Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies



Me and White Guys… Part 2

When I first realized that I was not being noticed because I was essentially invisible to a group of people, it was quite painful. My ego could barely stand such a notion – surely not I? I admit to being something of a megalomaniac, so the idea of my goddess self going unnoticed by mere mortals was a hard blow to take.

Beyond all of that, as people we just generally have a lot invested in being. Existing. When that gets challenged, a struggle ensues.

So, I noticed a blog linked to this one and I went to investigate – it was lainad – one of my favorite blogher.org contributors. She’d written something in her own blog, Writing is Fighting (LOVE the title!) on this topic after reading Me and White Guys… Part 1, sharing an account of her own experience of invisibility-induced trauma. This, in turn, got me thinking about another incident, which I described in response to her post. I’ll share it here, for your reference:

I was at a Chicago Public Radio panel discussion on race relations with my husband and daughter (who was about 6 months old at the time). There was a meal served afterwards, and the radio personalities were mingling and chatting with everyone. I happened to be on the food line right in front of the event’s moderator (who’s name I can’t remember), who’s a moderately well-known radio personality in Chicago. And as I stood there, waiting for the line to progress, a man (a white man) walked excitedly up to the radio dude, and placed himself between us, literally pushing me (however nudgingly gently), as though I hadn’t been there. And there it was – the rage, the shame, the shock of invisibility and out-and-out rudeness. He was so eager to get in with the radio guy (who didn’t notice me either) that he was willing to negate my existence to do it.

Besides all of the typical reasons for being upset about this kind of thing, I was also feeling the exhaustion that comes from being a new parent. I was just glad to be out of the house, and for a few moments, not holding a baby. And it was ruined.

Incidentally, this guy who nudged me out of his way was also the same guy (that guy) who stood up during the panel discussion q&a and stated that he wasn’t a racist, and why don’t black people take back their communities, poverty is so sad, if you tried harder you’d be able to overcome, blah, blah, blah (sorry – hyperbolic paraphrasing in effect).

Anyway – after stewing about it, I happened to run into the guy again coming out of the bathroom. I couldn’t take it, I had to say something. Maybe because I was holding my daughter in my arms, and I couldn’t bear the idea of not standing up for myself when she was watching. So I did.

“Excuse me – earlier, waiting in line for the food, you pushed me out of the way so you could get to [Radio Dude], and I really didn’t appreciate that.”

(Smiling, fumbling over words)”Oh – I’m sorry – I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I don’t remember what I said after that. Nothing particularly dynamic or scathing. I remember thinking ‘That’s a fuckin’ weak apology – I don’t care what you meant by it, you’re an asshole.’ I remember feeling like he was less interested in expressing contrition and more interested in getting back to the party. I definitely remember still being pissed.

But I’ll tell ya, I did feel better than if I hadn’t said anything at all.

I hadn’t thought about this incident until I read Laina’s post, at which point it all came back to me in an instant. The internal struggle I’d had over being bumped out of this guys’ way was overwhelming in its intensity. And so much of my anger came from the fact that the situation had the power to effect me in such a way. Imagine how often people feel this kind of anger and shame everyday – how it is unleashed and left to fester or grow. These things don’t just dissipate – they continue to live inside us, and will eventually get out somehow.

I wonder what it must be like to be on the other side of this dynamic. I wonder how many white guys are wandering around the world, knocking women and people of color toward and over the margins, oblivious to the trail of wreckage they leave behind. I wonder how many actually notice that they’ve tripped over an actual human being, and as Laina submitted, don’t know what to do and solve their quandary by pretending not to see us. How much of this behavior is pretending and how much is oblivion due to complete self-absorption, induced by privilege?

I know I can’t effectively practice anti-bias and generalize about white guys. But I do recognize that these trends occur for a reason.

I’ve met white guys who are nearly desperate to give the impression of having shed their privilege. I can’t say I blame them – when you look closely at white male privilege, and how it has affected everyone else in the world, it’s pretty ugly. No one wants to be a part of something that most people in the world hate. So they distance themselves from it, or deny that it exists. There are some people who are actually making a real and sincere effort to overcome their racism and privilege by not only admitting that it exists, but attempting to actively lay it down when the opportunity arises and lay down their weapons of unbalanced power. This is, of course, rare (to say the least).

I am torn. I do not want to demonize white guys. I want accountability for damaging behavior. I want to be forgiving. But I find it nearly impossible to forgive people who are indifferent to my existence and ways they may have hurt me and others. Dr. Black Girl Pain at Blogs in the Key of Life, wrote something about black people and forgiveness that I relate to on many points, and find to be relevant to this issue:

Isn’t there’s a better way we can handle white folks? One that doesn’t involve us spitting in their faces and going upside their heads everytime they pass, but doesn’t involve us forgetting what’s been done to us as a people and acting as if they’re our saviors?” Read more here…

So, yeah. I find it so difficult to be forgiving and express my understanding. But I have to find a way to do it somehow, because the way that I want to be, and the work that I do demands that I do so. It’s difficult, though.

That’s all for now.

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  1. My Life as A Radical Whore/Madonna » Blog Archive » Anti-Bias Bloggin’… pingbacked on 9 years, 1 month ago

Comments

  1. * Allan says:

    Me and Black Girls
    by Allan, a white guy
    The problems happen most often on public transportation. It tends to play out like this: I get on a train. All the seats are full except for one next to a black woman. I move towards the seat. I begin to worry. If I sit down will she think that I think that “I’m mister Center-of-the-Universe-White-Guy! I don’t have to pay attention to the world around me ’cause I’m mister Center-of-the-Universe-White-Guy, and everyone should just get out of my way.”? I decide to stand. The train shudders, and my backpack bumps the woman. I feel the bump but am uncertain what to do. Should I do nothing? It’s the El, this happens, right? Or should I apologize? I look at her and she’s staring at me pointedly. Maybe I stammer out an apology or maybe I do nothing. Either way, I feel threatened. Does she think that I “wander around the world, knocking women and people of color toward and over the margins, oblivious to the trail of wreckage [I] leave behind”? If I apologize too profusely then maybe I will appear “desperate to give the impression of having shed [my] privilege.” However I respond, I always spend some amount of time feeling worse about these encounters than I think I ought to. Wishing I’d said or done something when I didn’t say or do anything. Or feeling as though I overreacted when I let things go.
    ————————–
    Atena,
    You wonder “what it must be like to be on the other side of this dynamic.” So I’ve tried to capture how I sometimes feel. I hope it is helpful. I just think you should know that you are not as invisible as you might think. The criticisms you make here and similar ones made by others are heard. For some white guys it is perhaps true, but please, you should understand that it does not apply to everyone.
    I ask you, also, to take your thinking one step further. If you were a white guy and had heard these criticisms, how do you respond? How do you deal with people who think that you are a careless, inconsiderate and self-absorbed white guy? If you think, as a white male, “well this criticism doesn’t apply to me” are you not then “desperate to give the impression of having shed [your] privilege”?
    If I understand correctly, you feel that you, as a person, are being ignored because you are a black woman. If this is true, it is a tragedy. It dehumanizes you because instead of being seen as a person, you are not seen due to your race and sex. But, then, do you not commit the same mistake? Suppose that the white man had truly jumped in line because he was overeager to talk to the radio personality. Do you not then dehumanize him by replacing his true intentions with the generalized intentions of white privilege? Is there nothing he can do that is not interpreted through the lens of race?

    Oh, and if you ever happen to see a dorky looking white boy with a green jacket and blue backpack say hi, because it might be me. =)

    Allan

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 9 months ago
  2. * mamablossom says:

    Allan – thank you for taking the time to respond.

    I have tried to make the point here that I am only mildly concerned with the intentions of inconsiderate people. Intentions matter, but not nearly as much as actions and their outcomes.

    I’d also like to say that I feel it is in poor taste to appropriate my words and turn them around to make your point. I know that your INTENTION was not to highjack my ideas for your own intellectual, rhetorical benefit. I know you didn’t INTEND to offend me by taking my honest account, my internal struggle, my vulnerability and wielding them to accuse me (hypothetically) of what amounts to “reverse discrimination.” I know your INTENT was not to reinforce the negative feelings that I have about white guys and the way that they sometimes walk all over you without even realizing it. I’m sure you weren’t INTENDING to do any of those things.

    Unfortunately that’s just what happened. You took my voice and used it to make this all about you.

    To answer your question, Yes. It is dehumanizing whenever we respond to people based on stereotypes and assumptions. I believe that I alluded to that in my original post. My whole purpose in this is to (slowly) work my way out of the trappings of prejudice and bias. I’ve admitted to that and am dealing with it.

    What have you admitted to? What are you dealing with? I would suggest you use your own words and ideas to solve your own problems.

    Thanks,

    Atena

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 3 months ago
  3. * M. Taylor says:

    Hi…I would like to say that your account does matter and shouldn’t be overlooked. It seems you were a bit unfair to Allan, however. I’m not male, but I could see what he was saying. We all have different experiences in life. To attribute or interpret a person’s rude actions as racism makes little sense. Would you have reacted differently if that guy had been a person of color? Allan didn’t accuse you of anything. He was simply offering his perspective from the other side as a white male. He wasn’t downplaying your views on the whole situation. You’re a black woman who feels sidelined by white males and white society. How do you deal with this? Sometimes rudeness is simply rudeness. It isn’t always about race. Sometimes it is and yes, that can be painful, but that is when it should be confronted. I don’t know what other painful experiences you’ve had with white males or white people, but all I can say is that you cannot control or alter the actions of people around you. When somebody pushes your buttons you have to be the bigger person. You only have control over your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions in situations like this. If not…you’re allowing the other person’s behavior to influence you. You’re giving them power over you. Please don’t feel like this is an attack, because it isn’t. All I’m saying is that you need to rise above the damaging behavior (whether real or perceived) of white men around you. Some people will never change their attitudes or beliefs about women or people of color, but you can change your feelings towards white men and learn to forgive. I did.

    | Reply Posted 10 years ago
  4. * Timbo says:

    I really don’t want to spend a lot of time organizing my thoughts, so take this as just a brain dump.

    In the local Walmart SuperCenter, almost everyone is oblivious to everyone else. The majority in that store are Blacks and Hispanics. They don’t pay attention to me and are inconsiderate, just like the white folks.

    On the elevator at work the other day, three black women got on. Not one of them noticed me.

    Yesterday, two very self important white guys got on the elevator. Not only did they not notice me, they blocked the escalator we have to use to get to the ground level.

    I’m routinely ignored by Asians, even though my wife is Asian.

    Who am I? I’m a middle-aged white guy who’s had to work for everything. Whose parents were divorced very early. Who grew up without a Mom because she was in mental hospitals. Who started life on welfare. Who dropped out of high school, but now makes a great salary. Am I privileged?

    Maybe people are just inconsiderate. Maybe if I run into someone, I’m preoccupied. (I usually apologize, even if it’s not my fault.) Maybe I’m just busy trying to take care of my family and my sick wife.

    BTW, I did notice you.

    | Reply Posted 9 years, 11 months ago


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