Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cutural Blindness

I am pissed.

For maybe the first time I have been made to feel like an outsider, marginalized. And its especially upsetting when I feel like I am truly part of the community I live in. I mean I can't walk ten paces without seeing someone I have at least a nodding acquaintance with. Then this happens and I begin to question the validity of my supposed assimilation in the town I live in.

This happened last week which is why I am not strewing this blog with expletives.

Okay here goes. I am working in our yard doing what some might consider "man's" work, tying up large pieces of old fence to be taken away by the garbage people. My darling son is helping me in my effort.

So up walks my neighbor to me and says with a shake of his head that he and his wife feel bad that in our culture we have to do all this work while my brother and husband don't lift a finger. Warning bells start to go off in my head. Strangely I am not angry though. My correct reaction should have been WTF! But I am polite, tell him that I like to work like this etc. He proceeds then to tell me not to bring up my son the same way. Again the correct reaction on my part should have been an even more resounding WTF. But I continue to be polite and laugh away the whole thing yet telling him there is nothing cultural about my doing the heavy physical labor in our house. I LIKE IT.

Then I go home and relate the incident to my husband who is mad for a moment but wise as he says says he doesn't value the opinion of the moron who offered it.

I on the other hand have started to simmer. Now I am offended beyond belief. The !@#$ made me out to be some kind of victim, did he? This is what I should have told him. This is the reply I have since rehearsed in my head (don't you wish there was time in real life to rehearse juicy rejoinders to foolish questions and comments!!)

"Mr. X," I'd have liked to say, "I have a graduate degree in business and have run businesses in the past, have been a business consultant and if I choose to work in my yard, its bloody well, my own business. My father has a PhD, my mother is a doctor. Her mother was a doctor, for Pete's sake, at a time when your women hadn't yet figured out how to even burn their bras! People like you, sir, work for people like us."

Of course statements like these rarely come out when you need them and so I simmered and stewed this whole week.

Now if I was just another white chick working in the yard he wouldn't have said this would he? What if I decided my next business venture was in construction, would he put down the work I would then have to do to cultural norms!!

For the first time, I had a glimmer of what it feels like to be made to seem different. To be marginalized. To be made to feel small and inadequate, a victim solely on account of the fact that I do not look the mainstream and am originally from another country. I cannot even begin to imagine how it might have felt to have been a person of color in this country or a Jewish person decades ago but I got a small taste of it that day. And it was a bitter, sad one.

And its not just these people. Ignoramuses flourish everywhere.

My friend of Chinese origin visited a former Soviet country and was pointed at by people in the street crying, "Look, its Jackie Chan!"

My brother was in Portland recently and was pointed to by a young girl, okay fine child, who cried, "Look mom, its our doctor!"

My dad was pointed to in Germany again by a kid who cried, "Look mom, a negro!"

There are people in Montana who haven't set eyes on a person of color and are completely flummoxed by the idea of our current President.

To the uneducated, village folk, kids in these examples, I'll grant you leave to say inane things (some) but not to a supposedly educated couple who lives twenty minutes away from Chicago, a major, dare I say, "colorful", culturally vibrant city.

In these times it is foolish, nay, dangerous to live in petri dishes of ignorance about the world at large, I think.

A wise person might say, Lord forgive them for they know now what they say." I say that too but to that I add."Lord, would you please go ahead and toss a thick book or two at them for it might serve two purposes. First it will knock them senseless for a minute or two and then when they come to, they can pick up said books, crack open a page or two and maybe learn something for a change.