I had grown up in white, middle class, suburban America …so deep into the center of that life that nothing ever punctured my bubble. In 1992, I could have probably counted the number of African Americans, Latinos, and LGBTQ people I knew on one hand.
The interesting thing about that summer experience was that my hallmates included the daughter/sister of Klu Klux Klansmen and the daughter of an extremely wealthy, Punjabi Indian businessman. And they happened to be roommates.
What I remember best about KKK was that girl’s uncanny ability to shave her legs with only a cup of water and a straight edge. What I remember best about the Indian girl was that she spoke of herself in the third person, calling herself (straight-faced), “Princess,” and would never wrestle with her brothers because she needed to protect her ovaries.
Well, didn’t that just blow my little suburban WASP mind. I’d never even seen a straight edge razor and I certainly had never met a KKK auxiliary member and I wasn’t worried about my future children. For my unfertilized eggs to get in the way of anything – anything AT ALL – that I wanted to do…that was a new.
And would you believe that they got along better with each other than they did with me?
KKK often said she respected Princess’ socioeconomic status and ovary protection regimen; Princess would respond that she would usually never hang out with such a low class individual but could respect her structured view of society.
And I would just sit at the end of their dorm room beds going “Oh my God, is this really happening? What is going on here?”
And the KKK girl would roll her eyes (and continue to shave her legs, meticulously) and the Indian girl would laugh at me and say that I had the “oddest perspective on the world.”
And yet, here I am, twenty years later, and I’m not sure that my situation – NONE of the situation– is that much different than it was in Governor’s School.
I am ignorant, and yet more knowledgeable than I was. I am married into an Indian family. I have one daughter who identifies deeply as an Indian Hindu and another who is much more eurocentric. And while I get the basis for Princess’ perspective, I know that its manifestation was interesting and fairly unique, at least in my experience.
As I seek understanding “what’s going on here?” I find myself turning to Twitter as a place for finding people who know about and are living otherness, intersectionality, marginality, and the like. And even though I have learned much, I find myself in my usual and unpopular space.
When I try to interact with people unlike myself on Twitter, I’ve been accused of acting privileged (probably warranted), intrusive (not always reasonably), racist (warranted? I honestly don’t know), stupid (relative and contextual)…the list gets uglier and more abusive.
No one has ever called me judgmental, but maybe so. That being said, though, I think I ask questions more because I find it all so interesting, and not because I think any of this is “weird” or “wrong” (I admit that in Governors School, I thought KKK and Princess were both a little weird and a little wrong, but I’ve grown).
And I often question myself – what am I doing here? How bad are my transgressions compared to my growing understanding – and will my understanding translate to being kinder and more helpful? How selfish am I being? And am I truly racist and stupid and…harmful? Should I just stop trying to reach out across racial and ethnic groups – to understand the perspective of people who are not me – or should I retreat to the safety of people who think exactly like I do?
I accept that I am ignorant. The folk who get medium-angry at me on Twitter say that it is my responsibility – not theirs – to get myself educated. I totally get and respect that. But, like everyone else, I’m super busy, I’ve got a dissertation to write, a field (which is not racial and gender studies) to learn, children to raise, a career to grow. There are only so many hours in a day and I must prioritize and occasionally I get lazy and hope (just hope) someone is willing to slip me a bone. I would be. I do it all the time.
Moreover, there are so many different, distributed voices on these subjects – and most of the time one person is calling the other entirely wrong…So, where to get good information?
My Twitter mentor, Maha Bali, has provided me with an article by Elizabeth Ellsworth. I trust Maha and so I will start there.
But I also know myself well enough that I will always be that girl sitting on the end of the bed, watching Princess and KKK “respect” each other and I will always speak up (bless my heart, right?), wondering what the hell is going on while questioning if I even have a right to an opinion.
It’s not a popular or comfortable spot, but it’s is certainly interesting. Stay tuned.