Trigger warnings: racism, abuse, dickhole behavior
This afternoon, I caught wind of the #fuckcispeople tag on twitter, I made my grandma-style rant re: the dangers of hating your enemy and then I bounced.
Off to a family BBQ where my main job became keeping my dog from eating the children. “Pet nicely” needs to be a phrase every dog owner learns before they are allowed to be responsible for one such furry bite machine. Because I was so unprepared for the levels of terror I experienced when pudgy toddler hands and shiny canine teeth got too close for comfort. Not to say that she was really that much of a danger. Especially since we locked her in another room with her bed and her food and water, but man was that stressful.
Anyway, when I came back I saw that I had some responses, and since I’ve had some time to think about it, I want to talk about my own experience with rage at the other from a minority perspective. Obviously, as a cisgendered person who tends to look white, (and “talk white”) I could very easily be crossing a line for some people, but I feel like my experience is relevant, even if it’s different.
First off, I should say that it took me a long time to realize that I even was a person of color. I was raised in the 80s by my white grandma and her white 2nd husband. Our household was solidly upper-middle class, and as a result I went to private school where we learned about Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the same way that we learned about George Washington. There was a problem, they solved it, and now they’re dead. Isn’t it nice to live in post-racial America where every cartoon has a black one, a white one, and a disabled one. And nobody feels uncomfortable around their ethnically and culturally diverse friends because we’re all equal now, aren’t we?
It wasn’t until I got to high school (read more about that mess here) that I started to be aware of just how different my experience was from that of my friends. Not only did I move from a liberal hippy school in an artistic enclave of Los Angeles to the Western edge of the Inland Empire (famous for meth and neo-nazis), but I also moved from my grandparent’s split-level ranch-style into a 600 square foot apartment with my soon-to-relapse sober drug addict mom. So in the same summer, two things happened. I became poor, and I turned out to be Mexican.
I understood that my father’s parents were from Mexico, and my dad had always tried to instill an appreciation for “our culture” in me that mostly boiled down to outrageous superhero stories about Pancho Villa and getting to stay up late to watch In Living Color. I knew my Mexican grandpa talked a lot about racism, but it seemed like something that happened to old people. Not to young people. Not since MLK died for our sins. And yet, for the first time in my life there was undeniable proof that people were treating me differently because of my name, my race, and the income level of my family. Suddenly, things I had dismissed in my childhood started to take on new meaning. The multiple (yes, multiple) times people treated my father like he was kidnapping me. The way they looked to me the white child as an authority over him, the ethnic dad to confirm that I was, in fact, fine. The break-down of the popular group in school, the variety of experiences and opportunities I missed out on. Even the years of misery I brought on myself for not being thin with straight blond hair and big blue eyes, which was the only way I thought I could be attractive.
I became filled with rage. I met other people of color who were filled with a similar rage. And it wasn’t just that our lives had been affected by racism. Our fathers, grandfathers, our ancestors. I seethed remembering the sweet little tour we went on of one of the California Missions when I was in 5th grade and how they had depicted the happy rows of Indios working away in the gardens, never showing how they were kept like dogs, punished for speaking their own language, and beaten to the point of death if they tried to escape. The missions were slavery pure and simple. White people had done this to us. White people were the reason I didn’t know anything about my own history even as I could expostulate on theirs without stopping for weeks. White people called me a beaner to my face at school. White people tried to tell me what was wrong with my culture and how I should fix it, and got upset with me when I tried to make the same suggestions to them. White people had things that I didn’t, they got opportunities that I didn’t, and they were at least partially to blame for how shitty my life turned out. Everybody knows that white people are dangerous, and greedy, and they smell like wet dog.
I felt the hot sticky boot of prejudice and institutionalized racism against my neck and I, powerless to do anything else, responded in as much kind as I possibly could. I actively admit that I made white friends and acquaintances uncomfortable on purpose, even if they were allies, despite the fact that they should have been my friends first and my white friends only after every other identifying factor had been excluded. I felt it was my right because I had been harmed at the hands of the same system by which they had been helped.
I was a complete shithead.
Sometimes I wonder if this period of shittiness was unavoidable. Even if it was maybe necessary. I wasn’t acting in a vacuum. My actions were in response to a very real system of racism and denial that we still operate in. If I hadn’t been told to shut my beaner mouth and enjoy the equality quite so often and quite so harshly, would I have had to draw attention to the inequality with such a fervor? I can’t say.
But what I can say is that it didn’t get me anything. Being an asshole to white people in general didn’t help solve the specific issue of racism as it applied to my culture or my life. In fact, I found that people weren’t really receptive to me after I’d been a complete dickhead to them or their friends. While there were legitimate arguments with legitimate racists that happened organically and where I maintain to this day that I was justified in what I said and did to someone who was attacking me on the basis of my race alone, the majority of my arguments about race were either things I could have avoided, or things I started by being a ballsack.
All my overly defensive fight first, ask questions later strategy did was to make me even more distrustful of other people, and more and more bitter about the terrible hand the system had dealt me. It started to be really difficult to have friends who didn’t wholeheartedly agree with my own racist suppositions. It only added fuel to the flame of my personal issues. The chip on my shoulder gave white racists a reason to ascribe me to an ethnic stereotype (uppity chola who thinks she’s white) and their reactions to me fueled my own stereotypes of whites (all secretly racist).
Eventually because of good friends who shared their experiences with me, questioned me about my shitty actions and talked to me about what I was trying to accomplish with my behavior, I managed to kick the race rage problem. But it took awhile. Sometimes I can still feel that chip on my shoulder, not just about being Chicana, but about being poor, having a history of abuse, being a woman and so on. You name it, I can make it into an excuse to act poorly. But I know that kind of us vs. them mentality only served to make me more like the very racists I hated so much. We might has well been using the same handbook. I saw a group that made me feel threatened, I assumed that they were my enemy, I used generalizations to dehumanize them in my own mind, and then I did everything in my power to “win” the war I decided we were fighting.
There are old lines that we didn’t draw. They’re there to keep us from each other, and the more we line up along them, the more we’re playing a game we didn’t write the rules for. None of us need to be enemies. Some of us think we do, but I can tell you from the other side of that journey, we don’t. There’s no point in it. It may feel good for a second to get a really good jab in, but in the end you’re no better than the boot. Smaller, but no better.