Thursday, August 14, 2014


This post is a bit different from my other posts. I am overwhelmed with recent violent events, and, as I sit in my Mother-In-Law's hospice room listening to her sleep, I have a need to talk about what has happened in Ferguson. I have a need to confess. (Thus, as a confession, I am not going to do any editing or rewriting. You are getting my first draft here. )

If you have read this blog before, then you probably know my writing is very confessional. I have a need to get what is in my head out of  me.  Today I want to talk about  racism and rioting and privilege.

I like to think that I am a pacifist. The reality is probably that I am not, but it is an ideal that I aspire to. And so, for more years than I am okay with, I was very judgmental about rioting. After the L.A. riots, I focused not on what lead up to the riots, but the stories of the bystanders who were hurt during the riots.

And then, a few years ago, I read about the Stonewall riots. And it clicked. I understood why people riot. Why it is ridiculous to expect the people who are being oppressed to behave "better" than their oppressors.  We have limits. What else is there to do when you are continuously being attacked? At that moment, I thought about what Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."  I have to admit (since I'm confessing) that I felt a little smug and wise when I finally "got" rioting. Then came my second epiphany. With Stonewall, there was a raid and an arrest and that lead to a riot. Why was I okay with the Stonewall event and not the L.A. one? The attack on Rodney King was more violent, and the jury's verdict acquitting the officers who attacked him supported the idea that you could beat a man and put him in the hospital if you thought he was high and you were an authority figure. But was more than that. It supported the idea that you could beat a black man and put him in the hospital if you thought he was high and you were a white authority figure.

That's when I understood that I'm racist. I don't like it. I don't actively support it. But it is ingrained in me. And, as a racist and Guilty Liberal, I felt awful. And I tried to deny it. And I realized that denying it doesn't make it not true. And I had to face my privilege. 

Privilege has been a hard concept for me to understand. In part, because I think the word is one that triggers defensiveness. I embraced that defensiveness. The way I understand it now, is that it means there are adjectives about me that I never have to think about. I can ask "why does race matter?" because I almost never have an adverse interaction due to my race. And the ones I have are insulated because I have all sorts of proof around me that the color of my skin is Normal. Almost all the faces I see on TV and Magazines and Movies look like mine. And the few that are different are, just that, Different. Race matters in America because I don't have to think about mine, but other people have to think about theirs. More than that, they have to think about their race within the cultural lens of my race. Where I live, that's the way it is. I think the idea of being "colorblind" fits in here. It is a tool of assimilation. If we are all the same, and the Normal is white, what happens to culture that is not white.  If you are colorblind, can you not see it? Can you not see what is cool in the many ways that people can be? Must all Different conform to Normal? Or is it to be set to the side and used for amusement, or titillation, or a bad excuse for art? Is the main benefit of Different the chance for Normal to appropriate what it wants and discard the rest?

(Okay, so I think I may have gone a little confusing tangent there, but I know what I'm writing about and privilege is slippery for me.)

 I guess I needed to write this down and get it out of me. In Ferguson, a child was murdered. The events after that murder, by the people who are supposed to make it right, have been incompetent (if I'm generous) and horrifying (if I'm truthful). In the same letter to James Madion, Thomas Jefferson wrote (without any seeming ironic self-awarenss) "Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem." My white privilege allows me to add that quote to this post, without having to consider if my approval or opinion of any of the events going on in Ferguson is even wanted.

The reality is that I don't have to think that someday someone may be afraid of my son or want to harm him because of his skin color. I don't have to think about his race in relation to how to keep him safe. I can not remember reading a white kid gunned down article in the news. And I am very (guiltily) grateful for it. Privilege, allows me the luxury of not even considering the question of how do I raise my white son? Some things seem obvious. Teach him that it is wrong to murder kids. Teach him that it is obscene to use someone's clothes or childhood mistakes as justification of brutality against them. But I also have to teach him (and my daughter) that, even at our best, we may have ideas that we are unaware of that influence our decisions. We have to make ourselves aware. We also have to be aware that not everyone has the same reality and you can't judge other people on your reality. Maybe, despite the popular saying, not everyone has a right to their own opinion.

I am a middle-aged, middle income, educated, white, married, heterosexual cis-gendered woman living in the deep south. I have privilege out the ass. Racism, sexism, classism, trans-and homophobia have been in the very air I breathe since I was born. They are a part of me whether I want them to be or not. The best I can do is be aware of what influences my thoughts and actions. And when I discover that I am not living up to my ideals, then I try to do better.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Hi! Thank you for the visit! Grab a plate and a sweet tea and let's dig in. It may take a while, but I always try to reply and return visits.