Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Of -ist things.

It happened a month or so ago, but I guess I didn't really think about it until now.

I was at work, chatting with a customer. I do this; it helps pass the time and the managers smile upon me, thinking I'm trying to sell more stuff. (I'm not.) I was talking to a young Hispanic woman who was trailing a child or two; we got to talking about the difficulties of finding child care. It came up that in addition to working full time and taking care of her children, she was also going to school.

"Oh, neat!" I said. (I do always try to support and encourage those going to school for most anything.) "What are you going for?"

And I knew as she answered that I expected 'cosmetology'...

..and bless her for it, she replied 'Law enforcement'.

I grinned a great big happy (and, alas, surprised-looking) grin. And we talked about that for a while. She's planning to work her way up to detective. I told her that I thought that was absolutely brilliant, and wished her luck.

Then went home and thought about it.

Young. Visibly not well-off (shopping at Walmart, after all). Hispanic. Female.

And I assumed she was going in for cosmetology.


Racist. Sexist. Classist. Ageist. Not pretty words. I went and did it, though, all of the above.

...I know a number of people who will claim 'but I'm not racist', 'I'm not sexist', 'I'm not...' whatever is the topic of discussion. To which I say: possible, but I bet you're wrong. I bet that, somewhere underneath in the recess of your brain, you still make the same dumbassed, unsupported, just-plain-wrong assumptions I made above.

I think that people fight the concept of being racist for a lot of reasons. Self-image. Image in front of others. They don't want to be like the Nazis, the KKK, or that guy (you know that guy...) with the beer belly and the ugly hat who stands in line at the store and bitches about them niggers. They don't want to be horrible, evil people.

I don't think being racist (sexist, et cetera) makes you a horrible evil person. I do think it's wrong, mind you -- both in the factual sense and in the moral sense. But to deny it for your own mental and emotional well-being doesn't help the matter any.

If, instead, you stop and say, okay, I did that; it was wrong; I need to stop and think about why and how so I can try not to do it again next time; if you admit, yeah, that was racist, I am racist; then, then, you can take a step towards fixing it. Towards being not-racist, or at least less-racist.

Or sexist, or whatever.

First step is admitting to the problem. Doesn't that sounds familiar?


This is scattered and weird. I'll likely have clearer thoughts on it later. I expect some people will disagree with me, possibly fairly vehemently. Likely some folks will think I'm seeking expiation, a cheap release from white middle-class guilt; it's entirely possible they're right, too. If it looks like I'm trying to condone racism, read again. (If it still looks like that, accept that I'm not and I can't type for shit.)

Almost feel odd posting about racism as a while person...but if we don't all talk about it, how will it get better?

More later.


Brian said...

Thanks for this reminder. I know in my life it is easy to become so focused on "creating change" that I forget to be the change myself.

Kate said...

Ayup. It's internal just as much as external. I'm just glad the reminder didn't involve being whacked upside the head...this time.

HilbertAstronaut said...

it's annoying to catch yourself doing that, no? ;-) well, don't feel _too_ guilty about it. human beings are pretty much designed to make snap judgments based on limited information -- it's only now that our world is so much bigger, that this skill can be a liability at times. it's something i certainly have to work on too!

Kate said...

I figure if I feel enough like an ass to promise to do better and then actually manage it, that's about enough of feeling like an ass.

We'll get better at it eventually -- I hope! -- but in the meantime...you do what you can.