Thursday, December 01, 2005

Today is Blog Against Racism Day. I was all set to write this post a few weeks ago, but then I saw an announcement on Bitch PhD about BAR Day, so I decided to wait. Here goes.

In second generation feminism, there was a writer (whose name escapes me right now) who wrote about her own transformative experiences as a feminist coming not as one huge realization, but as “clicks,” where a relatively small experience made her look at the world in a new way. “You should study teaching not medicine.” –CLICK – “Hey, why don’t you make the coffee before the meeting, and then you can help us out by taking notes.” –CLICK-- …you get the picture.

When I was in college, for a while I had an African American housemate (I’ll call her Danielle). I had other black friends, but Danielle was the first one that I ever lived with--saw every day, first thing in the morning, last thing before bed, drunk, sober, high, whatever. Danielle had grown up in an intentionally integrated suburb in Maryland. The kind of place that hippies and civil rights veterans started, to prove to society that blacks and whites could live together in harmony, as long as they were all from the same social class. We all hung out on the roof in the summer, drinking until all hours of the night, we drove down the shore to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and went to see our other housemate’s band play in a variety of dives in the tri-state area. We did the things that ‘normal’ college students do.

Due to various vagaries in my life (financial, direction, etc.), I ended up taking a year off from school, so Danielle graduated ahead of me, and moved to Baltimore to work for an anti-poverty organization. She came up to visit most weekends as she was dating my brother, although their relationship was starting to flounder. At one point, she called me to ask if I would come and spend the weekend with her. I said, sure, hopped in the car and drove down. We hung out at various dive bars that were interchangeable with the ones we hung out in at home, and she introduced me to a guy that she had started seeing (which my brother knew about). On the last day of my visit, she took me to the Lexington Market.

She took me there because she knew I would be the only white person in the market, and she wanted to explain to me why she was going to stop dating my brother. She wanted me to know what it felt like, to her, to constantly be in places where she was the only black person, where she was having to constantly interpret for the whitefolks that she was hanging out with (or to pretend that there were no differences in her life experience). Obviously, there was no way that spending one afternoon in an environment where I was the only white person was going to let me know what her life was like all the time. But the -CLICK- that I got that day was from seeing how important to her it was that I got just the tiniest taste of what her life was like.

In my own life, at that point, I had been crossing class barriers for a few years. I was a very smart working-class kid who ended up in a couple of very wealthy suburban high schools where people tended to make assumptions about my intelligence based on where I lived, or to express surprise that I lived where I lived, given that I was in honors classes. But what Danielle made me start thinking about that day was how much privilege I actually had, just because of the color of my skin. It’s not like I was unaware of racism before that day, but I had never thought about what it must be like to live with, day in and day out, for your whole life.

Today is the 50th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ arrest, which sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In honor of Blog Against Racism day, I’d like to thank Danielle (wherever she is now) for giving me that CLICK moment.

• Posted By landismom @ 12/01/2005 11:33:00 AM
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