19 de Febrero, 2007
The Skin of My Soul [intermission]
WE LOVE TO TALK ABOUT what we ain't talkin' about. We love to argue symbols, and argue words, and most of all we love to argue. Maybe it makes us feel we are achieving something. Maybe it's only a game that we forget we are playing. Maybe bickering of the political sort is but sports for intellectual types. But there it is. Look out over our social discourse, put your ear to the dialogue—be it on blogs, television or your newspaper—and you will inevitably be caught up in this charade. Like Rip Van Winkle's 20-year spell, much time may go by, events changing all around you and yet never once interrupting your dream. Like Puddleglum and Jill far away from the sun, you may begin pointing to a lamp and forget there is a real source of light somewhere high above, in the sky. One that warms and gives life, and doesn't just appear to be bright.
But let me get on with what I'm talking about here. And as Puddleglum didn't say, but perhaps should have: "Smell my burning foot, witch."
RACIST. This word, as a commenter on a recent thread said, "shuts down conversation." So why do we not make progress on it? Why do we keep bandying it about? And why do commenters to my site time and time and time again—even though they have read my lengthy feelings and thoughts on the issue—continue to refute the notion of "race" and take up time and cause my comment scripts to run over and over again so that they can assert the non-existence of same? Why do they not talk about what they are talking about, if they feel we are talking about a non-thing? Why continue the talk of that non-thing, thus rendering an ongoing conversation of non-thing-ness? If people are Progressive, why do they not make progress on this term?
Because RACIST paints the picture of a person none of us feel we have to identify with. And it's far too easy to talk about non-things than to dig down, or wrap your hands and heart right around that grain of harm that we all fear to touch. So let's make some progress. Let's kick this shit all vulgar-like and common. Hell, let's even forget the word entirely. (Pow! How ya like me now?) Maybe it's not even useful. Maybe it's a word we only apply to others, while at the same time others never accept it. See a problem here? See an eternal word war? See a divide that we not only try to recognize with a word but then exacerbate by warring over a word? See a Symbol being mistaken for Essence?
So what are we talking about when we use the symbol "Racist," anyway? What is the Essence we intend to describe? During my recent conversations on the subject (and I know you have a feel for how many of these conversations I have) it occurred to me that the problem is not the dreaded Racist tribe that lives somewhere yon, it is attitudes in everyday people who think they know more about what is Right than others; who think they are superior to others; who are just plain ignorant on matters of history; who are afraid of people who live differently or look differently; who want to be better than others with no real grounds.
In some people (and I think of them as "good people" just so you know), "Racism" exhibits as love, ignorance and fear. I have had these kind and good people—European-American people who love me, people I love—throw the "I don't see color" line around. Are they horrible monsters? No. This is simply ignorance of an area they have never had to or wanted to think about. It is, perhaps not knowing how to enter a delicate area. It is a way of saying "I don't think of you as a Spic," a way of saying "let's not have those stupid discussions, they are not needed here," a way of saying "it frustrates me that I don't understand this one area." It may be a way of saying "I have love for you, and that is all that matters." And sometimes, in some situations, this is true. But what must matter to you if you love me is how I see things. Where I have been. What I have felt. Who I am.
Please don't say you are COLORBLIND. I was COLORBLIND once, too. And for so long I tried to be WHITE that I began to see something else when I looked in the mirror. Assimilatin' fool. I was so COLORBLIND I ended up wearing blue contact lenses and bleaching my hair. I lost sight of myself. Sure, I've always loved costume. And shifting identities. We could argue about why this is. Yet and still, I did make my way to emulating a fair person. I now see this as myself running. Christina Aguilera can do whatever she wants, but for me, when I look back at some of the pictures I have of me with my skin, my eyes and with platinum blonde hair, the whole picture all together just looks wrong. And I am ashamed. But it is realization tempered with understanding, and so I do not condemn myself a bit.
This COLORBLINDNESS was my way of wanting to unsee those variations that hurt me because of those who didn't like those variations. So please don't do that. See me for who I am, what people are in my history, see my Brownness and know what it means. And if you don't know, think about asking, reading, or (and here is the one word I would ask you take with you if nothing else:) listening. There are amazing stories all around you and within them is the seed of healing for the entire world. And I don't feel I am exaggerating. As my blogmigo (aspirate the "g" sound here and yeah, I'm coinin' it, skippy) Rafael was riffing the other day, (and I paraphrase here), if you are COLORBLIND, then you don't see my struggles. And perhaps more important to you, you are also blind to the "landmines" and "various unwritten speech rules" and will have no chance of speaking without fear that you will walk yourself into a pit of ill-chosen words.
With these people I speak of above, the people who honestly don't "get it" but who also aren't actively being ignorant—and by actively, I mean courting their own ignorance, stroking it, nurturing it, celebrating it, hurling it at me—I want to try and be patient. I want to try. I do try. Because they are responsive. And as long as someone is responsive and willing, so am I. To a point. Until they fix on their spot, until they become rooted in their own idea of what it Means to Be Me. This is what I meant by "considering intent" in my personal considerations of Whitefolx being ig'nant. Some of my Brown™ friends have less patience than me for this. And generally, I think that is because they probably have suffered more behind being Brown™, such as my Afro-Beautiful friends. They cannot hide or pretend as easily. Me, I spent too much time hiding, and fooled myself for a while. And I have to admit, the more ignorance that smacks into me nowadays, the thinner my patience wanes.
Mi novia (the loveliest of crackers) says that it really frustrates White people that no matter how much they know or want to know, there may be an area of experience or knowledge that they cannot access. Bingo, Gringo.
This is another way of saying White Privilege.
How dare the world harbor some sort of Thing that I cannot experience! How dare you insinuate that you possess knowledge I may have to ask you about in humility! How impertinent of you to even imagine that I cannot, with study and great wisdom and effort, also know what it is like to grow up Brown™ in America! The voice of privilege thinks no seat is unavailable, no land unconquerable, no food untasteable, no right deniable, no experience out of reach. It is a slap in the face to this line of thought that there exists an area that cannot be known, even to a WHITE person. Gasp.
Tough shit. Get over it. Get used to it. Welcome to America, Macracka.
We come, then, to those who are not willing to hurt, or work, or make the real effort of coming to understand those with a different experience. Why? Because they fear the Sign O' Blame might swing their way. And then what? They may have to hurt? Work? Slide down off the High Seat? Stand on my ground? Look in my eye? Question themselves?
As in the post I have linked in these past two posts, wherein I took issue with Glenn Greenwald's post and he came here to discuss it (or so it seemed at first), I was actually hurt. I did everything I could to be respectful, to speak the Queen's English in the most careful and splendiferous of ways, to tame my wild, Brown™ friends who had no patience for the bullshit and saw right through it, to keep the room civil. And you know what? It didn't matter. The WHITEPROGRESSIVES came to my joint, spit their shit and split. And I was actually hurt. Can you imagine? Naive Nezua. But he learns quickly.
Like a battered wife who swears to la chota that she had it coming, me and dear Sylvia were still fretting as if we did something wrong. Greenwald's message included the amazing implication that social progress on these issues was not moving forward because of us OVERSENSITIVES. Even more egregious and bold is the implication that WHITE people are doing The Brown™ a favor by comin' round and entering discussions. And that if we don't toe the line, where will we be then? When they decide they just don't feel like engaging it?
You hear these messages long enough, you absorb them long enough, and you begin to own them. To feel like, well, the White people got mad and wouldn't talk to us about this thing that hurts us. Maybe it's our fault! I should have been nicer, I should have tried harder, Sylvia worried that she jumped to a conclusion and we made the nice White man go away without hearing our points or engaging us in a fruitful dialogue. I was frustrated because I wanted to feel that we could move forward. If only because GG is a visible fella, gotta lotta page hits and if he could come around a bit, maybe he could spread that wisdom to his crew. Wisdom and not just pretty words that cannot help but be fraught with inconsistency and inaccuracy...because they are not felt or known, only postulated.
O, if only we had done everything he wanted, and the way he wanted, he would have engaged our points and listened to us!
Days went by. He did not update his Salon post with the update that he made on his Unclaimed Territory post, the one that linked to the conversation that was so raw and real and perhaps made him look bratty and privileged, batting around a Black woman while completely avoiding the Male's points that he had no real answer for. He did not write further on it, as he said he would. He did not return to engage the substantial points that he himself had said were "fair and interesting." He claimed that "were it not for the time constraints occasioned by my moving blogs today, I'd likely add an update to the post and respond at length (and will probably do that within the next few days)." But again, this was before he took the time to smack Sylvia around with his oh-so-impeccable "logic."
I was disapointed that he did not return. I did not jump to conclusions, as he had gotten angry about that and I wanted the conversation to continue. I did not want to hurt his feelings.
I waited. I waited. He said that It can be unpleasant to watch people struggle with these awkward discussions, but, on balance, anything which forces these issues more out into the open is probably a positive development and I believed him.
That window is shut. That Waiting is over. I gave him plenty of time. And he has moved on, now back to railing against an administration that doesn't give half a shit what he thinks and will continue on its way despite any insights he has or how many comments he gets validating them. One of his
flunkies readers dropped by to repeat the deal. Spit junk telling the Brown™ how wrong they are and how White Right you are. "Truthmachine" was sure to tell us that "you will stay, as will your regulars, but neither Greenwald nor I are regulars. And, as I said, dwelling on this subject is a necessity for you, while it's a luxury for us. Hopefully it will some day no longer be a necessity for anyone."
Guess what, foo'? As long as there are people like you, it will always be a necessity.
So what do I say about someone like this? Someone who walks around wavin' tha WHITEPROGRESSIVE flag and then when he gets a chance, smacks the Brown™ in the face with it? Blames us for holding back social progress on these issues? I think "racist" doesn't do it. I don't even think the word begins to describe this attitude and behavior. I would reach into my Vulgar® bag and just say "asshole," but that doesn't get at it either. Then we are just throwing verbal punches back and forth, and truth be told, I don't care for the verbal kind. If we goan throw down, I'd rather do it in the flesh. Out here, we are supposed to be exchanging ideas. And fighting won't make anything better for anyone, anyway. Hell, after all this, I am still willing to have a real conversation with any of these people, if they feel themselves capable of approaching with some willingness and humility. Otherwise, go on with ya bad self. May you find the world you deserve.
If we drop the word "RACIST" we have to use sentences. Longer sentences. More words. But these ones would cut at the heart of the matter, and not just scar palms endlessly. We might have to say "he thinks he's so special he doesn't have to feel for others who don't look like him," or "this person has a snobby attitude wherein all they see is all that matters," or "these people feel comfortable letting hundreds of people die and starve on the streets or get buried in a flood because they are scareds of these people and loathe them for being dark-skinned" or "this person purposely chooses to fill themselves up with historical accounts that justify the continued exploitation and murder of Brown-skinned people." We might say "this person is so small-minded and has such a narrow vision of the future that they want to hurt me and people who look like me or sound like me or come from lands like my own antepasados to keep us out of that future." We may use more, or less or versions of these for different types of narrow-minded, superiority-complexed, foolish humans.
Maybe "racist" needs no replacement. Maybe the word just needs to be eradicated. Maybe therein lies the chance to eradicate, too, the ignorance, hate, fear, and plain idiocy that is spawned behind it.
Meanwhile, dearest WHITE folk, dig: The Brown™ don't have to prove to you that your ignorant shit hurts us. We don't owe you a silent or timid response. We don't have to prove to you that the White Lens is wrecking the world. Because if you care about the world, you will come around to seeing the truth of this yourself.