better than others, or the unfair treatment of someone because of his or her race." Okay, that makes sense. So, shouldn't that apply to white girls, too?

This is the 21st century, already the year 2015. Why does racism persist? Why are white girls being discredited and dismissed because they are labeled white-girls? Why do the sex of my body and the color of my face determine my worth and how others perceive me?

I am smart. I am beautiful. I have original ideas. I have deep feelings. I care about my society and my world. I care about my education and the education of others. I care about my life and how I can use it to help my fellow people.

But all that doesn't matter.

I'm just another white-girl.

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About the Author

Grace Williams is a pen name for a high-school student in Oakland, California, who is passionate about everything from Shakespeare to string theory and endeavors to make the world a better place with her contributions to humanity.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published January 26, 2015