Last Week

Last week was International Blog Against Racism week. Between the kids, the critters, the job, and Mr. Coffee, I ended up saying nothing. I was just too busy. But of course, there are folks out there whose non-fiction is much more passionate and elegant than my own when it comes to this subject. Still….

There were a few things I thought about writing about.

As I poke about, looking into the possibility of tribal registration*, I thought about writing about how, technically, I am non-white. Yet 95% of the time, I am perceived as such. I think of that 5% of the time that I am NOT perceived as white as a blessing. Nothing will open your eyes to your own privilege like having it ripped away from time to time. So, this makes me more compassionate – something I think is worth being.

Still, having elderly Puerto Rican men chew me out for not speaking Spanish isn’t particularly painful, since I am not Puerto Rican. Getting spit on for being Turkish while in Austria was unpleasant, but again, not painful; I am not Turkish. An experience that was painful was when, years ago, a co-worker spent a LOT of time telling my boss that I was lazy and came to work drunk. Neither statement was true, but he felt he knew the truth by LOOKING at me.

Can you imagine dealing with something like that every day? I can’t. But it happens to plenty of people – all the time. This is part of the point of my “Other People’s Stories” series (which I will get back to this week – promise). That is, that the whole “anyone can do anything”; “we create reality” philosophy tends to support the status quo and dismiss the reality of injustice in the world. It seems especially easy for some folks to dismiss the subtle injustices that wear a soul down.

I also thought about writing about the attacks on Dr. Regina Benjamin’s weight – something I believe to be fueled by sexism, racism, and classism. The classism hits me the hardest – it seems like it’s OK to have working class roots as long as you don’t LOOK like you do, and hell, she’s built just like my MOM (and me in 10 years). Mom is STURDY but not fat. And of course, we women are so often judged by our looks. I don’t feel qualified to discuss the racial aspect of this, but I feel like it’s there.

So, did anyone who visits me write anything for Blog Against Racism week? If so, let me know and I’ll link back to you, providing it’s appropriate.

I hope you are all having a lovely week this week. I need to practice writing, and my skills need to be honed, so I will be back soon.

* If ANYONE out there has had good luck tracing their MATRILINEAL ancestry, I am open to advice on how to track down information.

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7 thoughts on “Last Week

  1. I think it is interesting that you find prejudice less painful when it is based on an incorrect classification (e.g., you are not Turkish) than when it references a group you do identify with. Why do you think that is? It just seems to me that being the target of hatred is unpleasant, even if it is based on a misunderstanding.

    I totally agree that it is a useful exercise in empathy to be stripped of one’s privilege. The fact is, most of us have no idea what advantages we have because we just take our experience as the default — the fish doesn’t know how to talk about water, because it has always lived in it and knows nothing else. However, most of us are privileged in some ways and not in others: A white women might enjoy privilege based on her race/ethnicity, but not have access to male privilege; a gay, white man might enjoy race and gender privilege, but not heterosexual privilege, etc. As you note, these intersect with class, and size, and disability, etc. And even “privilege” is a complicated, as there are costs to male privilege, as well, as it must be continually reinscribed against the fear of being seen as insufficiently masculine. Each social status is laced with cultural assumptions which can be advantageous or disadvantageous, and it is worth seeing them in all their complexity. In addition, we each enact our roles differently, so as to work the cultural assumptions and convey the image we wish at the moment. I agree with you that we don’t create reality, but we are agents within the existing social reality. In discussing gender, for example, I tell my students that we all live within systems of gender (including sexism and patriarchy), and we can choose to support, subvert, resist, or challenge those systems.

    Did you read Peggy Macintosh’s article about white privilege? It’s a classic, although I think much of what she discusses relates more to social class than ethnicity per se. You can read the whole article here:
    http://www.case.edu/president/aaction/UnpackingTheKnapsack.pdf

    1. Oh I failed to respond to this:

      “I think it is interesting that you find prejudice less painful when it is based on an incorrect classification (e.g., you are not Turkish) than when it references a group you do identify with. Why do you think that is? It just seems to me that being the target of hatred is unpleasant, even if it is based on a misunderstanding.”

      For me, it’s easier to dismiss when it’s so off target. I am always shocked by these things, especially when they are hateful, but the reality is that they aren’t REALLY directed at me but at someone I am not. I don’t think that makes them OK; just a whole lot less personal. I don’t know if that makes any sense…

  2. Agree with all you say – I hope to eventually make the point about the difference between how we chose to intersect w/ reality and “creating” it. But I am not qite as eloquent as you! I love your writing.

    Still – there are things that are 100% out of our hands and situations in which the best one can hope for is minimal harm. It’s important to really look at the world…and everyone’s reality…

    There seems (to me) to be a big philosophical movement afoot in the US that is SUPPOSEDLY about “creating reality” but which is really about upholding the status quo and Social Darwinism.

    I have read and done the “unpacking” excercise. I agree that it IS more about class than ethnicity though – as I came out pretty “under” priviledged simply based upon my folks not having much money. And that only rarely effects how I am perceived now.

    1. I totally agree that there are things we can control and things that we can’t — there is an objective reality, although we can alter how we interact with it. To me, there is a delicate balance between living in what existentialists would call “bad faith”, in which we assume our behavior is controlled by outside forces (ignoring our own agency and choice) and assuming that we can control everything (that we entirely create our reality). Both sides have a point, but neither extreme is true. And, as you say, the “creating reality” viewpoint has the potential to justify oppression and the status quo (well, if those people just wanted jobs badly enough, they would be employed). I get frustrated with students who lean toward the other side — I have no choice, I had to do it — so I stress that everyone has choices . . . we just don’t always like the choices we have. But I also got really annoyed, years ago, when I read the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which has the message that we can do anything if we just believe in it enough. That strikes me as unrealistic and potentially results in upholding the status quo and blaming those who don’t make the grade.

      1. Yeh, and I don’t suppose I have much contact with folks who have lost their tails and will never find them (or HAD to go to the chugger instead of study and I just don’t understand:)

  3. ALSuperMom

    I had no idea that last week was International Blog Against Racism week. I do not usually blog. But, I would have, had I known. I would have written this …

    I am a middle-aged black woman, who, by the grace of God, had parents who shielded me from the racism in the deep South, beginning in the late 60’s. They inspired me, and told me that “with God, all things are possible”. We were poor, but not “low class”. We were taught that education was the way upward and out of low-paying, non-career jobs. We were pushed to learn, and given examples of what happened to those who remained less educated. We were pushed to excel, because “God requires your best”. A grade of a “C” was NOT acceptable. Honor roll was expected, it was the norm. More importantly, we were never made, or allowed, to feel inferior because of our race.

    As a result, six of seven children (one of my sisters was stillborn, but I will never stop counting her) of a loving, caring, two-parent, Christian family home went to college; five graduated – some with advanced degrees, all with honors. People wonder how my parents did it; they wonder how we did it. You see, Mom didn’t go to college, but she did graduate from high school. My Dad never made it past 10th grade, he was the son of a sharecropping family (11 children), and they were not allowed to go to school regularly, especially during harvest time. Sometimes, we wonder, but we know.

    We know that when you put God first, all things are possible. We know that “knowledge is power”. We know that “children learn what they live”. We know that we knew then, as we know now, that all men are created equal. And, we acted like it. We believed it. Our parents loved us. Our parents taught us.

    In college, I took my parents’ words to heart, “Do not hesitate to ask questions; over half the people there don’t know either.” Or, “you are not there for a fashion show, you are there to learn”. “Dress cleanly and neatly, and be respectful”. “Get your lesson, you are not there to party. Pay now, play later.” I did. I graduated as one of the top engineering graduates at that school because I worked hard. I believe other young black students can, too. I believe that all young people have the ability to make a difference, in themselves and in this nation. It takes hard work, and you have to believe.

    As for racism, I did encounter it in the past, and I do encounter it now. I deal with it now as I did then. I see it as THAT PERSON’s problem, not mine. All I have ever asked for is an opportunity to do my best, to make a difference. Therefore, when I am given an opportunity, I present myself at my best. Unfortunately, from what I have seen (and from what I have experienced), black people, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, women, etc., are not judged as individuals, but as a single entity.

    It seems that somewhere in some unwritten law, it is stated that if one black (or Hispanic, Native American, Asian, woman, etc.) person screws up, “they” all will. And, as a result, no other minority or woman is given a chance. I know that I represent other women, other black women, and other black people. I know that so well that I tell my children to “represent” when they go anywhere; and they know exactly what I mean. My daughter and son, who both are respectful and courteous, say “please” and “thank you”, are commended. People tell them that they are “rare” teenagers. My children represent young people, young black people, a young black woman, a young black man. I am proud of them. I tell them my parents’ stories and mine, and I teach them, by example, the things my parents taught me.

    A true story … In 2001, my husband, a black Army officer, applied for a position as a professor of miltary science at a west Alabama college. Once they found out that he was black, he was told that they were not interested. The reason – another young black soldier once had the position and did a poor job, so no, not again anytime soon, son.

    Another true story… When I was a junior in college, I interned at a now bankrupt textile firm. I was responsible for computer programming, and later, several other intern duties. I noticed that one man was always leery of me, distant, even. I didn’t say anything about it to anyone, but worked faithfully and cheerfully; just happy to have a good summer job, learning and earning, treating people like I wanted to be treated, doing my best in my position. At the end of the summer, before I left the company, the company gave me a going away lunch. After all was said and done, the man who was once distant told me that he had “never worked with anyone black before”, and “I am glad that I got to work with you. I am glad that it was a good experience.” Then he broadly smiled, shook my hand, and wished me the best in school and my career.

    One more … I was selected to “shadow” a very important leader for a week – something I never dreamed that I would have to opportunity to do. About mid-week of the “assignment”, I asked one of the ladies responsible for the selection for that position why I was selected. She told me that I was selected so that “I could cancel out the other young lady’s negative impression” on this important leader (the previous shadow, the year before, had been a disaster). I felt honored, and I realized that I had a great responsiblity placed on my shoulders. Therefore, I continued to do what I was taught to do – “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” “Smile, be respectful, and courteous.” “If you don’t know, say you don’t know, but that you will find out.” “Be willing to admit mistakes, and to say you are sorry.” I learned, I had fun, I “represented.” In the end, I was told that I had “accomplished the mission.” I received the Commander’s coin.

    So, I ask myself, do I pre-judge others? No, not intentionally, but some people do make my “spidey sense” go off occasionally. Thus, I work and live not to judge others’ character by what I can see. (I am still getting used to Gothic fashion – I am trying to understand it. The same goes for body covering tattoos, numerous piercings, and some fashions that I would not want even my enemies to wear.)

    I have been blessed to travel to the western states, northern states, eastern states, southern states, midwestern states, Canada, and the Caribbean. I have found that when you travel, you are exposed to more things, and become more knowledgeable. You appreciate and respect diversity, and realize that we are God’s “people rainbow”. I have been shown kindness from strangers of all races. I have been fortunate that my kindness has been accepted as I have been accepted.

    When I was a teenager, I began to understand that love has no skin color boundaries. You love people, not for what they look like, but for who they are. (I speak as a Christian, but I know that other religions and faiths place great value on love as well.) For I know that it is love that can break the grip of racism, not laws. And, we all need those “good experiences” with others of other races. We cannot depend on the media to furnish us with that experience, for the media is flawed (what bleeds, leads) and tends to feed the stereotypes, not refute them.

    I look forward to the day when Black History month is no longer needed, because then, black history will be treated and taught as American history, in classrooms across America. (The same goes for all of the other race-based months (or weeks) – Hispanic American, Asian-Pacific American, Native American, et cetera.) When that happens, we will know that America has begun the process of inclusion, and it truly values the contributions to this nation by all races.

    1. Thank you ALSuperMom (and thank you for stopping in and reading).

      I look forward to the day when no one has to “represent,” but knowing you, I can acknowledge that you do. It’s still wildly unfair. You have as much right to a bad day as anyone…

      Of course, I am not a similar position when I go into the world (other than as a woman) that I have to navigate all day every day between “this isn’t fair” and “to get what I want from life and the world, I need to do this.”

      I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts in the future!

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