Sunday, December 21, 2008
On Escaping Race
Three of the last five weekdays I was off of work due to snow days. I had to ditch my car in another part of the city yesterday and take the bus home because the roads were too icy. I've been in my house A LOT this past week.
So you'd think that would have made it more likely for me to write a bunch of blog posts. You'd think that. But, instead, I wrote less than I have in any other week, even though I was LESS busy. Interesting.
So why was that? Mostly . . . because I've been trying to escape from race a little bit this week (or thoughts about race, more accurately). I put up my book on revisionist history, grabbed a fantasy novel (the one pictured on this post), curled up on the couch, under a blanket by the fire - and tried to ESCAPE.
Because all the drama of the preceding week had me a bit burnt. All this back-and-forth, all the comments basically implying (or saying flat-out) that I was just "looking" for something to get offended about, etc. It put a sour taste in my mouth and made me want to just escape it all for a while. And so I did my best.
I slipped into a fantasy novel. And that's always been my most effective means of escape through my whole life. The majority of my adult life, I have been thoroughly immersed in non-fiction - history, psychology, sociology-type stuff. But when push comes to shove, and I just want to hide out for a bit? I go back to my bookstore and find a thick-ass fantasy book to read.
Of course, when trying to avoid thoughts of race, fantasy isn't always the best place to go. Because most fantasy out there is clearly written for white folks. In all the descriptions of characters, it's always the attributes of white people - the pale skin, the golden hair, the piercing blue eyes . . . The "darkest" characters are generally the villains. Not exactly heart-warming and inspirational to a person of color.
As a result, I've found myself drawn to the edgier novels - ones in which there are no clear black/white goodguys and badguys. And ones that tend to fall on a more epic, global scope - and thus including characters of different racial backgrounds. The most successful on that level so far (as far as white authors) that I have found has been Steven Erikson's "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series. A number of characters of color, a lot of gray areas - well-written. It's definitely not perfect, but as far as these kinds of things go . . .
But no matter how "good" they get, I still have to put a part of myself aside when reading even these "escapist" novels to not allow race to sully my enjoyment. My mind still jumps at times when there are problematic descriptions, or when I still haven't heard dark skin described positively 400 pages in. Mostly, I am good at "getting over it" and enjoying for other reasons . . .
But it doesn't go away. Because I can't ever fully "turn off" my racial mind. I went and saw "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (have I mentioned Keanu Reeves is actually a quarter Chinese) expecting exactly what I got - not the greatest movie, a bit ridiculous, but relatively entertaining. And yet, my racial mind kept firing off "why do the middle-class white folks get to represent all of humanity - and subsequently save it?" "Why does the one character of color have to be a black kid with no parents who keeps wanting to "kill them all" like his father?" And then I'll be like, "Shut the f--- up, mind - just watch the freaking movie!"
It's like watching a stupid action film with an over-critical friend who keeps going, "Yeah RIGHT that could happen!" It's annoying. And obnoxious. But I can't make it stop. And that friend is good to me and helpful and necessary on so many other levels, so I can't just cut it off. Because I've learned that "ignoring" race does just as much good as "ignoring" the bully who steals my lunch money every day - maybe it doesn't get me as many black eyes, but it sure as Hell doesn't keep me from going without lunch, and it only sets me up to be a sucker for the next bully at my next school and so on for the rest of my life.*
And that's how escaping race goes. During a week of intentionally avoiding race-oriented blogs and discussion, mostly staying inside - it doesn't just go away. I'm not going out of my way to look for it. In fact, I was intentionally avoiding it, and yet I can't. It doesn't work like that for me. Or - likely - for anybody else that isn't white in this country. No matter what, race tracks me down and slaps me a few times a day. It's like a woman trying to stay in and avoid gender - she can't. Not totally. Because it's a fact of life that doesn't just go away because you want it to.
And that's what all these "color-blind," anti-Affirmative Action folks clearly don't understand - race doesn't exist because I see it. Problems of race don't exist because I'm looking for them and calling attention to them. If I shut my mouth and don't say anything, race and race problems will only go away for those few white people who have the privilege of ignoring it, while things get worse, overall.
If returning to my childhood, curling up in a ball by myself and hiding from the outside world while reading a fantasy novel can't make race disappear - then nothing can. So how 'bout we all just accept that fact, stop lying to ourselves and others, and do something about it?
* Hmmm . . . it's also a very white, middle-class cultural thing for adults to tell kids to "ignore" people they have problems with or who are messing with them, or to "ignore" insults because "sticks and stones will break my bones . . ." Could that have any relation to the tendency of that same demographic to want people to "ignore" race?
** I know I've come a long way when I'm writing a whole post around reading a fantasy book. My brother gave me so much shit about that when I was a kid, that I've been ashamed of my enjoyment of fantasy books for most of my life - hiding the fact that I read them. I've even been known to keep a back-up fake "book I'm reading" at my side, so if anybody came in, I could switch out and hide the fantasy novel and pretend I was reading something else. Sounds like a precursor to a post on social stigma.