07 September 2006

Exploring Race and Racism, III

Okay, there was this interesting post and comment thread over at I Shame the Matriarchy in which the Antiprincess begins the process of dissecting some racial issues.

This is something that's been on my mind a lot in recent years. I mean, as one comes to know herself better, how is it possible to avoid the privilege to which she has always been entitled solely due to the light pigmentation of her skin? I mean, if you're white and you're in therapy and you're making progress and you haven't gotten to the point where you can accept all the privileges you've always had just because you're white, hate to tell you, Honey, but you ain't done yet.

AP describes three scenarios which evoked for her her awareness of the privilege she's been granted by being born white. Yet she trivializes her experiences as insignificant, unimportant.

As I said, trivial, random, funny. Not at all political or important.
I particularly liked what Belledame, of Fetch me my axe, had to say:
it is unfortunate that there is this, how would you say, "walking on eggshells" thing that happens, i think. I wonder sometimes if this is a particularly American thing: everyone is so very anxious to be -good-; and don't understand it when people get irritated when they're -trying so hard;- and i think you know the truth is sometimes, esp. in these little political circles (not saying you, at all), people sort of let their own anxiety and other baggage, you know, wanting to get everything just right-- get in the way of just being with the other person.
I've long thought of wading into the waters of serious blogging about race but have, largley, held myself back. What right do I have to write about race. I was born a white female, have always been and will always be, a white female. I have no right to have a perspective about race and racism in this country.

But, I do.

I live here. Always have. I've worked 22 years as a nurse, always in inner city hospitals where the dominant culture was poor and, mostly, people of color (mainly African-American, Latina and Hispanic). I have tried to learn what I can about the cultural aspects of my patients and co-workers lives as they differ from mine.

I was raised working-class, without any luxuries but never too ashamed about my clothing (well, aside from my horrendous taste as a child/teenager/young adult and 10 years of fucking ugly corrective shoes). I was raised in a white family, first in neighborhoods where easily 50-60% of the population was people of color, then in "the sticks" with a minority population of about 11-13% during my formative years. Right in the ballpark of the national average at the time.

Yet the dominant culture was always mine, whether I was conscious of it or not, whether I wanted it to be that way or not, whether I facilitated that or not, that is the way it was.

I've often wondered why I chose to always work among poorer, often minority populations. Part of it was the caliber of nursing I wanted to practice. The two hospitals I originally applied to were both large tertiary care centers in South Jersey. I didn't even consider a community hospitals. I knew the "action" wouldn't be there and I need to be challenged to be happy. I wanted a cutting-edge environment in which to practice my craft. I found it in inner city hospitals. I can't even say that I consciously considered the racial or socioeconomic mix of patients in the places I've chosen to work (except that 19 years of Pidgin nurse's Spanish have languished and deteriorated from disuse over the past three years).

Well, I lie. When I moved back to the Philly area after a couple of years near Reading, I knew I could not work on the Main Line. I think I would have suffered meltdown in a matter of weeks among all those rich people with their overblown sense of themselves and their entitlement...just because of their money. Sorry, you don't move to the head of the line because you've got an estate planner, not when I've got a 60 year old black guy here with chest pain. You see, I'm just not that good at holding my tongue and not saying what's on my mind.

I guess that's what's surprised me about my relative reticence on the subject of race. I realize it's because I don't want to step on anybody's toes. I don't want to jump in and take over the conversation. But I think I might have some things to say about it, given 20+ years of working with patient populations largely comprised of members of racial minorities.

Pissing off the rich? The thought doesn't bother me a whit. My personal experience with people with large amounts of money has proven to me that those with money and attitude about it (pretty much) deserve what they might get from me. Be a rich asshole, I'll call you a rich asshole.

But how could I criticize people of color? Nah, gotta rein it in there, Cowgirl. I don't dare piss off the black folks.

I have largely come to have respect for the people of color I have known, especially those I've worked with and my friend, Tam. I have appreciated the opportunity to gaze a little bit into a world about which I would never otherwise have any knowledge. (I also now have a great fried chicken recipe, a fabulous Spanish arroz con las habas (rice and beans) recipe and we all know I can cook fish stuffed with Bajan spices like no white, American woman has a right to!)

I've tried to listen. I've tried to ask questions of genuine interest about their lives and culture and listened to/heard what they told me in answer.

Yet I still carry around this fear of judgment, especially if I should happen to disagree with a person of color's position, assertion, belief.

I understand where this comes from. What I need to learn is how to get beyond it. Or if it's right for me to want to/try to get beyond it?

Isn't that the only way for free and open discourse to take place?

tags: bigotry / class / culture / isms / power / privilege / race / racism


At September 08, 2006 4:09 PM, Blogger antiprincess said...

well - "trivial and unimportant" - by which I mean, not life-or-death sorts of issues. I mean, it's not like I was in danger at any point of losing something important like life or dignity.

At September 08, 2006 6:45 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Oh, I understand...that we can never really understand how it feels because we've never lived it and never will. The important thing is it got you thinking and caring.

Thanks for stopping by!

At September 21, 2006 10:30 AM, Blogger belledame222 said...

Yeah, I think getting beyond the fear, per se, is probably a worthy goal. Because that allows you to go farther and deeper. It doesn't mean you won't necessarily really step on a minefield somewhere; it just means you've gotten the strength to pick yourself up, attend to the injuries (self and others) best you can, and keep going.

At September 21, 2006 7:51 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Yep, you're right, Belle...as always. Doesn't it get old and/or boring being right all the time?

I guess I worry about people of color thinking I'm a stupid, white asshole. But they might think I'm a stupid, white asshole anyway so, what the hell?

Thanks for dropping by!


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