Thursday, November 22, 2007

Reflections On Making An Effort

What I wrote earlier today (when I should have been sleeping)...I want to expound on some of those points, particularly what I said about my place in the LGBT community and a victim mentality. I've been thinking a lot about racial dynamics and what that has to do with how much I feel I don't belong in the LGBT community. Let me tell you about how I've perceived my environment, being in law school.

When I was in college, I spoke to people on a regular basis in class. I attended college in the South, in case you didn't know. The South has this reputation as being racist and otherwise unaccepting, which, compared to other parts of the country, I don't think is entirely deserved. While I think Southerners have a lot of ignorance--ignorance that I don't think is unique to the South--they are fake about it. But there's a lot of good in their fakeness--they are very good at it and come off very friendly, no matter who they're interacting with (save a few podunk towns in every Southern state that "marked" people generally know not to set foot in). People in other regions won't even bother. Therefore, I find it was/is a lot easier to feel comfortable around people who are not of your background in the South. Both in high school and in the South, I could attend classes or walk around campus and encounter friendly white students. I usually was not without a companion in class, and that companion (or multiple ones) would generally be white. Furthermore, as written about before, I also had several Asian friends and acquaintances. Two of my roommates in college were Asian. My best friend in high school was Asian.

In law school (in the Midwest), I spend a lot of time alone. If I don't talk on the phone to someone who is likely to be located in another state/region altogether, there is a very high probability that I won't even speak the entire day. This is so even if I attend class. So, I go through days, every now and then feeling like something is weird about the way I'm living but not being able to put my finger on it. But I just did--there are days when I don't see anybody, there are days when I don't speak to anybody (or speak at all) and there are days when both happen. That's definitely weird.

On days when I attend class, I usually sit there feeling very awkward. And I've realized this contributes to why I don't attend class. In classes in which the overwhelming majority of students are white or otherwise non-black...the awkwardness is even more intense. There is one class in particular this semester. It's that time before class starts when students are still arriving, but most of the students are sitting there waiting for class. In this class, everyone's white, except for me, one black male, one mixed black male and one Asian female. I don't know anybody in the class, except the mixed black male...and we're not close, by any means, plus he sits in the back...I was unlucky enough to come to class on the first day when everyone had taken all the good seats, i.e. the seats in the back, and had to make my way to the front. So,. I'm sandwiched between two white females. Actually, I do know one of them, because she was in my "section" my first year of law school. But, naturally, we're not friends.

So, you have that five or so minutes when we're all waiting for the professor to come in and start class. There's a group of annoying white females behind me who talk loudly to each other every time. Everybody else is finding people to talk to. The black male talks to the white guy beside him, and the mixed black guy talks to the Asian female who sits beside him. Like I said, I don't know anybody, nobody makes an effort with me, and I'm not the kind of person who makes an effort, especially with white people because I don't feel that I should have to make an effort with them or that they want me to make an effort with them. At this school, I've found that even when white people--particularly white women--approach me, it's usually with an awkwardness on their part. I suspect white people here would probably feel a lot easier if I gave them some sign by approaching them that I'm not one of those blacks who "hates" all white people or "makes a big deal about race," or that we act like blacks on TV, as one white guy actually said once. The blacks who give whites here those signs are the blacks who are embraced. I've learned/realized, through the class I took last year about Critical Race Theory, that a good portion of the whites who attend this school really didn't grow up around any blacks and don't know anything about black people other than what's in the media. That, I guess, explains the awkwardness some of them feel.

It's not like this in the South. For one thing, white Southerners know blacks, one way or the other, mainly because of things like busing...although that's starting to change. I guess I've been spoiled--I'm used to not having to make any effort and having friendly, unsuspecting white people approach me. And that doesn't happen here; it feels like I am expected to prove myself first. That's something I won't do.

Finally, the professor comes, and I feel so much better because the social aspect is finally shut down.

So, two things about this story. One, I think there are enough white people here who have actually seen blacks in person before starting college and/or are accustomed enough to blacks in their environment for their awkwardness or lack of regard for blacks to be about more than just not growing up around any. Now, one (actually, two) of my best friends and I have discussed this before. Our conclusion? Whites have a victim mentality, too--and not just white gays. White people are scared of how black people will react if they say anything to them. You see, blacks are mean to whites! It's "get yo white @ss out my face!" or "I ain't talkin' to no honkies!" A black ghetto mama will go off! If you're alone with one of us, you might get purse-snatched, carjacked, or even raped or killed! But seriously. I recall a conversation with one of my [white] best friends in which I said, "I don't trust white people," and she responded, "That's why we're scared of you."

She's one of those white people who approaches all kinds of people without any consciousness or awkwardness, as is my other best friend whom I've had these kinds of conversations with. And the second friend actually has gotten weird responses from minorities, particularly black people, from doing that. I admire both of them for having the guts to do what a lot of white people are scared to or simply not interested in doing, because I find myself thinking that their walking up to anybody and being friendly is...not safe, emotionally. So, most people are being defensive, and they're not. My one friend who has gotten negative reactions from blacks from making an effort maintains that she will keep approaching them, because she knows that white people ignore/alienate black people and that's one of the reasons black people "hate" white people in the first place.

And, to her, if anyone has a duty to make an effort and prove that they don't "hate" someone, given the history of our nation and the racial inequality still occurring, it's white people. Every time I think about how she's described the way several black people have been just shocked when she has been nice to them or even because she has spoken to them...has simply said "hi" to them--because where she lives, there's a lot of open racial tension--I laugh...because, even for me, it's so real. I think a lot of blacks are surprised when they meet friendly (towards blacks), non-awkward white (and even Asian and Latino) people, because this is a conversation I've had with some blacks--we just hide our surprise better than the blacks my friend encountered do. Even though we get used to it somewhere along the way and many of us begin to self-segregate, I think it doesn't take very much with black people to demonstrate that you're okay. And yet, white people still expect us to care more about their feelings and their discomfort while putting aside our own. We're the ones expected to risk hurtful racist reactions and just "accept" that white people aren't racist anymore...

...which leads me to my second point. I'm tired of this dynamic. I'm tired of being in environments in which I'm the only black person or one of a few black people. I'm tired of being expected to prove that I'm a certain kind of black person before I get friends or a job offer. My theory is that the majority of black people in my position, particularly black women--that is, blacks who grew up in predominantly white environments, attend "white" schools and are on the track to a good career in which they know they will realistically be, once again, surrounded by white people--reach a point, around their mid-20s or so, in which they get fed up with white environments and being around white people all the time, at least in part because of these dynamics. Imagine if you're a black person who didn't at least have the positive experiences I had in high school and somewhat in college. And I know that my experience in high school is also partially based on the fact that I, without trying to be, appeared to be a certain kind of black person to white students.

And I know black people at my law school who agree with me about having to be a certain way before white people or black people accept you, but they are just a lot more willing to play the game than I am--with both white people and black people. I'm not willing at all. That affects my law school experience, it affects my job opportunities...and it affects how I'm treated in the predominantly white LGBT community. Still, I can't imagine being the kind of black person as the ones I see all the time--the ones who talk about these issues and about white people worse than I do in private, and then are all smiles in white people's faces. I realize a lot of black people view this as a necessity, but I'm just not good at pretending. White people know what kind of black person I am, and I can't hide it. I have no interest in doing so, and, given that I have no interest in white environments anymore...I have no interest in most LGBT environments. Because I know the drill with white environments. It doesn't matter about us all being gay or "oppressed." As I said before, white people will be white people.

And eventually, even the blacks who are good at showing whites what they want to see from blacks get tired of it, and I firmly believe this is one of the reasons--if not the biggest reason--why the legal profession, particularly law firms, can't hold onto blacks. Frankly, there are other jobs in which you can be whoever you are as a black person, and the law isn't one of them.

I asked myself a question yesterday--do I hate white people? I said, "'Hate' is strong. It's not the right word." Almost immediately another word came to mind. I grabbed my lap top and went to Typed in the word. Sure enough, it was perfect:

to feel or show displeasure or indignation at (a person, act, remark, etc.) from a sense of injury or insult.

To feel indignantly aggrieved at.

French ressentir, to be angry, from Old French resentir, to feel strongly

1. feel bitter or indignant about; "She resents being paid less than her co-workers"
2. wish ill or allow unwillingly