Thursday, March 08, 2007

Sacrifices

First, a little background:

BelleDame has a pretty good round-up of a recent dust-up in the blogosphere centered on the comments of two white women who had married black men and have referred to themselves as Race Traitors.

Their version should not be mixed up with Race Traitor, the anti-racist journal and book by Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey. These women are talking about the term as used by racists.

One of the women has repeatedly said that her marriage to a black man was a political decision. That confused me. How I vote is a political decision, how I act in my community is a political decision. How I act in regard to my loved ones and family is different. In a rather controversial post at ChasingMoksha's blog, Heart explains her viewpoint:

The lies and distortions are also cruel, like suggesting I married my husbands for political reasons only or whatever stupid bullshit. I married my husbands for love. I left the world of white privilege because of my politics. Part of leaving that world was not marrying white. Part of leaving that world was being rejected by my extended family. Part of leaving that world was becoming poor. Part of leaving that world was bearing and raising biracial children, nine of them, over 36 years now, with all that has meant over the years. I could have set my sights on moving upward, upward, upward through the echelons of privilege available to white middle class women, until I hit the layer-of-men ceiling. I could have stayed in the sorority my parents forced me to pledge to when I went away to school (because I went to school at 16, in the 60s, and they feared for me in the dorms). I left the sorority after my freshman year, couldn't stand the place. I could have gotten serious about, and married, one of the many white frat boys I had to drag along to sorority functions that freshman year (which was a year I had sworn off of men completely so I could attend to my studies and plus, I was sick of men. Some things never change. :P) If I'd done my folks' plan, that is, stay in the sorority, making those all-important connections, marry a frat boy and enlarge that circle of connections, become a professional, married to a professional, then I'd have been solidly ensconced in white privilege, American style. I didn't want that. I said fuck that. I was a pacifist. I was an anti-racist, involved in the Civil Rights movement. This was the 60s and all of us who were activists hated the "Establishment". I wanted to participate in the political revolution that was going on on my campus and in my city, and that's what I did, and I never turned back, even during my fundie years, during which I was still a pacifist, still anti-war, still not patriotic, still interracially married, involved in all sorts of various alternative movements. So anyway, what I did was, I chose my male partners from amongst the political radicals with whom I was engaged in political work, and when, as it so happened, I fell in love with my first ex, I said, hell yeah. I did not skip a beat for fear of losing all my race or class privilege or for what might happen to me, or whatever. Of course, as it turned out, the worst things that happened to me happened to me at the hands of my ex! Which is another story for another time. And which doesn't change how much I loved him, or my second ex. Why are people such idiots, those talking about this? I have to believe they are deliberately being idiots out of cruelty. That men have abused us (generic "us" meaning women) and even tried to kill us doesn't change the love we have had for them or the way our lives intertwine from that point forward. That's the horror and betrayal of abuse, that the men we have loved and trusted more than any other men have battered us, tried to kill us. Even when we leave them behind, usually, we still love them. Maybe we always love them. That's the way that goes down. Anyway, so yes, I consciously, deliberately, married my exes, once I'd fallen madly in love with them, and then had to consider my future. I didn't do what lots of women, and men, would do, say, "No, I can't marry this person, my parents will freak out and disinherit me and disown me." "No, I can't marry this person, it just isn't done." "No, I can't marry this person, it will be too hard on the children." "No, I won't marry this person, he is too poor, he's had too hard of a life, we are too different, our cultures, backgrounds are too different, we will have too many problems." "No, I won't marry this person, his family won't like it." "No, I won't marry this person, he'll get kicked out of the Panthers and he won't be able to go to BSU meetings." "No, I won't marry this person because racists will treat us like shit." I said, "Yes, I'll marry this man whom I love because I love him, and I don't give a shit what anybody says or thinks about that, because the reasons people give for their opposition are RACIST, and my marrying him might make things easier for the next couple like us." Which is POLITICAL. I have to wonder if people understand what "political" even means, you know? That a decision is "political" doesn't change the fact that it is still made because of LOVE. Which kind of gets at something I've wanted to write about for a long time, actually, the heady excitement of revolution-making, the way that falling in love with your "comrades" happens easily, because making revolution in a way that is real is, in fact, to make real, vital, exciting connections, is centered in hopes for a future that is good and hopeful and loving, and that energy spills over into every interaction you have with your co-revolutionaries. So yes, it's political, and yes, it's love, and where one stops and the other begins is not so clearcut for those of us who have experienced this.

When I first read this explanation, I made the following comment at Veronica's thread titled White Lady Pity Party:

Over on CM’s blog (link above), Heart has further explained her “political reasons” for marrying black men.

It’s breathtaking. I honestly don’t believe I’ve met anyone more clueless about her privilege.

It’s breathtaking. I’m speechless.


I literally couldn't comment then because what Heart talked about: her experiences and her decisions, refer to the kind of life that could only have been lived by a tiny, tiny portion of extremely privileged white people in 1960s America. It immediately brought to mind the film Born Rich, a documentary film by Jamie Johnson. If you haven't seen it, you really should. Here's a brief intro:

First-time filmmaker Jamie Johnson, a 23-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, captures the rituals, worries and social customs of the young Trumps, Vanderbilts, Newhouses and Bloombergs in the documentary special, BORN RICH, a 2003 Sundance Film Festival selection. Offering candid insights into the privileges and burdens of inheriting more money than most people will earn in a lifetime.

I'm not claiming that Heart was obnoxiously wealthy, as the people in this film are. I am claiming that she existed in an extremely narrow world in which acts like not pledging a sorority or marrying outside your own race are seen as courageous acts of rebellion. Heart wrote: "I left the world of white privilege because of my politics." She lost her chance at a corporate career, she lost her space in a sorority, she lost her chance at a professional husband.

What the rest of us realize, is that 97 percent of the U.S. population never had a chance at that. And those of us in that 97 percent who were white and never had to make those tough decisions about which wonderful future to give up, were still making out like bandits compared to people of color. We got the nice houses, the nice services, the presumption of innocence, the helping hand of neighbors and strangers.

We could barely get arrested: I know that for a fact. My father was a major conman, a grifter, a charmer. He broke the law and lay waste to family and friends for decades and nobody said boo. None of which would have happened if his skin had been a different color.

I can see that, in Heart's world, she had to pass up a lot of goodies. Having to live a life lilke mine must have seemed hugely difficult. So, perhaps she can convince herself that the privilege is gone. Perhaps the subtleties of racism are too hard for her to see.

Especially if she chooses not to look at them. And you, know, that's one of the bestest things about being white. You can choose to ignore it altogether if you want. Heart become quite the expert in not noticing.

4 comments:

plain(s)feminist said...

I think this is really insightful, Ravenm. I like the distinction between a loss of some privilege and a loss of all privilege - I think that's very important.

belledame222 said...

You might find this interesting--it spells out overtly what I suspected would be said, in such cases, except even Heart's not usually -that- clueless...that i know of, yet:

opopanox


For my 23rd birthday a friend of mine has taken me out to dinner to celebrate. Good stuff, since we're both addicted to Chinese food. As we're chatting over a meal about a chat room and its occupants, he remarks that a friend of his online has it worse than me. So I ask why. He says that his friends' family has a name; that if people were to find out he was gay, he and his loved ones would be scorned, ridiculed, and he would perhaps even be disowned. I wanted to ask "How is that worse than what I go through? Because he has a name, money?" I wanted to point out that our situations, his friends' and mine, were not the same. Being visibly marked as different is not the same as being able to hide. Just because someone has wealth and prestige doesn't mean it hurts more, dammit.

He called me Miss-Worry-Wort that night, later in a parking lot as we were listening to music before I was due home. I nod, smile, and pretend I don't notice and that it doesn't hurt...

Donna said...

You're so insightful, Belle. There was several things bothering me about that comment of Heart's and some I couldn't put my finger on. I knew it had to do with her loss of privilege but you made it clearer. She's saying she had so much to lose and that blacks have nothing to lose, in fact have nothing of value. It's like Barbara Bush in Houston with those displaced by Katrina. Living in a crowded arena with a bunch of strangers and no privacy is wonderful and working out nicely for them since they had nothing anyway, right?

belledame222 said...

"noblesse oblige"

but not until you pay the tribute, they don't oblige. if ever.