Friday, December 02, 2005

Blog Against Racism Day

sad to say, racism always seems to be a timely subject in our world. it's especially timely in my house these days. brian and skipper both claim that they’re not racist, but their language is. skipper was filling in the deep ruts in the driveway yesterday by hooking up an old comforter to the back of his truck, piling it with dirt, and driving it around to the front to drop it off. i was impressed with his ingenuity and said so, and he replied, “yeah, that’s a good piece of afro-engineering!”

well, crap. he couldn’t have said “american engineering”? which, although it dismisses the ingenuity of other nationalities, at least shows pride in the ability of americans to improvise crude but effective solutions to tricky logistical problems.

it’s been better lately. i called him on a comment a couple of days after he arrived – and i’m afraid i did snap at him because of it, but the comment deserved a biting retort. i didn’t say anything yesterday, though. i would have, but the fact was he’d just done an outstanding job of fixing a problem we’ve been avoiding for a long time, so i didn’t feel right to criticize.

i wonder about my own brand of racism. duckie’s grandmother in florida sent up a package of christmas books yesterday. they’re little pop-up books with the lyrics of christmas carols – deck the halls, o christmas tree, and jingle bells. cute, right?

actually, they’re kind of nauseating. every single one of them shows a white family with mom and dad, two kids (invariably a boy and a girl), and a pet of some kind. the only other flavors i could identify was a violin player who looked distinctly slavic, and a harp player with red hair who was dressed in a very pagan-looking gown.

freaking white-bread grossness. and it’s not so much that there’s a white, traditionally nuclear family shown in the books – it’s that there’s nothing else.

no single moms.

no single dads.

no gay or lesbian partners.

no blacks.

no hispanics.

no asians.

no middle-easterners.

nada. white people only (previously mentioned exceptions notwithstanding.)

it’s just awful.

so what does this say about me? is this a kind of reverse racism? i don’t know. maybe it’s just that a depiction of christmas with exclusively white people really bothers me on a fundamental level. there’s no way jesus was a white man, folks, let’s face it. (unless you believe that god planted an aryan seed in mary’s dark-skinned belly. and if you do, there’s a great bridge over a florida swamp i’d love to show you.)

so ok, jesus’ skin wasn’t white. what difference does that make in how we celebrate christmas? probably not much – but white people sure aren’t the only people who get off on this holiday. even those of us who aren’t strictly christian get into the spirit of the season, and the folks who are christian* do a bang-up job of decorating their churches and homes to honor the birth of their lord and savior. and you can’t tell me that white people are the only christians in the world today.

*ok, before i get slammed in the comments, i know plenty of pagans who go totally nuts with yule decorations, too.

i grew up in yankee country – my real formative years were spent in pennsylvania, pretty close to philly. i went to a summer music camp in north philadelphia, was the only white girl for miles around, and ended up fooling around with a gorgeous black bassoon player that summer, too. and for most of my adult life, i have found attractive black men absolutely fascinating. is that racism? or just a genuine appreciation of and interest in the Other – those who are outwardly different from me?

‘cause you know, i see hispanic families in the grocery store and mom’s burdened with two crazy little boys and a year-old baby on one hip. what i see is a mother, first and foremost, and her kids are just kids – all of them gorgeous in their own right, because of their youth, not because of the color of their skin.

i have a good friend who is inexplicably attracted to people with blond hair and brown eyes. i find people with dark hair and green eyes irresistible – not just men, but women, too. not sexually* – asthetically.

*but yes, clive owen is incredibly hot.

having been gifted only with dark brown hair and dark brown eyes, maybe it’s another example of attraction to those who look different from me.

that’s a kind of prejudice, too, isn’t it? if i’m more appreciative of people who look different than me, what does that say about my feelings towards other white people in general? that’s why i wonder if i’m racist myself.

but you know, maybe we should also look at the end results of prejudice. i think we are all on some level biased towards new people based on their appearance – whether the factor is gender, weight, height, skin color, disability, or age. but what matters is how you deal with that bias – do you set it aside and look for the soul? how long does that process take? does it take half a second, or does it take a few years? or do you stop with that first glance and dismiss the person as unworthy of further attention and gentle care because of how they look?

i know that there are people who are further advanced in their spiritual journeys than i – people who can look at their fellow humans and not even notice the outer layers. i’m not one of them. i feast on appearances – pretty and not so pretty. i have another friend who loves scars and thinks they’re beautiful, and i agree. as a matter of fact, i’m probably more likely to try to get to know someone with outward imperfections than someone who is outwardly pretty and perfect. i like to watch people who are outwardly attractive – but i’m really shy of them and probably wouldn’t be able to get to know them well unless i saw them every day. which is yet another kind of prejudice – i’m biased against the barbie dolls of this world. and i shouldn’t be.

so i won’t put away the christmas carol books. duckie really likes them, especially because i sing to her when we read them, and have you ever met a two-year-old who isn’t fascinated by pop-up books? and because, hey, some families really are just that perfect – at first glance.

but i’d like my daughter to see christmas as a worldwide phenomenon in all its tarnished glory – and not as the exclusive domain of white people. so i guess what i need to do is find a christmas book or two for duckie that shows a tad more diversity. evidently i have a real problem with fantasy books for kids. funny, i never minded “goodnight gorilla” even though the zookeeper and his wife are pretty white-bread themselves.

this uncomfortable, rambling post brought to you by Blog Against Racism Day (actually yesterday), sponsored by Creek Running North, with a tip of the maternal hat to The Fat Lady Sings and Shakespeare’s Sister.

in honor of the day (which honors the anniversary of rosa parks’ gutsy move towards the front of the freaking bus), i thought i would cross-post ebbie’s brilliant take on the subject a few months ago. hope you don’t mind, darlin’.

I usually drive my beachy teal '97 Chevy Cavalier, unless I am chauffeuring Charles to and from the airport. I love my little Cav. Comfy, handles well and best of all, it's paid off.

The XTerra, on the other hand, while a great vehicle for someone as tall as my husband, is in all honesty too much vehicle for me.

Not long ago, during late rush-hour I was driving north on South Dale Mabry, which is a tight, skinny four lane road lined with strip malls, banks and gas stations. People always go too fast on it. Including myself.

The XTerra has a nasty little blindspot on the passenger's side. I was in the left hand lane and checked my mirrors before coming into the right lane. Just as I was about to sideswipe a small blue sedan, I saw it, and its passengers just in time. I yanked back into the left lane, my heart pounding. The woman driving was making gestures at me, which at first I took to be obscene, but as she drove alongside me I realized were gestures to pull over.

This defies all common sense, I know, but I could see that the woman had a girl in the passenger seat and was looking quite distressed, so I pulled over as she did. I got out of the XTerra and came over to her, my hand over my heart, before she even began to speak and apologized profusely. I explained that I was driving my husband's car, which had a blindspot for me, and that I was so glad that they were not hurt.

She stood there looking at me shaking her head. I think she intended to scream and holler at me for putting herself and her daughter in danger, but my immediate contrition- which was believe me completely sincere- caught her off guard. She said, "That's my daughter in there. You could have killed us." I acquiesed to this and asked her forgiveness.

She shook her head again. I could see that she was frightened and angry, and there was something else in her eyes- a realization that I meant what I said, and that we really were all okay. Her daughter leaned towards the open driver's door and said, "Mom, come on, she said she was sorry. Let's go home." The woman turned, got in her car and drove off. I went back to the XTerra and continued on my way.

Does my story change if I tell you the woman was black? As she turned and got in her car, I heard her mutter something about 'white folk'. I ignored it and kept going.

Sometime before that, I was walking the dogs in my neighborhood and passed a house, rather rundown, with a large white van in the drive. There was a sticker on the bumper that read "Tattoed White Trash". I cringed. Tattoed and white, that's me. Only I don't believe I'm trash. And I'm not really white, either- I'm really a sort of plushy-pink-tan color.

In the yard next to the front porch was a black lawn jockey holding a lantern. I cringed again. This person or people lived only four or five blocks away from me. Just around the corner from the Tattoed White Trash live a large Mexican family who hang out on their front porch and listen to music and tell stories, and just around the corner from them lives a Phillipino woman with two little yapper dogs and a penchant for thorny flowering shrubs and trees. And just down the street from her live a black couple who have the loveliest yard on the street- the husband is out there day and night tending to the shrubs and perennials, fertilizing his lawn and generally tending to it like a master gardener. I often see the wife sitting at her desk at the front window late at night, concentrating mightily on a book or her computer- a student perhaps? Or just incredibly diligent about the family finances?

Not too long after the dog-walking expedition to my neighborhood diversity, I was awaiting a prescription at the drugstore around the corner from me. There were two other people sitting and waiting. One was a lovely elder black woman dressed to the nines in a deep purple suit, golden silk blouse and a gorgeous crown of tightly woven purple to match her suit and golden flowers along the brim. She sat straight up in her chair, knees together, as regal and proper as she could be, a descendant of African queens, of that I had no doubt. She was reading the newspaper and studiously ignoring me and the other person.

The other person waiting was a white man, unkempt in dirty jeans, white wife-beater and unshaven face. He slouched in this chair, his arms folded defiantly across his chest, while he stared at the floor. On his left arm was a tattoo of -I kid you not- a black man hanging from a noose tied to a large tree, a glorious sunset in the background.

I don't think I've ever been so horrified or uncomfortable in my life. Perhaps he was the same guy who owned the white van and the lawn jockey. Perhaps the woman was the mother of the wife who studied late into the night.

I desperately wanted to go and sit next to the woman in purple and tell her that I was not of his ilk, that although my skin isn't dark I felt more solidarity with her than with him. Perhaps I should have. But the terrible, gut-wrenching truth is that the tattooed man was just as much part of me as the woman was.

We're all in this thing together, descendants of African queens, descendants of German potato farmers and descendants of Irish/Saxon/German/Cherokee/African folk like myself. The blood of the oppressor and the oppressed both runs through my veins and I cannot separate myself from either.


SB Gypsy said...

well, the whole Christmas Package was whitebread to begin with, which is probably why they still package it that way today. Finding a few more integrated images would be good for duckie.

Ebbie's cross post is eloquent, and speaks reams. When I lived in LA, we were in an integrated neighborhood, and some people were obnoxious, and some were dangerous and some were generous and beautiful. You have to look in their eyes, and see the soul. It's the only way to tell.

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