Saturday, November 8, 2008

Race and Comfort

this entry is really a comment i left on someone else's blog . . . they were writing about class distinctions and the often un-noticed privileges that come with being upper-class in the US.

have you seen the show 30 days? it's the show by morgan spurlock, the guy who did the movie SUPER SIZE ME. every episode takes a person who feels strongly about some issue and plunks them down to live in the opposite side of the issue, for a month.

the most moving one i've seen is where they had a guy who is hardcore about illegal immigrants. he works for the border patrol -- i think maybe as a volunteer? (or all they all volunteers?). so he was sent to live with an illegal family in LA for a month. i know he was very changed at the end although i can't remember whether or not he changed his viewpoint. i know for sure that he went away w/more compassion.

anyway -- i thought of that when you said why would people want to keep coming here if their lot here would be to beg in a mall? that made me think of that episode -- because that family, they didn't beg, but part of the show was the border patrol guy going to mexico to where the family had come from. they couldn't go or they wouldn't get back in the US. what he saw was so unimaginable to him, the conditions the family had lived in before.

so, i guess -- when coming from a situation like that, a person is willing to throw their pride under the bus if it means their kids won't have to live *literally* with no roof over their head.

you are so right about the class stuff as well. i have thought a lot about that in terms of race, having been in so many situations in my life where i'm the only (or one of the only) white people around. and of course when i married vincent that grew & then when we moved to chicago that just got magnified. at family functions, church, the kid's school (before we moved to the suburbs), the store, the train, the bus -- literally every aspect of my life that was not WORK -- i was the only white person. because you can exist on the south side without running into white people unless they are cops or teachers or social workers or something. they simply do not live there except in certain areas that are closer to downtown.

i think both because of just who i am (my default setting) and my life experiences, i have pretty much grown into feeling totally comfortable even if there are no other whites around. it got to the point where if someone would point out i was white, i was like, oh, yeah -- you're right. kind of like i don't remember i'm short until i'm standing in front of a mirror w/someone taller than me. face-to-face i look people in the eye, not straight ahead at their chest or whatever, so my shortness isn't part of my mindset.

but i think part of me being comfortable even if i'm only the white person around, is the subconscious (and sometimes conscious) knowledge that -- i live in a culture where whites are in charge. and especially in race-conscious chicago, if some black dude on the south side hurt me -- he would be in for a world of hurt. a black woman wouldn't necessarily be safe walking alone at night in certain neighborhoods -- but i probably would be. i'm somewhat untouchable because i'm white. i don't think this is fair or right -- but i do benefit from it.

and -- even deeper than that -- the same way you talked about having grown up with certain expectations due to your class -- i also grew up with those expectations due to being white. i am USED to being ok in every situation i am in because that is how my culture allows it to be. so when i go outside of my culture -- the truth is i take that ease along with me.

however, i know that many people don't feel that way . . . and i wonder if that is simply because we have different default settings? is my default setting "feels a-ok with brown people" and others have some other setting? does it have to do with how we interact with people not like us? what is it that allows me to sit back and relax and take part in the ease my background has created for me . . . while others can't?

1 comment:

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