Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Of course

...quite a lot of racism (and other bigotries) are not nearly so clear-cut as in the example of the hateful little snots' video (see post below).

I am trying to suss out how it's played out in my own life, well, racism in particular. My parents, as I've said before in this blog, are/were good liberal Democrats who would no more dream of using a racial slur than commit arson. They had at least a couple of non-white friends, including a black colleague who was married to a white woman (and later had absolutely gorgeous children), name of "Xave" (I was fascinated by the fact that his name started with "X.") And I was a funny kid, not terribly influenced (or so I've thought) by peers, except by way of generally fearing and mistrusting them I suppose, at least up till a certain age; off in the world of books and dreams, mostly. And, my very early childhood happened during the mid-late seventies and early eighties, which meant: Sesame Street, Electric Company, Mr. Rogers, "Free to Be You and Me..." (you know, well-meant attempts to show little kids that sharing and learning to be tolerant/celebratory of differences was a good thing, before the ensuing swarm of batshit toxic reactionary media darlings swooped in (or back) and declared it all a Dirty Liberal Anti-Family Communistic Cannibalistic Secular Satanic Plot or whatever the fuck it is they rabbit on about).

So why it was that (as I'm remembering it) I was determined to re-imagine the characters in a favorite book ("Striped Ice Cream!" --which also of course was telling the story of a family from a very different socioeconomic class than the one I knew, the fact of which I'm sure never really got through to me as such till years later) as white? And this was true of a few other books and stories with black characters I'd read, as I recall. I don't think there was anything like what we tend to associate with racism per se fuelling this: anger or disgust or fear or contempt or whatnot. But I was distressed, in a six-year-old way I suppose, that the characters I loved so much did not look like me, much less the imaginary blonde, straight-haired princesses I had already learned to idolize from Andrew Lang fairy tales and "The Brady Bunch."

I grew out of this by the time we'd moved to California, I'm pretty sure (small boy classmate upon my introduction from the teacher as having just moved from Indiana: "You're an Indian! YABABABABABA.."). I had friends (very few and far between, on the whole, through adolescence, in general, but that's another story) who weren't white, mainly Asian-American girls.

On the whole, though...what I'm coming to realize, uncomfortably, is that it's a lot easier to be non-racist in the "I see no color" way when in fact you actually AREN'T seeing any color (other than yours) in your daily life. And while my life circumstances have had me mainly in places that aren't as homogenous as they could be, certainly (the coasts, and since adulthood, big cities), I don't think I'm atypical in observing that it's been far far easier to stick to me 'n' mine, colorwise, at least, than not. Not deliberately. But because the currents from that old, old source nudge us subtly (or not) but inexorably in that direction: apart.

Most vividly, at least from my youth: flash forward to high school. I'm now in the A.P. track, amongst the sheep. Dunno what happened to the goats in the non-college bound track, much less did I give much consideration to whether there were some overall distinctions to be made between the backgrounds, appearances, and/or presentation manner of the kids in the one track versus the kids in the other. Hell, I didn't even know there were tracks. You took AP or you didn't; that was as far as I knew, and, the "stupid" kids took remedial classes or dropped out altogether, and okay, there were courses like shop and home ec, but those were just for fun, weren't they?

Anyway, there was one class in particular, econ or social sciences, where I was clearly aware that there was one (1) African American kid in the entire class. I was aware of this, because the teacher--an affable right-wing self-described libertarian who used to bring articles from the Wall Street Journal for us to discuss--would call on him and/or call attention to him whenever the subject of affirmative action would come up. The kid, you may have intuited by now, was against it, affirmative action, and as far as I could tell at the time he didn't seem to mind being put on the spot in this way. I'm going to call him Robert, not his real name, but he was the sort of person who was most likely to be called Robert rather than Rob or Bob, even by his friends, of which he had many. He was the son of a conservative and well-known professor at one of the local colleges. He was tall, and good-looking, and was always well-dressed, often in proto-corporate wear (shirts buttoned up to the top and so on). He spoke softly and politely, and--not formally, that would have made him a weirdo, we didn't like those--but, you know, in a way that teachers liked a lot. He probably would have passed the "paper bag test," as I recall (not that I know that anyone in his or his family's circles formally conducted such tests, and god knows the rest of us would have been 'buh?' about such matters), and he wore his hair very short, but not brutally so. He was an athlete, at the top of his classes, and generally considered an all-round mensch; very popular. Nice guy.

So one day we were divided into groups to discuss I forget what, but it had something to do with racism, perhaps the apartheid just beginning to be formally dismantled in South Africa. Yes, that was probably it, because the argument had less to do with apartheid per se (Bad) than with the question of whether or not racism still existed here in the U.S. The general consensus among my own little group, in which Robert was not (he was on the other side of the room), was that there was no more racism in America. I think I or someone must have made some argument about opportunities or suchlike; anyway, whatever it was led to some boy's response, "But," (voice dropping to an undertone) "I mean, look at Robert."

I guess we did, then, and then the argument probably ended. I guess Robert probably got looked at quite a bit, then and later. I wonder whatever became of him (as with many of my classmates. not enough to go to a reunion or any such torture, but, you know...I wonder).

--update!!

I've been writing this at work (oh, on lunch break, of course). Go to the bathroom, wash my hands, make critical faces at my reflection, partly against my will (way too fat, of course, and god, is that a pimple? a wrinkle? a pimple on a wrinkle?--no, wait, I love myself, I'm beautiful, I'm sexy--fuck, one really is bigger than the other, isn't it. fuck). Another woman emerges from the stall, and excalims in delight over my hair. Well, this happens fairly often; I do have nice hair (of course I always wanted flowing straight blonde locks as a girl, but...you know the drill). Long and thick and curly, and "Red! So pretty! Lucky you."

Now this is of course SOP among straight women, at least, for one of whom I no doubt pass; and frankly the sapphic of us are not immune. Chirp and coo and praise the other in a decidedly nonerotic fashion, all the while deprecating oneself. What followed next, though:

"...God, I love red hair. I wish I had red hair. And blue eyes. You're so lucky...." (voice drops to an undertone) "...(something) you know, white."

I said something lame about how she, too could have my red if she wanted it, as it came out of a bottle; she went on to animatedly say no no, it would look all wrong with her (dark-chocolate colored) complexion, and, oh, how she loves blue eyes. Have a good afternoon.

Still processing this. On the one hand, while I expect Toni Morrison (say) might have something to say about this, truth is, it did sound to me pretty much like your standard compare-n-contrast that happens in women's bathrooms all over the country. "Oh, I wish I had your such-and-so." Which is probably worth a deconstruction in itself; nonetheless.

What I found far more striking: hers was the first black (if not the only non-white) face I've seen in this rather swank corporate office...and she was wearing a janitor's uniform.

18 comments:

Myrna the Minx said...

I always wanted thick red curly hair. I have the kind of hair you wanted. We should exchange.

belledame222 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
belledame222 said...

Heh. Well, we can virtually exchange locks while we wait for technology to catch up with the Insto-Transmogrification vision. Meanwhile, how 'bout a link exchange?

myrna the minx said...

Okay!

myrna the minx said...

I am dying to get past the 250,000 mark on Technorati. Another link would be just the ticket. I do appreciate having folks like you and BL around to satisfy my urge to discuss feminist issues because my blog is mainly community specific. Anyway, Your on my list of sisters now and I'll keep reading. I'm so glad I met BL as my circle keeps expanding in better directions.

My blogger blog is old. New one is Reno and Its Discontents: www.renodiscontent.com

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