Thursday, October 1, 2015

The little brother allegory of whiteness..

I always cringe when I see folks on social media denying what people of color say they experience. It always reminds me of my brother..
He's my half-brother, but close enough. I don't love people by halves.
He is 6 very important years younger than I. When I relay stories about doing without, or how things were a little lean when I was a kid, he always scoffs and reminds me of the suburban house we lived in when I was in high school, and the very cool car my folks bought me when I turned 16.
What he doesn't remember, and I don't bother to tell him, was that before our mother married his father, we lived in a tiny apartment a stone's throw away from where Michael Brown was killed. How even after his parents married we lived in that small apartment for a good while. How after a bit their combined income allowed them to buy a modest home in one of the exurbs in St. Charles county, but things were tight, and when the CWA went on strike in 1980 and a 21 day strike in '84 things were more than tight. Mom picked up shifts at my uncle's bar on top of working 40 hours at a local rent-a-car. My step-dad took odd jobs when he could, even hustled pool. We had a house, and cars, but we were broke.. and my brother who was 3 in '84 remembers none of it. He remembers a couple years after that when my step-dad took a supervisor position, and later manager and director level jobs. Things got more comfortable.. and more comfortable. He remembers a less modest new house my parents had built. New cars, and new furniture, cable and Nintendo.
It's not his fault. He's done nothing wrong, but he just didn't see the lean times. When you're three you don't notice that you ate hot dogs for dinner 3 nights a week (mac-n-cheez with hotdogs, pigs in a blanket, and beany weenies to be precise). That you were wearing hand-me-downs, or clothes our relatives gave us. It's not something you notice.. it's not part of your experience. So it's very easy to scoff at your older brother who lived in that same house where you grew up who was old enough to comprehend what was going on. Easy to disregard his anecdotes as being overly dramatic, because you don't want to believe that your family could have had such unpleasant experiences, and also to assuage your guilt for having missed some of the hardest times. In truth I don't expect him to wring his hands over the unpleasant stuff that he missed, but I wish he wouldn't deny that it happened.
(caviat, this is not to say woe is me, we never starved, or lived on the streets. We had family who could prop us up until we got on our feet.. that's not the point of the story)
For us folks in the majority.
If a person of color tells you they are terrified when they are stopped by the police. Don't scoff and say "Just don't do anything wrong and nothing will happen to you." That's not their experience, listen to them.
When they say that SNAP programs do not create a culture of dependence, but actually help keep kids healthy.. listen.
When they say they want to work, but that they are less likely to get called back simply because of the name on the resume.. listen.
When people of color.. or any marginalized group for that matter, tries to educate you on their experience in this country.. listen.
I know it's not your experience. That is the exact point, but wouldn't it be great if no one had that experience?


No comments: