Tuesday, December 9, 2008
On Walking in a Wind Storm (and Dealing with Being Other)
I shall continue my essay on the invention of race shortly, but something has come up, so I shall write on it while it's on my mind.
In my second part of my "relating topics of race via metaphor" series (see On Driving in the Rain), I bring you a new metaphor: walking in a wind storm.
Picture it: coat held tight, collar up, forward-leaning into the wind. Edges of your coat fluttering and flapping and slapping you as you just try to put one foot in front of another. Random objects (newspapers, garbage) are hitting you from the side. The rain is hitting you in the face. It's uncomfortable. Terribly unpleasant. Frustrating. But you push on, ignoring it as best you can, letting everything bounce off you as you just move forward.
And then one tiny bottle-cap gets flung into the air. A tiny little bottle-cap. Insignificant. Harmless. If it hits you, it's just going to bounce off your coat - you probably won't even realize it happened. But for some reason, that cap gets lifted off the ground, swirled once or twice, and then flies directly into your earlobe. And it STINGS!!! It hurts. It even drew a little bit of blood. You curse, grabbing your inflamed ear. And that's the one thing that just knocks you off your game, you start swearing, throw your useless umbrella to the ground, trying to stomp the offending bottle-cap into submission.
All the while, you're still in the middle of a windstorm.
I think about race all the time. I watch ten seconds of television, and I am guaranteed to see something that "otherizes" people of color and establishes white people as the norm. A white co-worker says something that displays their cultural incompetence. I read the news and see how it portrays people of color. I hear a joke about Asian men and the size of their ----. All the time. But it doesn't really phase me on any sort of noticeable level. I brush it off. I put up my collar and push on. That's how it is, crying about it isn't going to help me; so I take note when I have the energy, let it bounce away when I don't, and go on with my life, thinking on a way to make it a little more manageable.
But then something hits me in the gut. Something that shouldn't be that big of a deal. Just one more in a long line of things. It's not meant to be offensive. It's not meant to hurt. A tiny little bottle-cap that wouldn't have bothered me if it hit me anywhere other than my ear.
But it hit me in the ear.
Now, I'm not going to do a big public call-out here, but let's just say I saw something on a blog the other day that bothered me. It wasn't big. It wasn't meant to harm. By itself, I never would have even thought on it more than a few minutes. But, for whatever reason, it hit me in the ear. It threw me off my game. And I'm still thinking about it.
And I received an impassioned apology. One that I believe to be genuine. Almost immediately. And I appreciate that, but for some reason - it's not enough for me here. I don't know if I'm being rational, but I just got hit in the ear during a wind storm, you know? And so I want more.
Because an apology isn't active. It's reactive. It's the - "oops, I got caught" - reaction to guilt when it's brought to one's attention. I never thought the person meant harm to begin with. So an apology establishing that changes nothing. I want something active to happen. No defense, no justifications - I already know the person isn't bad or evil or racist or anything else like that at all. But I want something to happen.
Because, in the end, my mentioning of the matter changed nothing. I got the apology, but the post is still there. I got the apology, but I still got to see 30 other commenters completely ignore my own reference to the offensiveness of the post and talk about how "cute" it was. 30 (presumably white) folks ignoring the one person of color (and representative of the race mentioned) speaking out because they can. Because that's how it always goes. And what crushes me is that these are people that want to raise a Chinese kid!
Now, obviously, there's nothing the blogger can do about commenters choosing to ignore my comment. That's their personal preference, and we can't change other people's personal preferences . . . Or can we?
Because this is the second part where the apology isn't enough. Just like with all the more public apologies that come from institutions and radio stations when somebody does something wrong, nothing follows up to demonstrate the sincerity of the apology. Because, if it is so truly heartfelt (which, oddly enough, I still believe it to be), then shouldn't that person desire a change? To prevent similar things from happening?
And so the blogger CAN affect the readers' choices to ignore my comment: by drawing attention to it. By writing on it. By posting on the topic. Surely, by removing the post with an explanation. By asking for further education or help. By MAKING the other readers think about the one person of color in the room. By MAKING other readers (and those in a similar situation) open their eyes to their own cultural biases on "normality" and "otherization." By MAKING other readers think about the painful realities of race BEFORE they raise a kid that's going to have to suffer through them (with less help precisely because their "parents" haven't been MADE to think on it).
That's action. That's sincere regret. That's making change.
*And so here I must undo my own B.S. "apology" and take a next step. Because, in my comments to a previous post, an inappropriate comment came in regarding preferences of mixed female "looks" (more or less following the line of "exotifying" mixed people, by all races). In response, I gave a half-assed explanation for why I allowed it, but pretty much left it as a side-conversation. I eventually deleted the comment.
But here, I would like to follow up on my apology to Seitzk in the same way that I ask for in this post: first, I would like to put on my "posts-to-write" queue the topic of exotification (especially of females of color). Second, I invite Seitzk to write her (my assumption is female from previous comments, but I'm actually not certain) own breakdown of what personally offended in that situation, which I offer to post as clarification for ALL readers that may not have caught it, or understood. I also offer the opportunity for the commenter to respond - to create a dialogue. See if we can't clear up a possible misunderstanding, or simply educate to eliminate another instance.
Because the primary aim of this post is education. We're all going to mess up at some point. We all have our own stereotypes and biases and prejudices that we're not even aware of. We all will be misunderstood at times. So if we cannot address that and learn from it, then what's the point of me writing all that I do?