i have been educating myself since i was reading before kindergarten.
i was always drawn specifically to race relations, our sordid American history of begrudgingly “accepting” new groups only after they make it clear that they are us and certainly not those other people.
i’m not sure to what extent it formed my early self-taught education that my mother always said i’d grow up and marry a black man. Like it was a forgone conclusion i’d spend my life fighting and dancing to my own drum beat, which is amazing given how much pressure there is to just fit in in our lives.
We call is assimilation. We consider our “melting pot” to be a success story of sorts. You know, if you are white, rich, able-bodied, attractive, heterosexual and therefor never have to deal with the unpleasantness of not being able to assimilate.
You know you have privilege, a Master-Status of superiority, when it hits you in the face that other people didn’t consider that privilege to be a norm.
Like the day i walked into a dirty classroom with old textbooks the white school had thrown away, stamped “discard” in angry red ink, and felt humiliated that i had always just assumed that every school got new textbooks. i was raised in poor schools and was familiar with having not enough textbooks to go around, not being able to take home books because there was only one set to serve many different classes of students. i had never thought, however, that other schools got what our schools threw away.
i was horrified about the message implicit in the red-ink stamped books. i spent hours with a little tub of rubber cement, meticulously covering each “discard” with card stock printed with helpful notes.
i never considered myself to be white. i’m Italian and proud of that, in the way that only a minority raised in the face of clearly being unwanted as “different” in rural, poor towns can be.
i certainly don’t discount my white privilege. Those “discard” books made me sob tears of shame. i made it my mission to shut up and learn, to ask questions even when i thought the answers should have been obvious.
i used the same tact in every way i was different in life.
i shut up and listened and observed for many months in the dungeon, in the classroom, in life. When i thought i had something helpful to add, or needed to interject when i saw the ugly that can come from one different group to another, i said it.
i have spoken up about gay rights, racism, classism, ageism.
There are times my roots can climb up and trip me, rob my of my vocabulary, where my experiences make me feel patently unsafe.
It isn’t safe, not really, to speak up for what you think is right.
There are times i simply lack words. There are times i’m too damn exhausted to say one more word. But then something ignites my rage at the unfairness of life as we know it, and i’m ready for the fight.
People expect less from me.
Because i’m legally blind. Because i’ve lived below the poverty line. And quite possibly for other reasons i cannot begin to understand.
My instructor, meaning to give me high praise i’m sure, sent a note with my grade that read, “You accomplished more and worked harder than the normal students.”
My first reaction was to laugh at the word normal. What else could i do besides see the humor of the situation? Get angry? i’m too tired for that. The “A” felt simultaneously fantastic and terrible. Linked to being judged against “normal” students, i outdid them. Based on her other notes, this was clearly unexpected. Even though i appreciate the acknowledgement of how much harder i worked and that i know this is quantified in the sheer number of hours she can readily see, the standard of greatness is “normal” people.
That “A”? Is it because i outworked the “normal” people? Or what?
The man at the store i frequent and who i chat with on occasion sees only a blind woman. When he saw Sir Raven and i together, he thought she was my caretaker, because he assumed i couldn’t live alone or take care of myself.
i was so stunned that i just stared at him, unsure of what to feel rage about first. My first thought was wondering if he was being racist. My second was the ice-water-in-my-face-in-slow-motion realization that people see a white cane and not a person. Surely blind people don’t fuck. Don’t have relationships. Don’t have “normal” lives.
And then i had to bite my tongue, because i have to be aware, always aware of who is around because the odds are if they are going to get violent it is her they would go after.
What would the world feel like if i could just tell the truth?
If everywhere i went, i could say i was her slave.
What would it feel like for us to be legally recognized, socially recognized, as what we are?
We want so badly to believe our own press in America, i doubt that will ever occur. Which is silly, considering that we have a class system that places people into indentured servitude, prison sentenced that are life-terms based on race. What would be so bad about calling things what they are?
i am always leery of what to say. Wife? (seems like the most honest answer we can say)
Partner? (that always sounded so sterile to me)
Lover? (seems graphic to ears that spent way too long in the south)
i’ve got to say it’s decidedly inconvenient and uncomfortable to not be able to just say the truth, all of the time.
People see what they want to see. Or what they expect to see.
Every time i smile politely at something i can’t see and refuse to keep pointing out how i can’t see it, i’m helping them not understand. People have no intelligent concept for what it means to have no peripheral vision, no working left eye, seeing through floaters/flashers, distorted colors. Not even people who should know better. Blindness makes people uncomfortable and they behave like its contagious.
Is it “normal?” i guess not. It’s my normal, my newest version of normal.
i get tired of it being my job to speak for others.
i get even more tired speaking up for myself.
Being seen is exhausting, which is funny, considering.