This is day 4 of my news fast. I can’t say it’s easy to not click on everyone’s news links on Face Book or take part in the discussions about them all. I can’t avoid seeing snippets of what people are talking about and the titles of the links they share so it gets my thoughts going and I can feel my body tensing up and I want to jump in and SAY STUFF –
I just stopped myself from engaging in a discussion about race and the Tsarnaev brothers. Apparently people are trying to categorize their race and there are some suggestions that they might not be white. It seems that some white people will feel better if they can think of the Tsarnaev brothers as “not white” to uphold their tenderly held belief that white people don’t do bad stuff. Really?! Man, people sure do have short memories when it suits them.
Timothy McVeigh. White American terrorist killing other Americans.
So fuck everyone who thinks terrorists don’t come in white and Christian. Terrorists come in a full range of colors and backgrounds and religions.
I’m supposed to understand that my opinion, as a white person, is not valid in discussions about racial discrimination because I can’t know what non-white people go through, because I can’t know what it’s like to deal with institutionalized prejudice. I’m supposed to feel guilty for my privilege or at least need to understand that my whole life has been easier than those of non-white people and therefore I need to stop shitting down on people who don’t live on my heavenly cloud of ease. At the same time there is plenty of racial prejudice in these same discussions about race against white people since they are the only perpetrators of racism in the world.*
Which is NOT true. Racism is endemic the world over. Black people hating Mexicans. Mexicans hating Asians. Chinese people hating Japanese people. White people hating black people. English people hating the Romani. Racism is engaged in by every fucking race on the planet.
Everyone is participating in putting up walls between people with different skin colors than their own. Everyone.
But the thing that bothers me most is the assumption that no one can understand anyone else’s experience of persecution.
It’s as though all people believe that whatever it is they’ve experienced can’t possibly be understood by people who are different than they are – there is an assumption I dislike (that most people are guilty of regardless of the color of their skin) that we have to be exactly alike to understand each other, to know what abuse is like, to have experienced discrimination, or to have been shoved under a rock by other people’s privilege.
I’m a woman. I’m a mentally ill woman. I was a suicidal teen. I was a “death rocker” and considered by most people to be a “freak”. I had a prominent lisp. As a middle aged person I became obese.
You want to know what I experienced being all these things? I have experienced systemic gender prejudice. I have experienced societal rejection for a number of reasons at different times in my life and experienced great pain with that rejection. As a mentally ill person I get hit with people’s bigotry and ignorance on a frequent basis. People are constantly posting ignorant false shite about mental illness and when I read it and hear it it’s hurtful and dangerous misinformation. Racism may be the most prominent form of bigotry in this country but mentally ill people experience bigotry, abuse, marginalization, and are blamed for all kinds of problems in the world. A favorite being that whenever an unspeakable act of violence occurs the first assumption made isn’t that it must have been perpetrated by a particular race but that it must have been done by a crazy person “a madman obviously did this” or “only a mentally ill person could do this”, or “it was probably a mental patient off their meds”. You know who participates in this fear and bigotry against mentally ill people?
PEOPLE OF EVERY RACE, GENDER, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, NATIONALITY and RELIGION.
So it pisses me off when people use my whiteness as a reason I can’t possibly understand the racial persecution they’ve experienced. I am smart enough to use my own experiences of persecution and relate them to yours.
So let’s start over.
People come in all shades of skin. I love all shades of skin. I see beauty in every racial combination on earth. We can’t avoid talking about race because it is a problem that permeates our lives. There are cultural divides that need crossing. There are many levels of understanding that need to be reached. COMMON GROUND. Our conversations should be leading us to common ground because it’s there – it’s always there and anyone not looking for common ground between all of us humans is not trying to solve anything.
I can’t know what you experience unless you talk to me and I can’t hear what you say if you start telling me how I can’t know what you’ve gone through because that’s the sound of you slamming a door in my face. That’s the sound of you making assumptions about ME.
I’m interested in race. But not in fights about race. I want to feel that I can talk to people who look different than me with curiosity that comes from a deep desire to find common ground and to KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE YOU. That’s what I want to fix. Our ability to talk to each other without all this racial baggage.
But racial baggage, like that of sexual abuse, has a very long life.
I don’t accept racism. Not anyone’s. I may be white but don’t for a second think that means that white racists speak for me. When I see someone whose skin is a different shade than mine I do not make immediate assumptions about them based on their skin. I am more likely to make assumptions (that may later be proved wrong) based on the way they’re walking, the way they’re interacting with others around them, and how they interact with me. I make a million snap judgements about people every single day. It’s how I stay alive. My ability to avert danger relies on my ability to see an aggressive person approaching. But those judgements are never based on someone’s religion (only known in strangers if they are wearing something that gives their religious affiliation away), their skin color, or their physical form or visible disability, or their gender. That’s something I can tell you for absolute certain.
So I’m tired of talking about what divides us all. I’m tired of assumptions being made about what I can and cannot know or relate to or understand. What I want is to hear people’s stories and I want to cross the divides between us. This world is full of rich and diverse cultural experiences and I want to know your stories and I want you to hear mine. I want to know why you believe as you do – not so I can ridicule and isolate and separate us – but so I can understand and find those threads of commonality running between us.
Those threads of commonality between us all is what can heal us all.
*I want to be perfectly plain here: it is mostly white people who have, in discussions about race, worked hard at the pump of white guilt and suggested that my opinion doesn’t count and that my being white precludes me from having any idea what black people go through in this country. I have listened to the occasional rant from black people about how white people can’t know what they’re going through, and that always bothers me, but they don’t work the white guilt pump which I find useless and insulting. I do not feel guilty being white. I had as much choice in my skin color as everyone else. What matters is my actions. What matters is what kind of person I am inside. That’s what matters about everyone. Everyone.