Explaining the Social Infrastructure of White Privilege Through an Urban Planning Metaphor

An original version originally posted on 1/12/2010 as "Social Infrastructure of White Privilege and Bike Lanes" @ AMMMO

I felt very aware of my race and ethnicity almost all the time during my most formative years.

I knew that I was Filipino before I began going to the "puti" high school. It was going to be different from the more homely Filipino-dominated grade school.

I knew that I was one of only a few Filipinos in my college dorms. I didn't have too many white friends going to the "puti" high school.

I know that I am one of the few Filipinos interested in pursuing anthropology and science studies as a career. I come from a background of nurses and future nurses, and in my stage of liminality, I keep getting pulled towards a career like that.

There's just a bit of a "disconnection" between where I've gone/where I want to go and what has surrounded and currently surrounds me.

I use the word "disconnection" because that's exactly how I feel when I become "aware" of my race/ethnicity in a setting. I feel "disconnected" from the people who inhabit the space, like I can't make a connection, like we share almost nothing in common.

I can become "aware" of that when I'm in an academic conference full of older white guys as the key speakers and experts, when I'm in a wine-tasting shop in Silver Lake. I don't become as "aware" of this when I'm at the basketball court in Glassell Park.

My thinking implies that people who have a feeling of "fitting in" either consciously or unconsciously feel or have a connection. Let's assume that's true. What fosters that connection?

It is at this point that I'll borrow the term "infrastructure." "Infrastructure" fosters that connection.

"Infrastructure" is used in the context of public works projects. It is defined as the "basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise." Infrastructure is the freeways, roads, BIKE LANES, power plants, power-lines water sources, the internet, phones, and other forms of communication. I use the term "infrastructure" to mean "a collection of connective strands used to maintain a system."

When you are a white American, and probably male, there is an "infrastructure" that firstly, helps you forget the negative parts of your identity and secondly, fosters the ability to go in and fit in almost anywhere.

You see your likeness reproduced in all kinds of public discourse and spaces. You see yourself in movies, academia, arts and high-class theater, corporate jobs. You can literally identify with being almost anything cause you know that no matter where you are, someone with your identity, perhaps even your looks, are there and you can probably talk to them, and they can hook you up.

If you're a white guy in America, unless you're queer and/or poor, you don't really have to constantly (whether conscious or not) re-evaluate your "belongingness" in mid-high class settings. You don't have to think about where you come from because you're already everywhere and the possibilities are endless. You can do this and this and this. You can just be "human" and not focus on your color. You know that your opinion really counts. The infrastructure in the form of movies, academia, arts carries these people any and everywhere and they don't have to stop and think as much cause they're so connected to whatever they want to do.

Conversely, the existence of an "infrastructure" working so well for a white American male implies that there is little to no infrastructure for a person of color. There isn't as much infrastructure that would firstly help a person of color forget the negative parts of their identities. There isn't as much infrastructure that would help a person of color fit in almost anywhere.

There are infrastructures that help people of color, but are more insular (or at least can be perceived that way). The demarcation that something like a Scholarship fund is for blacks, or Asians, or Latinos makes it seem to plenty of white folk that there is just all this opportunity for people of color. The very naming and labeling of the organization makes it very explicit that it benefits who it does. There is no formal naming if any involved in the process of a white guy getting into a business or high position because he "fits" the culture or "knew someone". Without that formal naming, is an informal, connected, embedded network.

Like the BIKE LANES in LA that last for one block, the infrastructure for people of color is piecemeal and far and few between.

Bike lanes and infrastructure are built only on certain streets.

Even without any BIKE LANES/INFRASTRUCTURE on streets and avenues, a few people will still bike, but it's not expected that they will bike.

People could technically go anywhere with their bikes without "infrastructure" but it isn't a safe bet, and usually most drivers, pedestrians, don't expect bikers on their streets. The streets are reserved for drivers.

Yes, we see a few people of color here and there in some movies, some academic fields, some arts, some sports, infrastructure that holds up popular culture. But there are only certain professions and things that people of color can be acknowledged to do, like my whole my family and the nursing profession.

People of color could technically go anywhere with their careers without "infrastructure", but it isn't a safe bet and usually families and people in power, won't expect those people of color to be in professions like that dealing with Science Studies or Anthropology. The streets are reserved for white Americans and obssessive Asian kids.

So the question is how do we keep building that infrastructure for people of color?

For me...Manny Pacquiao is a start.

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