The awkwardness of the 'white remark'

I call it "the white remark." Someone I don't know too well sidles up to me and says something they I assume I will agree with because of the color of my skin. Which in my case is the paler side of German/Irish.

It happened just a few days ago. I was at an exercise class. One of my classmates whispered to me that this exercise center used to be a lot nicer "before the blacks" started coming.

After Barack Obama won for the first time, an acquaintance who campaigned for him was excited that the election of a black president meant that we could finally talk about how racist black people are. He said this as we were sitting in a room full of white people in a wealthy neighborhood of this city that has always been white and always been wealthy.

Yep, nobody in that room had ever been denied a good education because of their skin color. No one had older family members who couldn't get a home loan because of their race. But he was upset that the black grocery store clerk wasn't as nice to him as he thought he deserved.

I work at a middle school for girls from the city's under-served neighborhoods. Most of our students are African-American, biracial and — more frequently these days — Latina. Often I am the only white person in a room.

People don't mistreat me.

After the girls graduate from our middle school, I track their academic progress to make sure they will graduate from high school in four years. I travel all over this city to various public and private high schools, and even to girls' homes, to check up on them and to make sure they have what they need to be successful in school.

People don't mistreat me.

Once, I had to stop by a black student's house, and as I got closer to her home, I could see that I was the only white person around for blocks.

I knocked on the door. "Come in," someone called, and so I did — to the great surprise of a family member whom I didn't know and who clearly didn't expect a white lady to walk in the house.

"Who let you in?" She eyed me suspiciously.

"You did," I told her.

She continued to look at me skeptically, until along came the student's mother. "That's Ms. Gregg," she explained, and we got down to the business I came for — keeping a kid in school.

People don't mistreat me.

After the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case, a lot of white people are already getting tired of talking about race. I see this in their comments on social media and hear it in their voices. They blame reporters for making this a racial issue, or they point out how racist hip hop lyrics can be.

To be fair, there is a lot of distrust, and there are many misconceptions on both sides of the racial divide. I don't mean to minimize that. But this is all the more reason for us to continue the conversations on this painful subject. We can't stop sharing our experiences.

After the verdict in Florida, I made another home visit, and once again I was the only white face on a Baltimore city block. Two parents were setting up a plastic pool to cool off their children, and other kids were playing on the sidewalk. It was hot, all the more reason for manners to be in short supply, but everybody said hello to me.

I was not at all surprised.

Jessica Gregg is a writer and educator from Baltimore. She blogs at

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