Friday, June 19, 2009

Juneteeth, You, Me, and Story

Simone De Beauvoir, in The Second Sex, claims the "regular", "non-descript" human, in culture at large, is the male and that women are somehow derivative, an aberration to "mankind." I believe this also holds for race. The generic, non-descript person is still white. And any person of color is an "other."

Today, from my front yard, I could hear music from our local park and the Juneteeth festival happening there. And, I couldn't help but cry. It was beautiful to me that people who once had there culture ripped from them, could now begin to celebrate it again.

It seems odd I reacted so viscerally, and sad that it seems odd. On one hand, I don't understand why everyone isn't weeping, for the humanity we share. The fact that we can hurt each other so deeply.

On the other hand, I realize, a white person, that it is a privileged position that I can cry about something not specific to my history. I've never felt odd, wrong, or out of place as a caucasian person. It'S wrong to appropriate someone else's history, someone else's past and present struggles, to empathize with a wound I've only seen others sustain. 

It irks me even more that, a white woman, even a cripple or bisexual, an "other" in other contexts, race is still such a problem for me. And for America. 

Or rather, I hate that I am the problem.

No matter how "progressive" I want to be, it's a huge exercise in humility to realize, like confirmed "racists" and "bigots", I, too, have internalized several oppressive attitudes and behaviors from my family and from culture at large. I feel them when I walk down the street and see a black man walking towards me. I have to shove the stereotypes down when I'm in racially mixed groups. Skin color is the first thing I see. It's written into the culture, and it's written into my personal history.

It has been drilled into me, as de Beauvoir might say, that I am the default. Maybe not explicitly, but it doesn't have to be. I go to church with white people, live in an almost exclusively white suburb. When I go to a movie, I see my ethnic group represented. When I  look to my local leadership, I see people of my race. No one stares at me (because I'm white) when I walk down the street. I never have to "behave", or to act a certain way to represent my race. I have never suffered violence for being white, and I have never been called terrible names for it either. People like me are the rule, and anyone else is a variation, an aberration, an abomination, or a novelty.

Of course, as a cripple, it would be easy for me to say I understand. I don't. I may have an analogy with disability, feeling out of place or marginalized because I'm different. This is, I realize, only an analogy. Similar, but not the same. 

And, while conservatives claim that it's not "our" fault that slavery existed. It's not "our" fault that Jim Crow existed. It's not "our" responsibility to apologize for something we didn't do. They might say it's not my fault, nor my burden to bear. 

However, these same folks fail to realize how removed they may be from the experiences of people of color (it seems). Of I fail to realize how removed I am. It is my responsibility to get over the bullshit!

Sotomayer is NOT a racist. She, like any of us, has sovereignty over that which she understands, her heritage and experience...

It's remeniscent of well meaning people who exclaim "I broke my leg and was in a wheelchair for two weeks. I understand."

Let me tell you, people who break their legs only "understand" about two weeks of my life. They don't know what repeated exposure to rejection does to you, especially when your body, your circumstances, are not in your control. At least, not in the specific way I do, the way a differently abled person does.

Of course, the analogy stops here. I don't understand. But, I know a way white folk can help effect racial reconciliation, is to understand how little we do understand...

This is my first step. What the bleep do I know?

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