The Silence of Our Friends

Monday, March 05, 2007

Bewildered Part II

BrownFemiPower has a great post up continuing the discussion, Women of Color Morphing into Oppressor Status. It's a must read.

What gave me a kick in the pants was this:
Those white women who are our true allies have heard us and don’t need us to tell them “we don’t mean you as an individual.” They know that because they’ve shut up and listened to us and have recognized that we are empowered individuals and don’t “let” us do anything. They don’t “share” power (because that means that they can “unshare” power if they get mad at us)–they say, “you lead the way, and I’m going to be there to take the blows WITH YOU.”
I know on at least a couple of occasions I have apologized to my readers and said, "I don't mean you". The sad part, for me, is that my white readers are already beyond that and I am stuck on it. You may not know it because I can get whipped up in a fury and sometimes write like I am righteous, and intelligent, and believe in myself; but there is always that thought that pops up in odd moments that says, am I really equal? I'm having a hard time right now thinking of a way to say what I want to say. I guess the best would be to tell a story.

I belonged to a Native American group many years ago, we weren't exclusive, if you weren't NA and just wanted to hang with us, no problem. There was a woman in the group who had NA ancestors many generations back and joined us to learn what she could about them and just generally about NA experiences. Now there were certain types who were not welcome, they many times came from this woman's background, which means they are so divorced from those ancestors that they were for all intents and purposes, white; anyhow, they came in looking to see if they could cash in on their gr-gr-gr-gr-gr-gr grandma's blood to get scholarships, or federal/state Indian trust money, or casino money etc. Or they wanted to learn just enough about our cultures so that they could "play Indian" which more often than not, meant coming up with some mishmash of many different tribes traditions and spirituality and calling that an "authentic" Native American lifestyle. She wasn't one of those. She listened to everyone's stories with great interest but also told her own. We all knew about her husband and kids, and when she changed jobs, and moved house. It was like any friend or neighbor who thinks you are interesting and you think she is interesting and you get along great. I don't know what got up her nose this one day, but we were sitting around discussing current problems on our reservations and things like unemployment came up. She gets a little huffy and chimes in, "Well why don't you just go get a job?" Now the others in the group just stopped talking to her, they knew they got slapped down, but I didn't. I tried to explain that it wasn't that easy and that alot of our reservations are out in the middle of nowhere and you need a car to go into town or maybe even get on a bus and completely leave your home. She didn't hear any of it. She said of course it's easy, you fill out applications and get a job! I tried one more time telling her that cars and gas cost money, that bus fare costs money, that clothes for an interview cost money, the extreme poverty means there is no money, and because of the distance to the nearest city you might be abandoning everything and everyone you know to go somewhere you know is hostile to you. And she dismissed it saying I was just making excuses. She really thought we were either too stupid to think of her simplistic answers ourselves, or too lazy to go and do it. I lost it and gave her hell over it, but her answer to that was that white people don't have to be our friends and listen to anything we say, and yet she did it all this time, and now I was being so rude and ungrateful when she was just trying to help.

I want to quote RMildred again from my last post:
But do you know what really fucking hurts, what really fucking tears my soul apart? when some guy pulls out some often subtle, but none the less substantial, bit of sexist or misogynistic bullshit casually without thinking about it. The only times in my life when I've truely felt degraded have been those times when some guy has basically declared that I, as a woman, am somehow inferior or stupid or weak or not quite fully human like those men show themselves not to be - and do it in such a sort of matter of fact way that a part of my brain actually has to notice that I am actually human because the misogyny has occurred so suddenly, and with such an unquestioning and unwavering sincerity of belief behind it, that I very nearly believe him.


That is what happened to me. I got quiet. I didn't know what to say. I had to stop and ask myself, am I really equal? Am I even human? At that moment in time, I didn't know anymore. Now these kinds of things have happened to me at other times but this one was especially painful because I had been friends with this woman for 2+ years. I didn't see it coming. She never said anything like that before, it was right out of left field. She had said ignorant things in the past, but got an explanation, learned and understood, and we just moved right along.

When I do those posts where I say to my white friends, "I don't mean you." part of it is genuine concern about hurting people. But part of it is fear. If I anger you, I know I can be told again that you don't have to be my friend, or listen to me, and that I should be grateful that you are and you do.

It takes a superhuman effort to love us, so those with white partners only did it as a political gesture. We don't deserve friendship, or empathy, or interest. We need to grovel and shower you with praise and overwhelming gratitude for making the effort. Sure, I'm being sarcastic now, but don't think that it's not in the back of my mind and I sometimes wonder if it's true. It's easier for you to be sure I'm equal and that I am human than it is for me.

14 comment(s):

It is genuinely a marvellous post more so coz its so humane and sensitive. Great post! Wish people could just become a lil more sensible and act in a matured fashion then things would be so much easier for many around us.
Do drop by my blog too coz am sure you'd love it.

By Anonymous gerry, at 3/05/2007 4:35 AM  

It's easier for you to be sure I'm equal and that I am human than it is for me.

Apparently so, since it never even occurs to me to think otherwise.

There are people whose equality and humanity I doubt, but most of them are straight white males like me...

By Anonymous Eli, at 3/05/2007 8:00 AM  

"The sad part, for me, is that my white readers are already beyond that and I am stuck on it."

When posting on queer/disablism stuff, i've found myself wanting to say similar things, and as best i know, it's because that anger is simply uncomfortable to hold. To the extent that I don't want to believe that things are as screwed up as they are, i make my indignation contingent.

I've tried to knock it off, but old habits and thoughts die hard.

By Blogger sly civilian, at 3/05/2007 8:14 AM  

donna, this is wonderful. i think it rings true to/for so many of us

-elle

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/05/2007 8:59 AM  

I once had a knock-down, drag-out fight with a Nova Scotian on this very issue. She started bleating on about how lazy natives were in NS, blah blah blah (and she was a Canadian Studies major!).

I'm from the west, so at this point I interrupted her and pointed out that what she was saying was exactly what the rest of Canada says about East Coasters. The white East Coasters.

She was so offended. She couldn't imagine why we said such things about stuff that was completely out of Nova Scotians control (the coal was gone, the trees are small and warped, and cod is being fished to death. There's nothing left for them to do).

Frankly, I was tired of her blather, though it's the same BS as in the north. I just assumed that because East Coasters were experiencing some of the same economic hardship, they'd be a little more accepting. I guessed wrong. If nothing else, they were worse.

I sorry you experienced that, and I'm sorry I experienced it too.

On the other hand, I often feel that I'm less worthy of equality because of my privileged status, and the fact that from birth I've been hogging more than my fair share. I think we all struggle with feelings of inadequacy...

By Anonymous meardaba, at 3/05/2007 12:10 PM  

that shit is strong.

By Anonymous nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez, at 3/05/2007 12:40 PM  

ah and just to say if you weren't watching when stuff went down recently at my place with me, greenwald, sylvia and kai and a few others, i thought of it immediately when i read this. the "We don't deserve friendship, or empathy, or interest. We need to grovel and shower you with praise and overwhelming gratitude for making the effort."

this same dynamic and self-doubt and blame arising from trying to have dialogue with creaky bigoted mindsets (in those that i later jokingly called "WHITEPROGRESSIVES,") in a post called Speech Rules or Beliefs and Attitudes? when i commented on a glenn greenwald post and he responded and set the whole thing in motion. Shortly after that, I wrote a post called "Goodboy!," a term that a reader supplied for that urge to play "goodboy" (later commenters brought the "goodgirl" aspect in, which slightly varies due to sex -social reasons) and "be grateful" as you mention, or continue to act in a way that is in accordance with the internal colonization expected of so many of us. then i wrote one called Skin of my Soul: Intermission where I talked about how the anger from being confronted with that notion that there was a part of experience a White Progressive couldn't "get" was just another White Privilege. "How dare you insinuate that I can't know what it's like to be you?"

...So anyway on that its not even over (?) because greenwald emailed me and said he wanted to continue the conversation after it was all deaded like that. I'm not even sure what I'm supposed to post on it, but....I won't take you any further down this side street. Different story.

Anyway, it's a lot of links and I don't drop it to sway your thread (i'm sure it will keep on going) but because it's so related and so you can save it as a note for later if you get any downtime (at least dig the first one with all its comments, Speech Rules). I really enjoyed your thoughts here as they related to that whole shebang because i see it as the same thing (at least in the way i'm focusing on)

By Anonymous nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez, at 3/05/2007 1:06 PM  

We should be damned grateful you're taking time and energy to even speak to us.

I'm not going to tell you how you should feel, cause I hate when people do that to me. Even when it's messed up.

And yes, so many times with the disabilities; "Why can't you just (thing that I've already tried a thousand times and in a thousand different ways)?", "Why can't you just try this (thing that I've already tried a thousand times and in a thousand different ways)?", only you can make yourself better, blah blah blah.

Don't even get me started on the trans stuff.

So much in common and yet, as I was reading BFP's post and the comments, I think it was Nezua who mentioned a paper written about how GLBT people feel about South American leftist governments and I'm assuming it's just more crappy thinking and I want to say that -- as is usually the case -- that it's the G and L and sometimes B people speaking their garbage and the one or two token T people are usually stapling the magazine together if it's even that glamourous a job, but I know better, because even though most of us aren't allowed to be part of the power structure, we're still white folks and we sure do think like we are.

Like that's our "in" or we just never even realize all that white privilege we get because it so often works against us, yet it's still there and we work it so we make sure we hang onto it because it's all we have left to make us better than anyone else. And it's all so creepily unconscious and so blatant at the same time.

By Anonymous Dead Inside, at 3/05/2007 2:26 PM  

I know on at least a couple of occasions I have apologized to my readers and said, "I don't mean you". The sad part, for me, is that my white readers are already beyond that and I am stuck on it. You may not know it because I can get whipped up in a fury and sometimes write like I am righteous, and intelligent, and believe in myself; but there is always that thought that pops up in odd moments that says, am I really equal?

I think the day we don't have to ask those questions is the day we'll know we're equal. Until then...that uneasiness is always there. I think we were raised to keep walking but to always look over our shoulders at the burning city, just in case -- to make sure it's still burning and no one's trying to break free.

By Blogger Sylvia, at 3/05/2007 6:10 PM  

Not that you don't already know this on a conscious level but...
"When I do those posts where I say to my white friends, "I don't mean you." part of it is genuine concern about hurting people. But part of it is fear. If I anger you, I know I can be told again that you don't have to be my friend, or listen to me, and that I should be grateful that you are and you do."
A person who reacts like that? Not worthy of your friendship. Not worthy of much, really.
And I understand why you feel that way, because I've felt it with men, that moment where you think you know someone and that you can trust them and then, just like that, you realise that they see you as belonging to a class that is and always will be lesser. And it hurts, damn right it does, but in the end the thing to remember is that they're the one in the wrong, not you. Your only crime lies in being a decent, loving human being who's willing to trust people, and compared to the person who's just hurt you maybe that's not such a bad thing to be.

By Blogger Cassandra Says, at 3/06/2007 6:23 AM  

This is why I keep my mouth shut about this. I really, truly Don't Know. SO I read and try, but I don't know if I'll ever really get it.

By Blogger Rootietoot, at 3/06/2007 8:20 AM  

Hi Donna, just following you over from Everbody Comes From Somewhere, because I really appreciated your feedback over there and want more open dialogue and conversation with with POC. Let me introduce myself via the various "labels" I have had applied to me in various ways. I am old, poor, fat,elderly and disabled: I have a partnered lesbian daughter who has a little girl with two moms and an adult grand daughter who is gay, and on top of that I'm gay too. I'm white, except for a tiny bit of Native American blood that simply lets me look a little tanner that many pale Minnestoans do in the winter!
I'm here because I want to learn more about how racism is experienced from the POC point of view so I can keep working on my own end of this and feel like I'm a tiny part a very essential two way dialogue. Now I'm off to read some more! Great blog!

By Anonymous scribe, at 3/07/2007 3:36 PM  

What nezua said. that shit is strong. thank you for posting it.

By Blogger belledame222, at 3/08/2007 10:34 PM  

Donna, you are amazing. I have really felt the urge lately to create an entire post just to let some people know that I'm not talking about them. I've been writing about racism so much lately that I just feel like maybe I need to check in with everyone and make sure they understand where I'm coming from and who my words are limited to being directed at.

You've given me a lot to think about...as always.

Thank you!

By Blogger Bint Alshamsa, at 3/18/2007 8:16 AM  

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