Sunday, September 06, 2009

White People

"White people can help us but they cannot join us." - Malcom X

Or anyway Denzel Washington said it in the movie by Spike Lee.

The one year of my life I didn't date Charley, I did briefly hang out with the president of the Black Student Union. That was around 1970. I went to a rally he ran for Louis Farrakhan. I didn't notice I was the only white person in the auditorium until practically the end when I began to notice the angry looks I was getting. I kind of slunk out and that guy never spoke to me again.

I started out life as a minority. I was a white kid on the Navajo Indian Reservation. Although we moved to California by the time I started school and I became a California Surfer girl and eventually a hippie just like my peers, I don't think anyone realized the impact that my early years had on me. I don't really believe there is a place where I "belong" outside of my own home. I am at home in my skin, but I travel through a world where other people are fascinating because they are different from me.

In high school, many of my friends were Japanese. (The rest of them were in the band.) In college, my friends were multi-cultural, flamboyant, counter-culture, gay. Then I moved to Japan where I felt completely at home unless I looked in a mirror. Sometimes I would catch a glimpse of myself in a window and be shocked. Who was that white person? Oh wait. That's me!!!

We attended an "inclusive" church for many years. That means that it was a church for gays, lesbians, transexuals and bisexuals and also us. It was a great church. But eventually we drifted away because, although the pastor wanted it to be an "inclusive" church, many members of the congregation often needed it to be an exclusive community where they could "come out" in safety. Our presence made them uncomfortable. We were intrusive.

I used to go to Native American things with my friend James who would introduce me by saying, "She's cool. She's not a Wannabe." It was fascinating and I learned a lot. I loved hearing pow wow drums again. But I was not really invited unless I was with James.

Now we live in the neighborhood "Hermosa" and, except for a few Polish families who have lived here for 30 years and more, everyone else is pretty much Latino. Charley teaches in a school that is traditionally Puerto Rican and I have been teaching children to play Puerto Rican Cuatro for the last 4 years. We are trying to learn Spanish.

But we are not Puerto Ricans. We are not Native Americans, we are not gay, we are not Japanese and we are not Black. (see photo).

I spend a lot of my time at Esperanza Community Services. (see link at left) I'm a board member there. But I do not have cognitive challenges or at least not many.

I am not a Wannabe. I don't want to be anyone but myself. But I think two things.

First, it is really important for people to get together as exclusive communities from time to time. The world is a horribly unjust place and our society (like many societies) does terrible things to people who are different. Like Denzel Washington speaking as Malcom X said, it is important for people to learn to love themselves, love other people who are like them and then love the people who are different. That's not a direct quote, it's sort of what he said. I get that. I really do. As a white person, there are things I can do to help, but I can't really become anything other than who I am.

Each of us needs to spend time learning to love ourselves and coming to terms with the unique crimes, responsibilities and gifts of "my people".

Second, it is even more important for people to spend time with people who are different. If we don't appreciate the value of people who are different we are in danger of becoming intolerant and perpetuating injustice. We are all one race. I really believe that. We have different colors of eyes and hair and skin, but we are all the same. We have different opinions and ways of behaving and abilities, but we are all the same. We have different genders and orientations and likes and dislikes, but we are all the same. We need to find that out by exploring other options. We don't need to change to do that, we just need to learn to appreciate the depth that variety gives to life.

I think this is the single biggest issue we face in the world today.

And here's the good news, it can begin with something as simple as a potluck.

1 comment:

  1. Oh dear how did I miss this all the time? It's so good to have a bit of Jeanne here in Australia. I have some catch up to do. Looking forward to seeing you soon Love