Have you ever tried NOT to write about something? The topic might scare you, it might seem intimidating or it might force you to face your own flaws. I have been trying to not write about this for a few weeks now out of fear and resistance of facing the things I need to work on. I have to face up to the fact that maybe I'm not as open minded as I thought I was.
When I was a kid, I assumed that everyone was treated fairly and with respect. When I got older, I realized that viewpoint was incorrect. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit that was very white. When I was in junior high, the city decided to bus some of the students from the other side of town to our middle school. This caused an uproar with parents, many of whom were white. The kids being bussed in were of Middle Eastern descent and it was very clear that the fear felt by others was based on ignorance and discrimination. Then, I went to college and majored in creative writing and women's studies. I learned about the fragmented, racist and sexist history of our world's past, and I began to think of myself as a very open-minded, empathetic and compassionate person. In other words, I patted my own back and told myself I was a good person. And, I do think I am a good person, even today, but recently I learned that I still have so much to learn about this world, the world that I didn't grow up in, the world that I pretended didn't exist.
I've been with H for almost 4 years. Most of our lives together took place in Pittsburgh, a town that is literally more than 10 times the size of the town H and I live in now. As a Chinese American, H felt pretty comfortable in Pittsburgh. There was a informal "Chinatown" that we frequented where he could get a taste of home, we had a diverse group of friends, and there was an element of art, culture, and progressive thinking that H and I felt protected under. This is not to say that Pittsburgh doesn't have it's flaws, it definitely does. Neighborhoods are still segregated, there is unfair treatment and discrimination that takes place, and there are many who lead a difficult and challeneged life due to discrimnation and an unjust distribution of resources. We know our former city is not perfect. Looking back though, I can count, over a 4 year period, where H would turn to me and say he felt uncomfortable in the crowd or that he felt unwanted. Once H mentioned his discomfort, we would leave or make a quiet departure.
As you may know, a month ago we moved to North Carolina, and since our move I've noticed a change in my usually free spirited and adventurous partner. Before we moved we knew we would be in a sort of "shock" in regards to our way of life. Even though the area we moved to is touted as being open minded and progressive, there are still very deep pockets where this outlook is not shared by the general public. On a regular basis we see trucks and motorcycles waving huge Confederate flags, a flag that symbolizes to us, a pedagogy of hate, racism, and violence. It jars us each time we see this symbol fly past our window. And I think, we both silently wonder, if we made the right move.
Recently, H and I got into an argument. I was frustrated that his happy mood had drastically changed, in the matter of 30 minutes, during our grocery shopping trip. All of sudden he got uptight and on edge. I took it personal and, to be honest, I was 100% selfish about it. I wanted to have a fun day. I wanted to laugh and goof around while shopping but I couldn't, the mood had switched. As a white person, I have never had to ask myself if my presence in a public space would be welcomed. I ignorantly assumed I would be welcomed and not judged. My own ignorance on this issue has allowed me to live a pretty unassuming life and in turn, I subconciously turned a blind eye to the judgement, discomfort, and unease that H and my other friends felt.
Writing about my own privilege is scary because it means I have to face the facts. The fact is I consdier myself to be a liberal and open-minded person. I always believed that since I studied liberal arts and women's studies in college/graduate school, that I wasn't the problem but that I was part of the solution. I was wrong. The fact was I was hiding and, in many ways, a silent part of the problem.
I have subconciously known of my white privilege but have never fully acknowledged the effect of white privilege in my life. Because of it, I have the feeling that I can move about freely in my community and country. This sense of security is not shared by my husband and I've brushed it under the rug too long. I don't know how to change this scenario, except to validate, listen, and talk with my husband about how he feels, about what his fears are, and how I can support him. The first step in all of this, however, is opening my eyes and not turning away.