Ponder this:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Proud to be . . . what?

Two days ago I received yet another one of those despicable email screeds. It was entitled "Proud to be White," and claimed that it reproduced Michael Richards' defense speech in court. It was, of course, a load of horse puckey. Snopes.com cleared up the author question: it wasn't Michael Richards. Those distasteful messages that claim to have been authored by any celebrity, I find, rarely were. I am offended particularly because I received that ignorant, evil message during Black History Month.

I don't know why people send me that stuff. I won't be reading any more of that person's emails: my personal email will recognize her now as Junk. For a while I was receiving lots of Let's All Hate Mexicans rantings. The last one of those that I received was the last one because I replied, mentioning my Mexicana friend Estela. I can't respond to this latest email, though. I am too angry.

For years, I worked in the heart of a black ghetto. I was never mugged, never shot at, never carjacked. I was never called Whitey, Cracker, or Honky. I was never sneered at as I passed one of the residents on the street. When I was in high school I telephoned a black friend. Her brother answered the phone, I asked for Margery, and he hung up on me. She called me back and said, "He doesn't like white people, and . . . you know . . . you can tell from the voice..." To that young man, I was a white voice, nothing more than one of them, and therefore disconnection-worthy. That's about as close, I think, as I have ever come to suffering racial discrimination, and it felt awful. I felt . . . invisible. I can't imagine what it would be like to, daily, get that treatment to any degree. Other than that one incident, I am not aware of ever having suffered from any kind of discrimination. I have always been white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. I've always been female, but I think I was always able to work that to my advantage.

A black coworker once told me that her cousin had started work on their family's genealogy. She got back a hundred years or so, and couldn't find a thread to follow: there was no record of her family. Another friend of mine, a Jew, told me that her mother had corresponded with her cousin in Poland every week since she was a little girl. During World War II the letters sent to her cousin came back; her cousin's town no longer existed. Presumably, neither did her cousin. Those of us who are able to trace our family history, who never had people just . . . disappear . . . from the face of the earth or from historical records are fortunate indeed.

Black History Month Project

My email correspondent who is now Junk needs to be educated. But you can't educate somebody who has so little empathy, and limps along under such a big concrete chip on her shoulder, that she will not learn. I am in a poor position to enlighten her: she is one of the people who pay my salary via her tax dollars, and a member of one of "my" boards. The emailed diatribe was preceded by a personal message that people should turn the other cheek, that when she was a kid she had been called names, and she never let it bother her. If being called names had been the worst thing that happened to you, I guess that would be relatively easy to overcome. If members of your lineage had been tortured and killed while being called those names . . . that's a different kettle of fish, isn't it?

14 comments:

rachel said...

Well said. It's astonishing what other people think you might find acceptable to receive by email. Will you be able to resist a reply when you feel calmer about it?

Olga said...

I just don't get that part about turning the other cheek ... eventually you just run out of cheeks. And names can hurt a soul just as much as a lash hurts the body. Junk may need education (re-education?) but I doubt she would be receptive. Some people can choose ignorance and cling to it like a shield. How sad.
A thought provoking post.

June said...

Rachel, I think I won't be able to respond for quite a while, if ever. The wisest path would be for me to respond in person.

Hilary said...

I've been astounded by mail forwards I've received along these lines - a couple from folks I'd least expect to feel this way. There seemed to be a significant increase in those mailings shortly after Katrina hit New Orleans - all based on lies. I don't know what makes someone think that this is an acceptable stance to take. It boggles the mind.

I just finished reading The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, which I believe was retitled Someone Knows My Name in the U.S. and other countries. I highly recommend it to anyone who thinks it has ever been just a matter of turning the other cheek.

Mountain Thyme said...

I read Someone Knows my Name last year or the year before. Its story and message are with me always.

When I was in college in the '60's, I walked into the wrong party on campus late one night. Nobody said a word to me; all those black faces just stared at me until I left. It was then, and from that day forward, that I really KNEW. I knew what it felt like.

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

Little blond grandson is greeted at the kindergarden every morning by a big broad Pakistani boy , who gives him a huge hug and a clap on the back . Then they beam at each other . "My friend" they both say .
May their lives always be that warm , their friendship always that easy .

Sightings said...

All I ever get in my email inbox, other than notes from friends, are solicitations to buy tickets or contribute money or take advantage of some commercial offer.

But I will say I reside in a suburb that, like many suburbs, is distressingly segregated. My son settled in Brooklyn, where you find people of every color and national origin living together pretty happily, and which I'd like to believe better represents the typical neighborhoods of the future.

VM Sehy Photography said...

Very well written post with an excellent message. I'm just breathing sighs of relief that none of my relatives have been passing along any of this ignorant junk.

Pauline said...

Somewhere along the line your junk email correspondent WAS educated - to be prejudiced, to make value judgements based on color or creed, to carry that ugly cement chip on her shoulder. Now it would probably take a moment of deep personal crisis to get her to see how self-maintained limits are chains that bind.

Barb said...

Oh - June - I was thinking about you. I see you're back in fine fettle. Here is a good thing to remember about this person: "limps along under such a big concrete chip on her shoulder." Hopefully, she'll realize she's carrying so much hate before she hurts her back...

Carolynn said...

I want to say something, but I'm at a loss for words. This mindset is just so fundamentally wrong, it leaves me struggling to understand anyone who doesn't 'get' it. Racism is a learned behaviour. Young children generally aren't afflicted with it.

If you'll bear with me, one of my favourite stories was related to me by a close friend who worked in daycare. There were two girls who were best friends and did everything together. One day, they were playing a game that involved looking closely at the other one's hand. The caucasian girl, upon examining her friend's hand, exclaimed "You're brown!" That small detail had never before even occurred to her or been a part of her experience of the girl. To her, it was a delightful discovery and full of wonder. Hate never entered into it.

#1Nana said...

Thanks for making the effort to educate about racism. This is one of those topics that I feel strongly about, but don't have the intelligence or skill to write well enough to move people. Discrimination is strange in that so often it is difficult to see, until you see it...and once you see it, you see it everywhere. See what I mean...I can't write about it.
Great thought provoking post. One of the joys of retiring is that I don't have to be polite to racist or sexist assholes.

June said...

I just ordered "Someone Knows My Name."
Thanks, Hilary and Mountain Thyme.

Vicki Lane said...

Such a good and thoughtful post, June!