Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Liabilities

Inspired by Dawn's post today.

N and I started dating about a year and a half ago. Our evening began with some abysmal pool playing and beers. Later we stopped by one of his friend's house before heading out to see an African singer. Being a Saturday night, there were no less than 15 guys hanging out in the back of the house. After meeting too many to remember, N asked me, "Are you uncomfortable being the only white person here?" Honestly, it hadn't even occurred to me. I said, "No, I'm uncomfortable being the only woman here," with a slightly nervous laugh. That hadn't even occurred to him.

At the moment, I felt like a paragon of anti-racism and found it totally weird that he hadn't noticed that I was the only woman among 15 towering men. But then, I really hadn't noticed that I was the odd color out. My little liberal high soon faded though as I started to wonder why? Why did it not even occur to me that I was the only white there, but I was the only women? Why did N have the opposite response?

It hit me right in the middle of the concert. Power. As always, it was all about power. Being white has never really put me at a disadvantage, it's never disempowered me. I've never really had to consider my white-ness in relation to anything else. It is, though we don't like to recognize the bias, the standard here in the US. N and his friends tend to have to consider race everyday...its forced upon them by every facet of society. And it becomes so ingrained that it's a knee jerk reaction for them to think that everything is about race.

Now, being a woman is often disadvantageous, if not outright dangerous. And the things that make us wary, or uncomfortable are those things within us, those parts of us that put us at risk to be hurt. I walk around being keenly aware of any man that could present danger. Being a man, and never having to feel sexism on the other end, N didn't even consider my gender to be a liability. N might well walk around everyday feeling the liability in his skin tone, while I'm feeling it from my girly parts.

And it made me see racism, sexism, classism, all the ugly ism's a lot differently. Growing up with very (politically) liberal parents with a Native American brother, attending bi-racial churches, and so on, we were taught that race should not be an issue. So don't make it one. See the person, not the race, sex, and so on. It's nice advice, but now I don't feel that its complete enough.

Besides looking at the person, you have to try to understand what might be their liability. What makes them uncomfortable around you, around anyone. And try with all the will you have to lessen and stomp out that fear for everyone and anyone, even yourself. Freedom from the fear that is rooted so deeply in those ism's is the only way we'll all truly see each other.

18 Comments:

Blogger Tink said...

Simply profound. Beautiful. I could throw out a dozen more adjectives here. You've got me thinking.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous TB said...

Amazing piece of writing, V. This is particularly thought provoking for me because I was raised with a father who was a bigot. Whether he meant to do it or not, he taught me to fear anything or anyone different from myself. It didn't take me long to realize that he was wrong, but It took me decades to stop the fear which had become a gut reaction.
Thanks for writing this.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

Amen. Thank you for posting. I don't think I could add anything to this.

8:04 PM  
Anonymous roo said...

Excellent post, V.

8:53 PM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

I'm feeling better, thanks. And as for your post, it was wonderful. As a therapist and professor (aka trainer of therapists), I teach my students that it's not only thinking about your OWN reactions to persons from diverse cultures (or those different that your own - and that ethnicity, gender, class, age, sexuality...) than you are - but also how they might react to you.

8:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blog for quite a while now, and didn't know that you and N were not the same color. I guess that shows that you don't make any difference in it.

I am from a small community in Suth Georgia, I guess I would be considered "different". Things around here are not as readily accepted as they are in larger areas.

I am from a community of 10,000, everyone knows everyone and mixing race is simply "not done" and if it is is frowned upon, the person is talked about and generally ousted by the community.

I myself have never felt that way. I feel that a person is a person regardless of the color of their skin. However my "area" dosen't agree with me, so it is often unspoken.

Reading bloggs really lets me in on a world that I could never have known about before reading.

Please don't attack me for my comments, I am not making a judgement for either way of life. I am just pointing out that this is truly a large and different world.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

South Georgia.

Oops.

9:23 AM  
Blogger V said...

Thanks for all your kind comments. :)

Wow TB, it takes soooo much to overcome that kind "early education". You're amazing, really.

Wow Anonymous. It must be so hard to live in that kind of environment
and feel you have to keep quiet. These things are defintely easier in urban areas...I lived in small towns a LOT (one even in the WVa that I will never go near again...) and know that you totally speak the truth. Thanks for reading...and commenting!

9:35 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

Has anyone seen the movie "Crash" (Sandra Bullock is one of the leads)? Came out in '05 and was Ebert's top pick for movie of the year and I think nominated for an Oscar. anyway, I haven't but it deals with exactly what you're talking about here.

I grew up in a predominately white town but the bball court near my house was in an area that was definately more a mix and I played there regularly from age 12-17. It always struck me 1st that I was the only girl (esp. when it was skins v shirts...heh)and not that I was one of the few that required sunscreen. but amazingly, no one ever treated me "like a girl" and dismissed me (helpd that I had a decent outside shot for a "scrub"). so eventually that part just fell away. that expereince def. shaped part of who I am today. Unless the boy is really, really cute--then I become a moron.

Great post.

10:41 AM  
Blogger JayneSays said...

Provocative post. I, too, grew up as a white girl in a liberal family. Plus, I grew up overseas. I lived in Africa for 2 years as a teenager and know what you mean about being more keenly aware of my gender than race.

Coming to California for college was a huge culture shock. Listening to rich white kids talk about black (Mexican, any other race) people so derogatorily (is that a word?), I was blown away, my little All One People sheltered life over. Anyway, great post!

3:36 PM  
Blogger Mignon said...

V, you make an amazing point. One that I will remember forever. Thinking of people in terms of their liabilities goes a long way towards understanding and communicating on a more level playing field.
Thank you so much for that.
Jen, I hear you! I've always played sports with boys, and in particular, pick-up games. So I don't feel at a physical disadvantage in social settings. Alone at night, though... then it really is a liability.
Again, thank you V.

4:47 PM  
Anonymous V-Grrrl said...

Awesome post. Insightful and thought-provoking.

9:33 AM  
Blogger Monster said...

I was ranting about the racism around me today, and Melissa pointed me to this post.

"Considering the liability" is a perfect way to express what we must do to acknowledge how self-identification affects race relations. Great insight there, V.

10:57 AM  
Blogger The Gradual Gardener said...

This is an awesome post. You and Dawn are now on my blogroll (or will be in about five minutes, when I get back to my site).

And Jen, I'm going to go rent "Crash" tonight. I'd love to see a well-done movie about race issues. I enjoy comedies much as the next person, but racism is real, and Hollywood needs to acknowledge that instead of always turning into a big joke.

11:03 AM  
Blogger V said...

Jen...I put Crash on the Netflix list! Maybe next week...it looks good.

Jayne...sometimes I feel that way about New England....nice and sheltered in my little lefty-land. But the boyfriend watches (gag...spew....ick...huuuurl) O'Reily sometimes, so I figure that gives me an idea what the hell is going on in non-lefty-land.

Thanks again everyone....the additions you make with you're comments are priceless.

2:01 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

Sorry, jumping in late here, but this was a great post. Wow. I mean, I blog about boners and baby shit and you guys are blogging about important things.

'Crash' is an amazing movie...I really think you will like it.

2:35 PM  
Blogger concha said...

racism is perpetuated when people ask questions like that. it infuriates me.

when i was studying in london i lived in a house with 6 girls. 5 white. one black. and the black girl constantly pointed out that she was this way or that way cause she was "the only black girl in the house." no one else saw it that way, but she kept bringing it up and bringing it up. and like you, it never even occured to us that she was different, until she felt the need to throw it in our faces. and in a way, made her more guilty of racism than us. (in that instance) we could have all peacefully coexisted, but she kept stirring the pot but highlighting her color. and until all of us, women, blacks, whites etc etc etc...stop self perpetuating the problem like this, it will never end.

ok, i'll shut up now.

5:16 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

V, that was so insightful. Thank you!

10:06 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home