Monday, January 21, 2013

Dr. Jekyll

Today is one of those days where I find myself more emotionally volatile than most, thus I have split this entry into two parts one of which is here and the other of which is on tumblr. For those who are not aware, I post my unchecked venting/ranting posts on tumblr so as to provide myself a place to say things I would not normally write for all to see.

When I was younger I didn't know racism was still an issue. On days like today, I was led to believe we were celebrating Dr. King's victory over racism. I also thought that one of the main reasons he went on to oppose the war was because he had stomped out racism. Then I'd have these thoughts, more like moments of extreme discomfort, being around someone who was different than me. Maybe it was a Latino who was talking to his friend in Spanish, maybe it was a black guy using African American English Vernacular (AAEV), or maybe it was just another white person who didn't speak English as a first language. What I didn't know is that the society I was raised in was racist. The TV shows I watched portrayed various degrees of racism, even Star Trek wasn't immune; my music had racist undertones, the church I grew up going to had racist narratives woven into its dogma, the school I went to was full of racist stereotypes (I dressed up as one of Tisquantum's companions for a Thanksgiving day performance in third grade- complete with shirtlessness, red marker all over my face, and a paper feather headdress).

It's not as if my parents' church, my school, or the friends I grew up with were intentionally being racist. I grew up in white culture, a privileged white culture. Imagine with me, if you will, that white culture is like an underwater city. In this city things are not perfect, but the systems of law, equality, and morality worked as well as anyone might hope. When you dial 9-1-1, the police/firefighters/EMT's arrive as soon as possible. When someone commits a crime against you, they are punished to the extent the law permits. When you apply for a job, you're hired or not hired based on your qualifications for the job as well as your performance during the application/interview process. Your doctor is a well-trained medical professional who makes a large salary and lives comfortably as compensation for the demands of his/her job and the expertise it requires to maintain their proficiency. Your local grocer has various kinds of fresh fruit and vegetables available almost all year around at prices you can afford. Your rent/property tax doesn't spike when new neighbors from another area of the city move in. This is privilege.

You might resent me using that word, "privilege" since it's getting thrown around quite a bit these days and it seems like there are new types of privilege being invented everyday. Privilege in the context we're using it is not a bad thing, unless it's not available to everyone. Male privilege, I can walk the streets without guys hooting and hollering with suggestive comments about my ass/legs/chest. White privilege, I can talk to police officers without fear of being profiled as a trouble-maker based on the color of my skin. Thin privilege, I can find clothes that fit me in every department store. These are all privileges afforded to me, not because I'm not a white male of an average body size, but because we believe in principle that everyone should be able to walk the streets without being sexually harassed, talk to police officers without being profiled based on skin color, shop at a department store and find clothes that fit. Despite these principles, the world in practice doesn't work like this except in the privileged white culture. Did you notice the negative tone the word "privilege" took the way I just used it? Privilege just doesn't seem so awesome when it's not available to everyone.

What boggles my mind is how angry I get when I'm on the receiving end of prejudice. It's so rare that I was almost in denial that it was actually prejudicial when it started happening over the summer, I just wanted to write it off as a bad joke. Then I ran into a person who told me just what he was thinking by asking, "What the fuck are you doing here? Huh? Go home!" It didn't matter that my apartment was just a couple blocks down the street, I was living in a demographically and culturally black neighborhood at the time and white people who moved there had been known to be there because they wanted something from the community. I took it with a bit lip and hurried steps. I knew before I had even moved my stuff into that apartment that I was not entirely welcomed in the neighborhood. I was definitely out of my element and others saw that. Reflecting on how I felt about being on the receiving end of prejudice, I think about Dr. King's commitment to nonviolence and suddenly I'm struck with awe. Here's a man who lived with bold-faced racism, segregation, and intimidation coming against him from multiple sides yet he still wanted to solve problems nonviolently.

It is my prayer that I can help those who have carried on Dr. King's legacy of nonviolent response to discrimination.

Peace that surpasses all understanding,