Assumptions, Biases & Irrational Fantasies

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Personal Demons category.

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 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.


Me and White Guys… Part 1

The problems happen most often on public transportation. It tends to play out like this: I am sitting on the train. A white guy gets on the train, approaches the place I am sitting. He may sit next to me, or he may stand close by. I begin to think things like “He better not hit me with his backpack [newspaper, elbow, briefcase, whatever] and think he can get away with it.” Then, slowly at first, I begin to seethe very quietly. If he does not impinge upon my personal space, the seething calms down and dies away, possibly without me even noticing that it ever started.

If I do get bumped, smacked or swiped with an offending extensor, usually it goes like this: I look at the white dude to see if he noticed his breach of personal space. If he does and apologizes, the seething begins to settle. If he doesn’t, I begin to try to catch his eye, making faces meant to communicate ‘Ahem – I think you owe me an apology.’ If that doesn’t work, then I start to stare at him pointedly, waiting for him to notice me, all the while thinking ‘See? I knew it! Look – I’m mister Center-of-the-Univers-White-Guy! I don’t have to pay attention to the world around me ’cause I’m mister Center-of-the-Univers-White-Guy, and everyone should just get out of my way.’ Obviously this is incendiary, and I start to really get upset. This is usually where I get my first glimpse of my behavior from a semi-objective point of view (I use objective in the very loosest sense of the word here), and I then begin to feel conflicted. While I’m having this imaginary fight in my head with this guy I don’t know, I start to realize that I have no idea what’s going on in his head, that it’s unfair to put my anger on him in this way, and that I’m probably as careless sometimes when my head is in the clouds. At the same time, I’m thinking ‘This guy’s probably had his whole life to be totally inconsiderate and never deal with consequences and he’ll probably end up being somebody’s boss, even if he’s totally underqualified and he’ll treat them like shit, too, and this is my chance to show him what’s what!’

So I have these arguments going on in my head. If my rational self wins, then I may glower at him a bit more, reflect on my issues, do some yoga breathing and let it go. If my non-rational self wins (and keep in mind, non-rational has the biological edge here with adrenaline pumping and the brain’s limbic system taking over) I’ll physically retaliate by bumping him back (never particularly aggressively – usually just enough to make my presence known), or deliberately pushing the offending extensor out of my face. Sometimes this garners a mumbled apology. Often not.

It’s a fight or flight response, because I feel threatened. It’s my internal class-warrior – a little black girl lashing out, fed up with being underestimated, overlooked and generally unseen (especially when standing next to white guys). It’s the girl in me who knows that boys and men are usually bigger and stronger and is pissed off at how unfair that is. It’s the little girl I’ve always been, being nice and quiet by default, ’cause that supposedly gets good results.

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.

I don’t have the insight yet. But I’ll come back to it.

‘Til then…

The Humiliation (is worth it).

I haven’t really written anything, because this process of introspection is humiliating. Internally humiliating. The things I find myself thinking about people, the things I realize about myself, the memories that rise to the top of my brain, and the million tiny ways I mess up and trip up and fuck up…

It’s like being sixteen years old and realizing that no matter how articulately you converse, no matter how elegantly you style yourself, you won’t be an adult until you’re an adult. The only thing that’s going to bring about maturity is time. Lots and lots of time. Like having to wait for some devastating heartbreak to stop hurting and bleeding out your energy. There’s nothing to be done but live through it. I know that doing this work and reflecting on these feelings is a positive thing, but it’s overwhelming to know that this is such a long, slow process and that I’ve barely even started.

Paying closer attention to my biases and interpersonal interactions has given me plenty of opportunities to feel thoroughly ashamed of myself every day. Facing my own internalized racism is a BITCH! It sucks! I catch myself thinking things about people of color that I’m not even ready to repeat here, ’cause I’m still shuddering at myself. And it’s not even anything unusual.

One productive thing I’ve gotten out of this so far is an appreciation for how scary this process could be for someone who has no interest in or awareness of anti-bias theory. As a willing participant, I’m struggling through all this crap because I am totally convinced that it is some of the most valuable work that I could ever do. And it still kinda sucks. I will keep this in mind as I deal with other people whom I’m bringing this idea to, to convince them that it’s the way to do business. It’s not easy to enter into, as important as it may be.

Anyway, gotta go get ready to head out. More later.