Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cultural Guilt: An Epiphany

For most of my life I have been ashamed of being a white, middle class American. My people, and my ancestors, murdered, cheated, enslaved and stole their way to domination of this country. I have wrestled with feelings of guilt over things I did not do, and remorse over actions I did not take. I have felt sympathy for all the races of this planet, and ambiguity for my own. I have ridiculed 'my people' for all of their cultural goofiness and banality, and feared to dare think that it was ok to be a white guy. To think that would make me intolerant, a supremacist, a hood-wearing cross burner. I was wrong.
Today I was in a predominantly white neighborhood, and went into a grocery store where the majority of the people were white, and I was comfortable. I noticed that comfort, and immediately began to clang the doors of shame upon it...but then I stopped. I thought about it, about why it was 'wrong', and then I realized that it wasn't wrong. No one faults a black man or woman for taking pride in their heritage and culture. No one faults a Puerto Rican for keeping San Juan in his heart, or a Jamaican for listening to Reggae. Yet we, your average Euro-mutt white folks don't dare enjoy our whiteness for fear of seeming intolerant. And we do this to ourselves. We feel that if we embrace our whiteness, as African-Americans embraced their blackness back in the 70's, then we must, by default, be decrying all other races. And that's just not so.
My epiphany today had nothing to do with disliking my neighbors of color. It had everything to do with my desire to live amongst people with similar likes, dislikes, desires, and lifestyles as my own. I realized that I don't like living in a mostly black neighborhood not because they are black, but because I am white. It would be totally naive to say that there are no cultural differences between the black and white communities, and what I have been calling inconsiderate and selfish behavior is merely my frustration that I don't fit in around here. My neighbors don't seem to be bothered by loud rap music, or noisy conversations under their windows at night, or children out at all hours. They socialize, and party on their stairs, and laugh like they'll never get the chance again. And yes, they swear, and drink, and occasionally fight, but for the most part they are enjoying life. I have been the Ebeneezer to their Bob Cratchett, hiding behind my windows and vowing to call the cops if the party doesn't quiet down promptly by 11. And all this time I never realized that the frustration was not with them, but with myself. I am the square peg here.
I don't think I would be happy moving to some overly white place where the only time you see anyone of color is when someone comes to work on the yard, but I would like to live in a place where I am not quite so much the minority. And yes, that last statement is firing my reflexive 'now you see how they feel' neurons, but I can't help that. But neither will I be ruled by that. Black is beautiful, and so is white. And brown, and red, and yellow, and while I had always assumed that places like Little Havana and China Town existed as fortresses against the majority, I'm beginning to see that it's human nature to want to be with your own kind. No, I am not giving my inner Archie free reign here, what I mean by 'own kind' is just what I said at the beginning; people with similar likes, dislikes, desires, language, etc. Diversity is great, but sometimes familiarity is very comforting, and I don't think that there is anything wrong with that. Or at least I'm trying not to.



Rosebuckle said...

Hey, it's hardwired into our brains to seek out those who seem most similar to us. It's only a problem when you start to FEAR the difference. It's like the male/female issue. Women are finally realizing that they don't have to BE men to compete/work with men.
Relax Buddy, you're one of the fairest men I know!

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said and, I think, true for most of us, whatever our color I'd never given it all that much thought before, but suffered the same guilt and overawareness of my "whiteness." Thank you for freeing me to be as proud of my race as others are of theirs.

Hugs 'n' kisses to you!