Sure. The author describes being put into a remedial class in first grade because of her race. I was put into a remedial class in first grade because of my social status. She imagined that a white child would never be put into a remedial class erroneously, because their white privilege protects them. That conclusion was really what triggered me about her thought experiment. She imagined what life would be like if she were white. But once again, the generic white person left me out. Being a white poor person means you are invisible. You are always left out. Your experiences aren’t real. They don’t count. You don’t really experience poverty because you’re white.
For example, just yesterday, a black professor who I regard highly got into an argument with a poor white woman on Facebook. He was making fun of a man who was buying five green beans ahead of him in line at the store, and then the man put one back to buy four green beans. The white woman got upset with what she thought was an insensitive comment about poverty. He apparently was actually making fun of a person who he thought was just “off” not poor. I won’t say how I feel about people making fun of people who are “off” since mental illness permeates my whole family. But anyway, she accused him of being insensitive to poverty. He fired back that he grew up in intergenerational poverty, and then said, “And black poverty is much harder than white poverty.” He says this to a woman who is about to be evicted, who has cancer, medical bankruptcy, and never escaped poverty. He’s working at a university. Then, about ten people piled on making comments about her white privilege, which she kept acknowledging while asking that her circumstances be recognized. No one did.
I watched that conversation unfold before I read this essay, “If I Were White,” and I realized that it is beyond true that whenever someone of another race imagines if they are white, they can’t do it. There is no such thing as a generic white person. It would be like me saying I was going to imagine I were black. Is this supposed to automatically mean I imagine myself as an inner city child with drug-addicted parents? That sounds pretty racist to me. Why not imagine myself as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Michelle Obama? Their lives are not the same as the inner city child with drug-addicted parents.
The thought experiment fails because there is no generic white person just as there is no generic black person. That is unless you conjure up “the average white person” in which case, it happens again. The invisibility of poor white people we always experience. When I was twelve years old, the doctor at the People’s Health Clinic in Waterloo, Iowa, told me and my mom he wasn’t going to numb my toe up more, “because it is not like you’re paying for it.” He then proceeded to torture me as he removed it. I did not live the same life as a suburban white American. I am tired of having that erased.