Saturday, January 31, 2009

Prejudice - Part 1 - Race

Recently I was told that a comparison by Keith Olbermann, and a subsequent comparison by myself, of race and sexuality would be offensive to that person if he were black. This prompts me to write on prejudice - my definition of it and how it has affected my life.

For clarity:
1. I am white. All white. Not a hint of mixed race appears in my skin color, eyes, or hair.
2. I was born female.
3. I grew up in a small town in Tennessee where there are more Baptist churches than banks.
4. I was raised in the First Baptist Church of said small town.
5. I graduated from high school with approximately 192 peers, only possibly 10 or so of which were not white.
6. I have been more attracted to female bodied people than male since age 5. I say age 5 because that's the very earliest I can remember any kind of attraction, and it was to a girl.
7. I dated men and married one until only a couple of years ago.

First: Race

I grew up in a family of intellects. After the holiday big meals, my family spent time together discussing world events, reading National Geographic Magazines, working 1500 piece puzzles, playing chess, etc. We never watched football and I didn't even realize football games are played on American Thanksgiving Day until I was an adult.

My familial environment was always friendly and accepting to all types of people. I recall that my uncle had a friend or girlfriend who was of Asian decent with a child near my age. I remember the time they spent with my family, recalling specifically that I understood the child was no different in any way than I. No racial slurs were ever used, even though such words were perfectly acceptable in our community.

In fact I can recall a handful of times I came home from school and said called my younger sister a name I had heard at school which was actually a form of a racial slur. I was punished severely for it - even though I had no idea the words were referencing a race.

Around age 10 I started reading the works of Maya Angelou. Her words, especially the accounts of her own life, reaffirmed what I had always been taught: race is just part of who someone is, not something to distinguish them from others in a negative way.

So I continued on in school, treating everyone equally regardless of their race - although to be fair with the small handful of non-white kids in my school it wasn't hard for me to be nondiscriminatory.

I stayed in downtown Atlanta for about 3 months between high school and college. I do mean downtown Atlanta. Right near the Georgia Tech campus. I made friends with people of all sorts of color who had come from all over the world to study at GT. I walked or rode the MARTA everywhere. I never once felt uneasy or uncomfortable being one of only a half-dozen or so white people on the trains. I remember giving every stranger the same small smile of acceptance I still extend when eye contact is made. In fact, the only time I ever did feel scared was when a train pulled into a station and right as the doors opened, gun fire started. I suppose anyone would have felt scared in that situation.

Then I went to college in New Mexico. I dated a boy who told me one Saturday night that he had to get home early so that he could get up at 6:00 a.m. the next morning for his grandmother's birthday. I asked him what in the world he would be doing at 6:00 a.m. for his grandmother's birthday. He explained his family would be (word I cannot locate anywhere on the web). I questioned what that involved. He said they would be singing to her, having breakfast together, attending mass and a few other events. I asked if this was something he family made up to celebrate birthdays. He looked at me and said "No, this is part of my culture." I asked what culture - his response "I'm Mexican." We had been seeing each other for about 2 months and it never crossed my mind that he was Mexican, or of any other particular culture.

To this day I don't "see race." I've read that this is not necessarily a good thing, and to some extent, I agree. I am fascinated by people of all cultures and sometimes I miss opportunities to learn about those cultures because it doesn't even occur to me to ask.

I read books by authors of all sorts of races about all sorts of races. I am currently reading a novel about a romance between two black people who are from completely different backgrounds: One is from Brooklyn, the other from Côte d'Ivoire. The book is about cultural differences, even if the people have the same color skin.

(Actually, I know these cultural differences well because I am scared to death of some of the redneck people in my hometown and they are just as white as I - especially when I hear them speak of other races.)

When I look back at the history of the United States concerning the treatment of not only black people, but of all people of a different skin color than white, I am embarrassed and I feel badly for those who have suffered. I do not feel guilty or like I have to "make up for it." I just know in my heart that all people are people and the beauty of a person lies in his/her heart, not on the surface of his/her skin.

Back to why this came up:
Skin color is a genetic code, and most scientific evidence I have read points that sexuality is not. I know a handful of people who are of mixed races such that their skin color is a lovely blend of carmels (definitely not white.) A couple are from non-U.S. countries and have a different cultural background than I. The rest were raised right here in the good ole U.S. of A. In fact, one of them tells me he is "more American" than I because he loves his Ipod, laptop, and all other sorts of gadgetry that I haven't even heard of. (To date, I cannot use an Ipod to save my life.)

People of mixed races often choose what to call themselves: be it African-American, Mexican, whatever label they pick. The laws of the U.S.A. prohibit discrimination against them based on the label they pick.

I am"white" and I pick "queer." Why do many of the laws of the U.S.A. promote discrimination against me because I pick "queer?" Yes, I could choose to live my life straight, but it isn't who I am.

So in other postings when I compare the fact that I cannot, by virtue of prejudice, marry another woman, to the fact that black people couldn't legally marry in some U.S. states until 1967, I mean no disrespect to non-whites. I am simply pointing out that the U.S. is still discriminating with prejudice.


Roland Hulme

What a great post! And I agree with you totally - any attempt to suggest complaining about one form of discrimination 'trivializes' another is totally twisted. Discrimination is discrimination, period.

I mean, schools were segregated between black and white... Does the school in California signal the arrival of segregation for straight students and those who aren't quite sure?

What you wrote on my blog summed it up best - this form of discrimination, whether it's about your sexuality or your skin color, is about rejecting a PERSON. That's unacceptable.

Reject vegans or Republicans or any other group that DECIDES to be that way... That's fine.

Rejecting somebody because of who they are is just WRONG.

I think bringing race into this issue is fair - after all, it WAS the conservative right wing who opposed equality and interracial marriage. Back then, 'the Bible' told them to do it. Now they accept they 'misinterpreted' the Bible. Whose to say they didn't 'misinterpret' it this time?


So interesting. I am not a prejudice person (well race and sexuality are fine but stupidity is where I draw the line) but your complete sheltering from racism is interesting. I can see how it would be a good thing but also bad (if your Mexican boyfriend had taken offense to you asking what culture, for instance). It's very interesting nevertheless.

When you say you have not read that sexual orientation is in genetic code - what would you call it then?

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