But they want a tour guide. They want to watch somebody bleed. Pain as entertainment.
“Can you share with us a time when you experienced racism and how you dealt with it?” she asks, her eyes bright in a flushed face. “What was the worse thing that ever happened to you?”
I stopped relating my experience when I realized incidents that cut me deeply became cocktail-party chatter for others. When I realized that doing so caused white people to have a sense of false familiarity with me. When I realized that they recounted my life as if it were their own, as if they owned it, as if they owned me. When I realized they did so not to make others feel my humanity, but to reinforce their belief in their own.
Picnic lunches beneath a hanging man.
And yet it didn’t really matter. I am reminded of this years later, when a white woman in an upscale department store glares and refers to two nearby children as “dirty little things.” She thinks they are mine and that I am not “controlling them properly.” I look to see two extremely clean, well-groomed, very wealthy appearing Asian children, a little girl and a little boy, who are laughing and talking to each other. I mostly hate kids and yet I can’t see anything wrong with their behavior. But I see it in her eyes.
Their reflection: Dirty. Little. Things.
I grow up to be an upstanding citizen who yanked myself up by my bootstraps. I did not waste my money on anything that I could be criticized for. No rims on the Cadillac. No car at all, for that matter. No luxury items, shitty food, second-hand clothing, no-name shoes and generic cereal and I did all the proper suffering, working long hours at lousy jobs while going to school.
So when I achieved what most people consider success, I bought the car, the clothes were new, I sometimes bought luxuries and I traveled to other countries. And I was an uppity person of color who got ahead through affirmative action and some other form of cheating because nothing I had was earned. Or deserved.
When I am flying overseas, I get stopped and questioned: How exactly is it that you have the money to travel?
I am suspected of criminal conduct simply because of where I am: A four-star hotel. A tony neighborhood. A professional conference. A business. The upscale department store. Any old store, for that matter.
I am suspected of criminal conduct simply because of who I am.
And I learn the hatred of white people who have less than I do. Who resent wealth and education and nice clothing and a beautiful home. Because somehow this is not how it is supposed to be.
Because I am not human.
Because they are not really colorblind.
Because we don’t really live in a meritocracy.
Because the content of my character has never influenced white people’s thoughts in the same way that the color of my skin does.
Because I can insist on my humanity until the cows come home, but it will mean nothing until white people discover their own.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
"We Are Human" via Resist Racism
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