This isn't going to be a long diary.
Yes. I am a white person, and I have experienced the things that are in this diary and comment in particular in many different, frustrating and enlightening ways.
On the Internet, in general nobody knows you are not white, until they do. What do I mean by that?
Culture, that's what I mean.
For me, culture was this thing I saw in movies, read about in books, and sometimes experienced in the presence of somebody from far away. I really didn't grok the deeper implications of it though, seeing it more like some cool hat that one wears, or some other shallow thing.
Culture runs deeper than that, and it carries with it all manner of expectations. Really basic things are different, changed, not malleable, like norms and customs are. Most of us haven't experienced real cultural changes, unless we've traveled, or been a part of some experience that changed us in some way.
For me, that was adopting a Black son. At first there were no problems. Things went fine, other than for some asses who would make comments, or shun us for not being all the same color. That was annoying, but not something life changing.
Then it started. First it was "wigger", the first shot across the bow, warning me of serious things to come. Wigger* is quite simply a Black person, who isn't demonstrating appropriate Black culture. This was astounding to me! I did not understand at all, thinking that it was simply a matter of somebody being less than great people, finding ways to pick at us, like they usually would, no worries.
So I dismissed this, and that was a mistake.
Tensions grew. My influence as a father on all the basics was solid, but tensions grew anyway. My white son didn't have the same difficulties as my Black one did, and for the longest time, I could not figure out just why that was. Thought it was simple envy, with us being a mixed race family, me doing fairly well, we were not exactly high class, but we were not bottom of the barrel either. But that was not it. Not at all.
Then there was the kid who started calling out nigger every day at school. We worked the system on that big, stepping through the conflict resolution steps, having parent teacher meetings, everybody talking about this and that, but it continued. One day, my son reached his limit, and we agreed it was going to take some old school life lessons to get this to end. Simple terms, do no real harm, but get it done, get it done quick, and don't over do it.
That worked. Wasn't pretty, and the longer version of the story is here somewhere, the point being I thought it was over, but it wasn't.
There were the other kids who showed up, treating me strangely, getting between me and my son, and it pissed me off, and I did not know why. Relations went to the crapper, with me and my son at odds to the point where I remember the day he finally yelled, "But Dad, You Don't Know What Being Black IS!" This over my increasing frustration at him limiting his choices, doing things he felt obligated to do, basically NOT BEING WHITE.
Now that's not easy to come to terms with, but I can tell you it's completely true. What I ended up doing was having a boys night out, where I could get everybody somewhere comfortable, where I could get them to let me into the club, share what being Black is.
And they did. We talked for hours, with me feeling at times clueless, other times angry, often frustrated and amazed too! Their world was entirely different, and the closest thing I can compare it to is basic male privilege. It is a similar thing where one's very attributes change the world, impacting so many things.
A woman will easily tell you what her world is like, and there are so many things, being sure not to be alone, or when things get tough, wondering where the loyalties lie, for they might come in handy, life and death. Attraction vs targeting, etc...
Anyone married, or who has daughters has seen these things, and can come to understand them.
Black is one of these things! And for me, the hard part was getting to where they would actually share with me. As young men, they didn't want to seem weak, or less, or scared, where the daughters and women in my life would talk easily, eager to share more than not, they wouldn't for those reasons, and the idea that I just would not understand.
That turned out to be a baseless fear, but I can very easily see how it's warranted. Many of my peers would not get this at all, having no direct, no immersive experiences. I did though, and again we talked.
I'm not going to go down the list of things, though I will highlight a couple. What I want to convey here is the culture, the norms, the way the world basically works is often very different, shifted, balanced in subtle ways that many of us won't understand, unless we live it, or are close to surrounded by those that do.
I find it hard to write, just because it is subtle, complicated, alien in ways, but make no mistake, it's palpable too.
White people are mono-cultural in this way, because they do experience what I would call a default norm, where they see differences as choices, not states of being. People of color, and again I want to place Women here too, because it's similar and instructive and for no other reason, and I hope you understand that, experience different states of being, because the world treats them differently. Not default, optional, something contrived, to be enforced, watched for, a burden of sorts to some. (though that's clearly wrong)
These things run deep, and they take a long time to blend in, and it's a lot like being dropped in some other nation where the very basics are different, and many things seem extraordinary for a long time, because it takes a long time to shift, to blend and become one of the locals. It's like that.
Shit. Ok, so it is gonna be a longer diary. Sorry.
One of the crazy things is simply feeling inhibition about saying Black! This is so bizzare to me now, though it felt perfectly ordinary to feel that at first, with me often saying African American. A comedian once highlighted this perfectly for me, with my son and I laughing big. So, are you European Americans, Asian Americans??
But still, people will push back on me for writing Black, as if I'm doing something wrong, as if that culture isn't there, denied, suppressed, something that is a pain in the ass, or they push back because they don't understand at all, just wanting to play it safe, because you know people --those people are different.
I resolved this another way too. When I ask my son, or his peers their race, they simply say Black. Works for me, after all I think I would say White. Who cares about the details? Nobody until they get older, wanting to know all about their lineage and such.
That's just one of so many ripples, lines of friction.
Then we come to language. Oh man, there are lots of things, new rules. The basics are the same, but the specifics often change, and the color of stuff, references, what they mean, all adding up to a history that I don't have, but they do. Failure to recognize that is the source of a lot of trouble, IMHO. Was for me.
You know how guys speak "guy" and girls speak "girl"? Well, there is black, asian and other things too, redneck maybe? Culture. It's important to understand, and it's even more important to recognize as the force it is, because when we don't, people feel the friction, are inhibited, less potent, diminished, and just generally not at ease, often with many of them not fully understanding why that is.
One of the most striking things to me was the realization that I can just choose to ignore that, if I want to. The norm is, whether we like it or not, is they are different, and burden is on them to get along with us, because we are normal, or the default, or more simply, just not different. This is fact in so many places, despite the work we've done to beat it back, control it, push for equality, understanding and peace.
It still is the norm. There still are places where Black people don't feel entirely welcome, and you know that's just not ok, and you also know that they all share a bond over that. Similar bonds might be people who have lost children, or who are disabled, or maybe just ugly, or fat, or funny sounding.
I don't mean to equate those things in any way. I do mean to attempt to communicate the dynamic here in ways that many can understand and relate to.
And I'll end there. Trust and understanding are key in this world. When we do the work to really understand, and one of my metrics is when we can laugh about it, ourselves, the differences, and it's a honest laugh, like "isn't the world nuts?" and mean it, with no friction at all, then we really do understand and trust --we then get to the meat of things, holding just a few of the keys that we need to make it a better place for everybody we meet.
I went through that with my Black son, and I can shift and change cultures and I don't feel it anymore, and interestingly, neither do they. Even Black people I've never met before know. There are subtle things about me they pick up on, and it's really all OK. Wasn't always that way. I had to work for it, and the funny thing is I can't really tell you the steps, the signals, the things that matter. They are just part of me now for doing that work.
There is friction here, push back, failure to understand, anger, frustration, and all manner of crappy times. Think about the text, the limited bandwidth we get here, unable to see one another, and just consider how much of a barrier that really can be at times.
Cut your fellow Kossacks some slack. They might be really different, experiencing the same things you are, lacking the same trust and understanding you do.
I don't mean to excuse anything. I just wanted to put some of my life experience out there because it might help. I honestly had no idea. Now I do, and I'm happy for it too.
Edit: So, I have to address the question:
Why do this work, if you don't have to? Many people don't you know. They can just avoid it, and that's just how it is.
If you do it, you get something. You get the ability to see people as just people. This is hard to explain, but I will try.
Every one of us are just people, and we have attributes. Gender, race, beauty, strength, etc...
At the core of that, we all work the same exact way, but that's hard to see until you've experienced really different people, and have come to know them as you do yourself, and your own.
It then becomes possible to experience that again and again, each time it gets easier, the core ability more robust, and between all those differences is the key to just people, how they work, what they want, what they feel, and who they are. The analogy I would use here is learning another language. It's like that.
Worth it too.
*UPDATE: Some differences on wigger have come to light. In my place, at that time, among those people, wigger was used as written here. Of course, the same group used "bleach your shoes" to refer to the stains that new jeans will leave on new, "fresh" shoes too. The point at hand here is to talk through those and grow, not battle over what is right and wrong, because culture is a malleable thing, clearly demonstrated here today.
"fresh" being clothing that looks as though it was never worn
I won that fight, getting them to use "tint" or "color", or "stain" where they had started with "bleached", and one does wonder about those things, amplified through people over time, and how it all adds up. Is there any real wonder we cannot at times understand one another? No.