Part II of V
I’m not fond of rap music. But that’s a cultural bias; it just doesn’t appeal to me. I like its aspect of poetry, and that sometimes some of the spoken songs are humorous or beautiful or plaintive. Those things, I appreciate. It’s an important cultural mode and I respect it. I assume there are a lot of people who don’t like bagpipes, and my husband and I happen to love them; but I don’t like Klezmer music, and he’s Jewish and can tolerate it (but doesn’t love it). I love old school rhythm and blues and the just-plain blues, and Zydeco, and so does Richard, fortunately, even though he’s a decade younger than me. And I have known people who hated classical music, though I love much of it and dislike some composers’ work. Some people like drugs or alcohol, and some just tipple a bit, and others get addicted and substances ruin their lives. Some people think they are superior because they have not become addicted to anything, and some people see addiction as a disease, not a moral shortcoming.
Different ethnicities and cultures have different habits, foods and ways of expressing themselves. That’s a wonderful thing. And we don’t have to love all aspects of anyone’s behavior or tastes; some people are loud talkers and some are whisperers, some people are hermits and some need or want to be around people all the time.
So when we think we’re looking at race, sometimes we’re looking at cultural habits and biases, but those don’t matter much, although they are often creative expressions. They are the details in a much bigger picture where the basics are often ignored. (Human beings are mostly the same: we all love our families, we all want to be left to live our lives, we can’t help whom we love, everyone needs shelter and food.) Those cultural details and our ideas about “others” are some of the more obvious places we need to unpack how we think and feel, and start reassessing.
We all know, or should know at this point, 155 years past the end of the Civil War, that slavery oppressed black people often horrifically, and that way too many people in the United States and other countries around the world still think of them or treat them as “less than.” Fortunately, those (bigoted) people are a minority in most places, but still a large and sometimes vocal group, and we white people now are learning, if we didn’t already know, that many of these prejudicial people are in police forces, with weaponry and training in physical force. But not everyone knows that even after the Civil War was fought and slavery was deemed illegal, there were workarounds done in our legal system so that black people could not get work, and then they were penalized (literally, in the actual penal system) for not working. So the legal arrangement was just slavery by another name. We think we evolved past that, but now it’s pretty obvious that black men become incarcerated at a far higher rate than white men, regardless of the rate of crimes committed. False accusations are the norm in some parts of the US.
Not having access to employment, as was the case then and is too often the case now, also makes it nearly impossible to own property (unless you inherit it), and that’s another place where there is inequality, which can be damning, and keeps people in financial and ownership poverty. Ownership carries with it other rights and privileges, such as influence in the community, equity (the part one owns which is completely paid for), respect, family stability, and confidence. (The ultimate insulting irony is that black people who do own their homes, or others who rent, have had police and bystanders make the assumption that a POC seen using a key to unlock a door in a nice neighborhood was breaking in.) On top of that, when blacks have had the employment and funds to buy homes, they have been denied this by the process of “redlining,” local governments or realtors’ associations not allowing blacks to buy homes in particular areas (realtors sometime banded together to simply not show property to black families, even if it was within their means), or banks not giving loans—even outside those areas, even if they were already mostly black neighborhoods. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
I may have been treated differently because of my handicap, and perhaps even denied employment (because of the unprofessional or unattractive look of a two-inch limp, or because it was thought that I might need special treatment or allowances for my lack of physical ability). But aside from that, I was able to get work, support myself, and eventually buy a little condo without anyone being concerned about my “moving up” in the world, getting beyond my station, acquiring too much power, or changing the neighborhood. This could have been a folly in itself; no one accepting my applications knew much about me except that I ran a tax and bookkeeping service which was making a (very) modest income. And I was white.
But I know that despite having a disability, and probably not making as much money as a man in my former profession may have, and having been ignored or disregarded (as a woman) in business meetings (or even shouted down), and now, being in the discounted older population (“OK, Boomer…”)—I’ve still had an advantage in being “white.”