People call me a WASP. A white, Anglo-Saxon protestant. Well, technically, I am now a WAS since I gave up on religion. Or religion gave up on me. I’m still not sure which.
Anyway, I don’t like labels but I am white. Really white. The blond haired, blue eyed, very fair skin kind. I can’t help it, I was born this way. I am of English and Swedish heritage. The only WASPy thing I am missing I suppose, is that my family never had money. My parents grew up dirt poor and worked hard years to reach middle class.
My parents never spoke ill of anyone. The only prejudiced comment I ever heard growing up was my dad cursing those “Jersey drivers” and my mother complaining about selfish people. She hated rich people who made their money by climbing over the backs of others. She hated greed. My parents respected people who worked hard, and they always helped those who were experiencing tough times.
My earliest memories of anything racial was seeing brown skinned people at the beach and wondering why they were there since they already had a tan. I remember my mother explaining that everyone loved the feel of the sun on their skin, building sand castles, and catching a great wave. All I remember thinking what a great thing it must be like not to have tan lines.
As I got older I began to realize that I too was different in many ways. We did not belong to the yacht or tennis clubs, as many of my friends did. And my religion was different. I was the only Protestant kid on the block and spent many a lonely Saturday afternoon while all my Catholic friends had to go to confession and my Jewish friends observed their Sabbath. However, I don’t recall being overly oppressed because of my differences. Just different.
High School was the first time I saw racism as an issue when the middle school from the predominantly white part of town got blended with the middle school from the predominantly black part of town. But while I was aware of racial tension within the school, (it got so bad we had armed guards and dogs at the entrances) it never impacted me directly. I was always part of the athletic group and there race didn’t really matter. Sports are the great equalizer in many ways because no one cares the color of your skin or how much your daddy makes, as long as you can put a ball in a hoop or goal. Or so I thought at the time.
In college I became much more aware of other isms - capitalism, socialism, classism, feminism, but mostly heterosexism. Although I never had any serious issues coming out (except for the loss of some friends), women expressing their lesbo sexuality kept it very secret and guarded within the safe walls of our Sapphic tribe. That was when I had my first real sense that being different could be very dangerous.
I got my first job and moved away from my home to a city where I knew no one. I made such little money that I qualified for public housing. It was here that I got my first real view of serious poverty and also where I made my closest friends. Poor helped poor and getting through the next crisis was what drove life. Everyone chipped in what they could because skin didn't seem to matter much when someone’s kid was sick and needed medicine. Or so I thought at the time.
Then I fell in love with a woman with chocolate skin and I suddenly saw the world through different eyes. I was shocked by how differently she was treated. We would go out to a restaurant and the wait staff would talk to me, not to her. Once we were out driving and a cop pulled me over just to make sure I was “okay.” Even at the university where she was a brilliant medical research fellow, she would be treated like the help by people who did not know her.
Sometimes I didn’t know if the behavior was based on her skin or our sexuality. Although we never held hands publicly or shared any other public displays of affection, sometimes some person (always white) would just randomly spit at us. More often than I care to remember people (always white) would make ugly comments just loud enough for us to hear - effing dykes, where’d you get the nigger?, look at the queer oreo, don’t you need a leash?
I was appalled and sickened. She just took it and moved along. I would be angry and confused. She would say “you can’t change people who have ugly in their heart.” To me it was an abomination. To her, it was her normal.
And then came the ultimate in humiliation and violation. Sharing a romantic picnic in a very secluded wooded area, five white men hunted us down and beat and raped us. I do not remember all that was said and done that afternoon. I do remember the language of domination and superiority and arrogance. The biblical references and the “lessons” we were going to learn from these men. I saw the purest expression of evil- the desire to utterly ignore and destroy the humanity of another, by turning us into nothing but a label, a thing to be used and thrown away.
I believe the root of racism, homophobia, classism, etc. stems from one person needing to feel superior to another human. This air of superiority then gives them some imagined entitlement. Many have been taught this since birth in subtle and not so subtle ways. Their skin is better, their religion is better, their educations are better, their politics are better, and so on . . . ad nauseum. Some people are so insecure that the only way they can elevate themselves is by making others feel "less than."
This arrogance plays out in physical and sometimes deadly fashion as Daphne and I, Matthew Shepard, Trayvon Martin and far too many others have experienced and continue to experience everyday. Sometimes it plays out in little niggling ways, in what my therapist explained to me are micro-aggressions - you run like a girl, bi-sexuals are never faithful, you could not afford me, or when I told someone what she had said was offensive to me as a gay person and her response was “well, my other gay friend was not offended” totally invalidating my feelings. But of course you know gay folk . . . we all think alike.
In order to feel superior you have to feel that you belong to a special class. To do this people use labels. They label themselves in ways they think are superior. And they label others in ways to make them inferior. Liberal is good, conservative bad - depending on what side you’re on. (Yes, it always depends on what side you’re on) Labels are what racial profiling is all about - white is safe, black and brown is dangerous. Labels almost always set up an US vs. THEM mentality. Labels make it easy not to know someone as an individual thereby making it easy to hate an entire group (Republicans are all greedy slime who don't care about the poor and only want to get richer.) Actually I know quite a few really good people who are registered Republicans. In fact, I live with one. And she does more to help disadvantaged youth through sports and education, than any progressive blogger I know sitting behind a computer telling everyone else how to live.
It is by using labels and stereotypes that children are taught to hate. And this is what burns me most of all. Children are actually TAUGHT to hate. And I don’t just mean white parents teaching their kids to hate black kids or any other prejudices. I mean parents who do not allow their kids to think for themselves. Kids are indoctrinated into their parents political beliefs, religion, and ideologies at younger and younger ages. I actually saw a blog by a 12 year old girl talking about how she didn't want Republicans in her vagina. Really? That’s a 12 year old talking? Kids are confirmed into their parents' religion long before the age of consent without ever learning what other religions might offer them. And privileged kids are taught to feel superior at very young ages by the clothes they wear, the cars their family's drive, their skin color, their educational opportunities, etc. One must have the proper labels. Is it any wonder that bullying usually starts in elementary school? I truly wonder what kind of world we would have if children were allowed to form their own opinions about people based solely on their own experiences.
Which brings me full circle to recent things I've read on the internet. Many people who self identify as white, Christian, liberal, socialists for Jesus (seriously) writing all about the travesty of the Zimmerman verdict and how Paula Deen should be publicly shamed and how they were once racists and probably still are because they grew up in a culture of hate but now, oh yes NOW, they are trying to rid themselves of such evil. They don’t know ALL the answers to racism but, oh Lord how they all need to start listening! (they say as they belittle any commenter who brings up a different perspective) They are the allies and supporters of the marginalized and downtrodden! Oh, thank god for them!
These are people who have never experienced an ounce of oppression, exploitation or cruelty in their lives, and are, in fact, the perpetrators of the stereotypes and name calling that is the root of all oppression. They are so awash in their academic arrogance that they can’t see how hypocritical they are. And personally, I agree with Yoda - “there is no such thing as trying - you either do, or you don’t.”
It is these people who make me want to scream. It is to these people that I want to say - the answers to your questions, to all your hand wringing and self flagellation, is quite simple. You learned it everyday in your churches and Sunday schools. It is the very basis of the religion you think is superior to all others.
Love one another, as I have loved you.
Treat others as you wish to be treated.
It is so effing simple. It is so basic to the sanctity of life and society that every religion teaches it in one form or another. It transcends race and class and sexuality and all the other made up crap that people use to separate and rank. It is not meant to be a theory. It is meant to be put into practice. Just do it.
People ask me if I hate my attackers. I can honestly say I don’t. I do hate the culture of racism and homophobia that allowed, and continues to allow, this behavior to breed. I particularly hate the use of labels and stereotypes and generalizations and name calling that feed this culture. I will always work toward eliminating them when I can.
People also ask me if I identity as any labels - are you a feminist? are you a liberal? are you religious? My answer is that I am a person. I believe in the sanctity of all life, a power higher than myself, in caring for each other and our environment, and the virtues of equality for all. I believe in love. And I can’t tolerate hypocrites.
Do you have a label for that?