Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stuck Together In Some Societal Bullshit

ETA: Before any nonsense starts, I want to clarify something. Recently, white people going a little crazy with the "but I felt threatened" rebuttal has been a thing. (See Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.) Because of this, and the recent Paula Deen debacle and her apologists, I thought very hard about the timing of this post. The reason I am not waiting is because all of that played into the one-two (three-four-ad infinitum) punch leveled at Questlove that added to the rawness of his experience (I assume; I do not know the man, but that was my takeaway from his article) and I am trying to respect that. So, to say in clear, plain language: This is not a whiny, "but I felt threatened" post. This is not a post explaining why white people should be afraid of black people. This is not a post giving permission for, or apologizing about, acts and attitudes of racism. If you use this post to defend, rationalize, or justify mistreating a person of color because "you felt threatened" you are getting it wrong. You have misunderstood this post. Now, to the original post:

The other day, I read this article by Questlove. To sum it up, in light of the Trayvon Martin killing and verdict, he discusses beautifully and openly the pain of being a less-than human being because he is a black man. Do you know how difficult it is to write about a pain as deep as that, as ugly as that, with any kind of eloquence or beauty? Yet, he does it. I highly recommend reading it. 

In case you don't, though, know the example he uses is an elevator ride in his condo/apartment building with a gorgeous woman. They are alone. They are strangers. He is a very large man by stature. He is black. She is white. And because he acknowledges all this, he is polite. He does his best to be nonthreatening. She still refuses to give him her floor number and waits until he is getting off the elevator before she punches the button that will take her to her own home. She doesn't see him as a human being who has just been trying to be nice to her. She sees him as a large, scary, black man to be avoided and protected against. It is heartwrenching to read, to experience his experience.

At the same time, while I was reading it, I was thinking "but...but..." Because there is a "but." The "but" is what it means to be a woman in society (also highly recommended blog post). 

Now, since race is a part of this conversation, I want to be clear: I speak and live as a white woman. What that means is that there are women out there who deal with all this, because it is pretty universal for women in the US, and tons more bullshit that comes from being a woman of color and not having the white privilege that I do. Do not read this as disregarding WOC. If anything, keep reminding yourself that my own status keeps me from doing them justice or painting their picture properly. 

Which brings us back to the "but." Women, all of us, are socialized to be polite. Be nice. Not to have our own boundaries. Not to make waves. Not to be too loud. 

If we shut down a man who is encroaching or making us uncomfortable, we are bitches. If we speak up against sexist jokes, we are bitches. If we want to maintain our own space and physicality, we are bitches. 

We are incapable of making educated, adult decisions. Don't believe me? Listen to the various legislatures discuss our bodies and our health. We are less than men. And if we want to make our own educated, adult decisions, we are bitches.

And over, and over, again, we are told we are responsible for preventing our own assaults. Don't go out at night by yourself. Don't flirt with a man/boy you aren't willing to sleep with (while being taught not to be promiscuous AND not to maintain our boundaries if we aren't interested...and as soon as someone can teach me to do all three of those things, I'll run for God. WTF) . Don't wear "provocative" clothing. Don't make eye contact too long. Don't smile too much. All of this holds men blameless for their own actions. Because if we weren't perfect, we are whores and deserve what we get. 

We have all created coping skills around it. Some better than others. Some less paranoid than others. Some to the point it is on an unconscious level any longer. But bottom line is, we have had to create coping skills to deal with the fact that we could be assaulted, verbally, physically, or sexually, at any time. Just for being female, in life.

If that sounds overly dramatic, think it about it this way: Since women are getting these lessons about us, so are men. For everything we have internalized and socialized about the female gender, so have men. For every time a woman is reminded she is less-than, so is every man in hearing distance. Even in this beautiful, painful article, written by a man who so obviously gets it, he is talking about her look, how excited he gets when he believes she lives on his same floor, and how can he start to seduce her. He decides "she must feel safe." Male privilege at its finest to decide when a woman feels safe. And to reiterate ~ everything I know about Questlove (because I don't know him personally, but) is that he is a really good man. A man who gets it.

Now, I have no doubt ~ ZERO DOUBT ~ that race and racism entered into it as well. Perhaps it was overt. Maybe this woman is a racist and saw Big Scary Black Man instead of just Big Man. But even if that didn't happen on a conscious level, just as "good" men pick up on the socialization that women are less-than, "good" white people are socialized that black people are less-than. On some level, conscious, unconscious, subconscious, the white women knew she was in the elevator with a black man, not just a man of unregistered race. 

Which adds a whole new level to the situation. My friend, Denny, a black man, and I even talk about "elevator privilege" which is what happens when a black man and a white women get into an elevator together. He sees her as a threat because he knows if, once those elevator doors open (metaphorically; literally, once they are no longer alone), she says he did something inappropriate, people are going to believe her because of the color of her skin. But while those elevator doors are closed (same metaphor), she is trapped with a man, probably stronger, likely to see her as less than, due to her gender. She has the power once the elevator doors open; until then, it's all him.

I have no answers. I know Questlove's experience is as real as my own, even when I can't see it. I know my experience is as real as Questlove's, even when he can't see it. I know we are each feeling the sting and fear of less-than. And I know we are looking at each other, across an elevator created by self-serving white men, and we deserve better than this.

Those are Pobble Thoughts. That and a buck fifty will get you coffee.