10 October 2008

That's What Friends Are For

J and I have been having a very interesting series of conversations on race, politics, and economics lately. And maybe this is a bit off topic, but our discussions have caused me to focus on my own social awareness lately. I am interested in how I got to my present point of view. I mean, let's face it. I was raised in the same environment that produced those rednecks screaming "terrorist" and "kill him" about Obama, and "sit down, boy" to a black cameraman at McCain rallies. I know the people behind these epithets. While I tend to see my personal development as a continuum, I occasionally think that it is a continuum punctuated by forehead-smacking Gestalt moments where everything comes together and there is a fundamental paradigm shift. In any event, I have a tendency to personalize when I think about most issues and sometimes get lost in the forest for looking at the trees (i.e., my thoughts on race, economics, and politics arise primarily from my own experiences, hence the rather personal nature of a lot of my posts).

If my very public self-exploration has made anyone uncomfortable, I sincerely apologize. I examine my own thoughts in public because I think that there is nothing that fosters honesty more than the light of day. And just maybe, others can benefit from my voyage of self discovery. What I was trying to get at (and perhaps none too well) in my earlier post above love is that it is okay to talk about tough issues honestly and openly. We don't have to be embarrassed about being human. It isn't a breach of trust to disagree with those we love. It doesn't diminish me as a person or my capabilities for the future if I acknowledge that I was wrong in the past. Or to have someone point out to me when I am wrong in the present. So when I talk about my grandmother and her way of thinking, it doesn't mean I love her less. We may disagree on issues of race, but she taught me more about unconditional love than anyone else ever will.

Racial inequality is a very personal issue to me. Who knows why? Maybe I just identified with the outsiders. I don't recall ever having a conversation with anyone about these issues growing up. But to act like I accepted the status quo in my environment is fundamentally incorrect. I mean, at a very early age, I noticed that there was segregation--starting with the lunchroom at school. I agonized over ways to break that gridlock. It was easier to sit in my chair with my white friends than to get up and cross the room and ask if I could sit down at that table. I think I was more afraid that they wouldn't want me there. That they would just stare at me and I'd have to slink back to my seat in defeat. Fear of rejection is a crippling thing to a teenager. The fact that I didn't know what to do and so did nothing still fills me with a sense of regret. Stupid, I know, to beat myself up about things that happened 25 years ago. But at some point I made a distinct break with the social morality of my upbringing. I believe what prompted that break was what one friend termed "my overdeveloped sense of justice". Somehow that internal dialogue that others are able to suppress when they see discrimination kept screaming at me and all it said was "Why are you accepting this? You know this isn't okay." I decided to silence that voice and I started down a different road. And for me, that moment was both personal and liberating. It happened when I was sitting in my living room in Chicago listening to my brother make a racist comment. I remember that moment as if I'm in that room now. Not in my house. Oh hell no. Never again. Get out. That may well have been my first adult action. It wasn't as hard as I thought.

I remember a second such moment. It wasn't that long ago. Bek and I were sitting at a stop light in C-dale when she announced that it was okay that I found black men attractive. I didn't even realize that I had made that apparent. After all, I was still not admitting those feelings in public. So I can thank Bek for my second Gestalt moment. It validated feelings I had long hidden, like the incredible crush I had on a black kid at my school, but couldn't admit to anyone. Like the fact that I had married someone I wasn't particularly attracted to because he was acceptable in superficial ways to those around me.

Now, since "my people" as I'm so fond of saying (I'm only 2 generations removed from folks who never dreamed of a high school education) were the target audience for a Southern Strategy, I think that perhaps the best thing I can offer is some insight into what that has meant in my life and the lives of those around me. Maybe this insight isn't needed. Maybe it's been done to death. If that is the case, then this really is a personal journey, and that's okay, too.

"Meeting" J has really been helpful to me (thanks Liv!) because he has been instrumental in raising my line of sight above the treeline and pushed me to explore the broader impacts of these issues, which brings a whole 'nother level of analysis to my effort. I believe I'm always going to bring these issues into the personal realm, because that seems to be my shtick. I wonder though, if another head-smacking moment isn't in the making. I seem to be in a period of rapid growth. I'll keep you updated. Unless of course, you all just want me to STFU. =) Happy Friday.

1 comment: