Imbroglio

Today as I was pursuing a social life, I got into a tiff with a young woman over the JLo Shakira issue. She is a young white woman who speaks Spanish well. She is also of the generation that has been brainwashed by people from MY generation in school. Her immediate reaction to me was NOT to listen to what I had to say but to jump to the conclusion that because I’m older, white and presumably well-off I must share the same objections with which “other” well-off white women of my age have flooded social media.

I learned about this apparently pretty hot dispute when a friend (Hispanic) shared an article written by a a Latina lambasting rich, white women who (in their turn) had lambasted Shakira and JLo for their “obscene” display at the Super Bowl. I reacted vehemently against the assumptions laid out in that article. ANY-hoo, that’s what the minor “set-to” was about today.

I have seen the performance. It’s just not my thing, though one part of it did upset me. Not because of its sexual implications but because, to me, it alluded to violence against women. HOWEVER what I tried to explain to this young woman was that the conclusion to which she’d leapt was wrong, that my big objection is to the over-generalization of any population of people.

In our racially charged world, white people are pretty much lumped into one pile by people of color. Not individuals who know each other, but the broad categories exist. I know this because I spent a good part of my adult life living in a racially mixed, lower-class neighborhood and teaching students who were most often Latino, Filipino or African/American. Just one example, one evening in an English class at an inner-city college in San Diego my students were loudly objecting to the way white stereotype blacks. I said, “Hold on a minute. Do you stereotype whites?” Their reaction was surprise. They had never thought of that. I said, “Stereotype me. I was in my early 40s.

“You drive a Mercedes,” said one young man.

“No. A Volvo station wagon because of soccer,” said another.

“You live in La Jolla,” said a young woman. “Your husband is a doctor.”

They went on in this fashion for a few minutes. They were not joking and they were sure they were correct. Then I asked, “If that’s my life, why am I here teaching night school at City College?”

“Oh you want to help minorities,” said one girl. “You might feel guilty or something.” Others nodded.

First I was surprised that they saw THEMSELVES collectively as “minorities” and me as part of a dominant class. They had fucking conferred “white privilege” on me that I didn’t even know about or claim! THEN having lived where I was part of a VERY small minority, surrounded by people who did not look like me, I’d kind of lost the ability to actively notice skin color. While in China, I’d even forgotten my own. Sure, in my class I could SEE they were all black people, but I saw them as assorted individuals with names and purposes and abilities. The group of 20 students included two Jamaicans, a woman from Nigeria and a young man from Somalia.

Mostly I was stunned that all of their conjectures were so far from the truth. It was like they had an equation, “If white, then rich.”

I said, “Ok, well, here’s my drivers license.” The address was a “barrio” not far from the college.

“You live down the street from ME?” said one guy.

“I don’t know. Do I?” He handed me his drivers license and yes, I did.

“What do you drive?” asked a girl.

“I have a used Ford Escort station wagon,” I answered.

The class broke open. We talked about how we really don’t know that much about other people and maybe stereotypes keep us from finding out about them.

That was the point I wanted to make in the imbroglio today. It’s not JUST that we have opinions. Sometimes there are reasons behind someone’s opinions that are NOT what we think they are. It was a mere coincidence that I happen to be white and objected to something related to that Super Bowl show. My most serious objection was being lumped into the category of “upset white women.” The second was that I spent most of my teaching career instructing and counseling students from Mexico and other Latin American countries. I spent a years helping my Latino students — male and female, but mostly female — contend with the challenges placed on them by their culture and the numerous ways it confounded their dreams and tore at their hearts.

The third has to do with the fact that I have been in physically abusive relationships. As far as the performance, I objected to Shakira dancing with a rope because of all the Latinas I taught who had to fight their fathers for the right to go to college, fathers who said, “You don’t need that. You’re a girl.” I objected on behalf of all the (again, Latinas, mostly) girls I taught who had abusive fathers, boyfriends or husbands, girls who came to class with their upper arms bruised, with black eyes, or swollen lips. I objected for the sake of all the Latina single mothers who worked two jobs and attended college because their husband left them, or they left their husbands for their own safety and that of their children.

I would never, ever say that Latino cultures are more violent than other cultures; I don’t think they are, but I do know that it is still difficult for Latina women to break away from the stereotype of their cultural identity, not because of white people but because of the culture itself. The word “Macho” is Spanish. Again, not to say that I think all or even most Latino men are brutes. I was physically abused in my first marriage and race was not a question.

Many of the girls and women I taught came from lower economic classes and from countries in which education was only for the privileged. Their parents weren’t educated. That alone is a challenge for the children who want an education. Many of my students had to fight for the chance to go to college, but generally the girls had to fight harder.

JLo and Shakira’s dancing was just a Super Bowl spectacle. Those women were sexy, skillful, physically strong, beautiful. I didn’t find it “obscene” or “pornographic” as my young adversary today seems to have thought I did, but what they did was not an expression of the “strength and freedom of Latina women” or any women. It was a show, nothing more.

This speech, however, is an expression of the “strength and freedom of Latina women,”

From the Whorse’s Mouth

Tell us about a time when it was impossible not to overhear a conversation between people who didn’t know you were there. What was the conversation about? How did it make you feel?

I was still a new teacher there, my first school after moving to California. I’m now convinced that I’m somehow not quite like the other kids, but then I thought I was. I thought I had found my niche, was in the mainstream, a talented young teacher, with good ideas and something to offer. Well…

I walked down the hall of the shabby “temporary” classroom building with its dirty brown carpet that was buckled and wrinkled from ceiling leaks and students’ wet shoes. I was excited to be working on a project — my first! — with a couple of my colleagues. About 8 feet from the door I heard:

“What’s she teaching for, anyway?”
“I have no idea.”
“She doesn’t belong here, and now Sally wants us to work with her?”
“Sally says she’s ‘cree-AY-tive’.”
“Shh. She’ll be here any minute.”
“Oh God. Why us?”

The word — which all my life I’d considered a compliment — had been uttered with a sneer…

I walked in. Neither had any idea I’d heard them. I don’t think I ended up working on the project with them. In later years, each decided to become friends with me. It was politic for me to be friendly, but I could never summon up more than that. I wonder if they ever wondered why.

That was my first experience with the idea that many people have that creative people are flakes; disorganized, unfocused, unreliable, amoral, mentally unstable, illogical and rebellious. I’m none of those things. This little meme feeds right into that stereotype:

im-creative-cant-expect-to-be-neat-too

For all our yammering about “embracing diversity” it seems we only do that on the most superficial levels, the animal level — skin color, certain obvious mental challenges and sexual orientation. My experience is that people have a very hard time accepting anything truly “diverse.”

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/prompt-sleep/