Monday, May 5, 2008

Anything I Haven't Personally Experienced Isn't Real

There are moments when you suddenly become aware of a reality that has always surrounded you, but that you usually have the privilege of not seeing.

1. A male friend of mine stopped mid-sentence when we were walking across campus and asked, "Does it ever make you feel uncomfortable?"
"Every guy we pass looks right at you - stares. Nobody ever looks that directly at me when I'm walking around. Does it ever bother you?"
"Yeah, all the time."
"I guess I just never noticed what girls have to deal with before."

2. I was dating a guy from Trinidad - he is black, I am white. I was hurt that he never wanted to hold my hand in public. "Don't you see the way people stare at us when we are walking together? Holding hands makes it even worse. You mean you haven't noticed?" No, I had not. But I did after that.

3. I said to a friend who is a lesbian, "Well, but, we live in such a nice, liberal town."
"Sure, but I can't kiss my girlfriend in public, I can't hold her hand without getting the stink-eye, and we can't even go to the grocery store together without people gaping at us. I don't want to believe that this town is as good as we'll ever find." Unfortunately, it might be.

4. My neighbor said to me yesterday, "because I'm big, people feel like they have the right to treat me like crap. I've been told at my job that I'll never get ahead because I'm 'fat.' People have come up to me in the store and told me that I shouldn't be buying any junk food because I need to lose weight. They act like they have the right to judge me just because they see that I'm heavy."

5. "I didn't even know that antisemitism existed in the States" I said to my roommate.
"In high school, swastikas were constantly being scratched onto my locker. Every time the school would paint one off, another would appear. I got a couple of notes in my locker from people threatening to beat-up me and my brother."
"Wow, I didn't know," I said.
"I wouldn't expect you to."

Just because you don't see it, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.


Casmall said...

I had a similar experience! I was well into my teens before I found that antisemitism was a modern phenomena. It just seemed ridiculous that people thought this way.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Do you remember the moment that brought antisemitism into view for you?

Casmall said...

Its hard to grow up in this country and not understand that antisemitism existed. I just didn't think people still thought that way. But the specific instance.. I don't really remember. Just something that this kid said out of the blue about jews.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why people looking at you a lot is supposed to be some sort of serious hardship. We're doing pretty well as a country if all anyone has to complain about is 'people keep looking at me funny.' Maybe it's just paranoia and people should get over themselves.

Mächtige Maus said...

I hardly think the take home message to the post was simply the "people look at me funny" concept. Paranoia is not this issue. A general lack of compassion, a general unwillingness to accept people as they are, a rush to negatively judge someone simply due to a lack of understanding, and the fact that no one who has not experienced some sort of true, unfounded discrimination can ever really appreciate the fact that it can indeed be a hardship...those are more to the point.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Too many people believe that sexism, racism, homophobia, and antisemitism are only problems when some event prompts discussion of them on the nightly news. They don't see that people's daily lives are constantly affected by intolerances and prejudices that are still very real in our society. The freedom not to be a treated as a freak show is really valuable, and many privileged people don't realize how comforting it is not to risk drawing unwanted attention when doing the same things that everyone else can do without creating a spectacle or unwarranted drama.

Also, Anonymous doesn't acknowledge that there can be an implicit treat of violence in a stare. A glance is one thing, but a stare can be an intrusion. And certainly in my roommate's case, the threat of violence wasn't implicit - it was directly stated. The neighbor I mentioned feels like people's eagerness to judge her has directly impacted her career. Saying 'Yeah, but things used to be so much worse' does not mean that we get to quit working to make things better.

Mächtige Maus said...

Brilliant, laPH! :)

La Pobre Habladora said...

Back at you - you hit the nail on the head by acknowledging that a "general lack of compassion, a general unwillingness to accept people as they are, a rush to negatively judge someone" is at the heart of the problem.

Some of this rush to judge seems like defensiveness to me - if we can just blame the victim of discrimination, then we're off the hook for our ignorance. You can't be blamed, I guess, for what you've never been shown. Yet, sometimes 'I don't see the problem here' is another way of saying 'I think group X deserves the problem.' At the very least, it is certainly a way of not listening.

Amelia said...

Just wanted to chime in, a bit late, I realize, about how wonderful this post is.

I think it's very healthy for people to be getting constant reminders that just because they haven't experiences something doesn't mean that it's not real.

Too often we become blind to the experiences of others, and that can have horrible consequences.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Hey, thanks, Amelia! It is really nice to get the head-nod from someone whose blog I enjoy reading as much as I do yours.

The fact that empathy is so hard for people though is just depressing.