Sunday, July 27, 2014

not thinking about race, if you're white, is racist

Not thinking about class, if you're rich, is classist.

And just thinking about it isn't enough either. But it starts with thinking about it. If you're rich, you can't claim not to be classist by using this sentence: "I don't think I'm classist. I mean, I've never really thought about it." That means, automatically, you are hella fucking classist. If you're rich and you just don't much think about the people who serve your food and make your clothes and clean your house, then you are classist. You are contributing to oppression. You are part of the problem. Sorry, but you are. Me too.

And by "rich" I mean: you've got a college education, you live above the poverty level, and when you go in for a job interview you don't have to worry that the way you speak will threaten your chances for employment.

And if you're white, you don't get out of being racist by giving a cute little smile and saying, "racist? I don't think so....I mean, I don't tell racist jokes. Other than that, I haven't thought about it much." That means you're racist.

It's taken me a while to figure this out, actually. Which means I've been way more racist and classist than I had any idea I was. Which frankly is like waking up one day and realizing you've been drinking poison for the past twenty years. It's like knowing there's treachery running in your blood.

The odd thing is that I should know better. The first best friend I had was Palestinian. Her name was Mirna. I was five-years-old and I loved her maybe more purely than I've ever loved anyone. I loved her fiercely, wholly. And she was Palestinian, and even at that age I'd begun being indoctrinated with the insane idea that Jews/Israelis were God's preferred race. And yet, I knew with absolute clarity that Mirna was as worth loving as any creature on Earth.

This should've translated, all my life, into ferocious fighting on behalf of the oppressed. And, well, it sort-of has. It's just that I can't quite figure out what that means, ferocious fighting. I've tried. In high school I befriended the kids who seemed like they had the worst chances. But I couldn't save them. Was that the problem? That I was trying to save them? But even then, even at the age of 14 or 15, I knew that just trying to save someone was bullshit. So I sought friendship. But I couldn't figure out how to navigate violence and the awful things that so often come along with poverty in America: alcoholism, abandonment, incest, rape, anti-intellectualism, preying on the very weak. I encountered those things in so many of my classmates I tried to make friends with. And that was overwhelming.

Maybe I'm not as classist as I fear. Maybe I'm just brought to my knees by the depth and breadth of the oppressive system I live within.

A lot of the time in my mind I compare classism and racism and sexism, to try to get a grip on what we're really dealing with here. And those three things are similar in many ways, and wrapped up in each other in many ways. But they're also very different.

I do know, though, that not thinking about gender, if you're a man, means you're sexist. If you're like, "Hunh. Women's rights? Never really considered it. How I treat women? Just not something I give much thought to." That means you're sexist.


  1. I've been working with class issues as I've been spending time at the human services building -- hard to know how to say "I don't think this program is for me" w/o saying "I'm better than the people who are in this program".....(for example)

  2. Yeah, that really, really makes sense to me. Boy do I ever think about class a lot lately. We should talk more about this. It seems SO hard to me to even *talk* about class without feeling icky.

  3. You mentioned how your students sometimes complain about the use of the word "they" and all it connotes. I have my own experience of this unfortunate word, and as a quasi-invisible minority, I get the privilege(?) of having people say these things to my face. "They're so colorful", "they're so fun" along with occasionally less flattering comments. And the bigger problem is that no matter how respectable "they" are, they're still not "we" and all that comes with it.

    And of course being white-middleclass-WesternProtestant-male etc. I get plenty of opportunity to examine how I might be similarly "othering".

    Hmm, I was planning to develop these thoughts a little more, but that's all I got for now. *shrug*