2.05.2006

ah haa!

well, first off, alison has visited cookeville, which means that she spent a whole lot of time at gridge's coffee shop, which means that she was there with stinky "the trey" piepmeier, which means that i now have a Picture of Myself in the Profile section! yeah for me! stinky is website maintainer nonpareil, responsible for our attractive blog, gridge's website, the christmas hat on baxter, bannedfromwalmart.com, etc., and i'm sure that he put it on here for me. thanks, trey.

in other news, alison mentioned the other day that she wanted to blog a little bit about race and sexism in america. in particular, about how each and every american, in some way, are both of these things: racist and sexist. well, i hope she'll do that, but she hasn't done it yet. in the meantime, and maybe as a means to get her started, i'm gone say a few things myself.

alright. check these statements out:

everyone is a sexist.

everyone is racist.

believe that? well, do believe it, 'cause it's true. (alison can come in here with the more balanced opinion--after all, it's my job to be the inflammatory one.)

i don't have any empirical evidence for this, no blood samples, no kinsey-style report, but i don't doubt the veracity of it for a second. now, before you go get all upset and stuff, let me put this in perspective: first off, maybe i should say "prejudiced" instead of "racist." most black folks i've talked to interpret the word "racist" as a david duke kind of person. someone in a white sheet, burning a cross in a front yard, so that's not what i'm talking about.

likewise, sexist is probably too bold a term also. what we may need in this society--in order to open a much-needed dialogue--are new terms that refer specifically to what i think i'm talking (and what i think alison will be talking)about. i.e. a sort of non-voluntary training we've all recieved from birth concerning assumptions about what it means to be white or black (or red or yellow-they are precious in his sight), male or female.

next, let me equivocate a little more and say that this doesn't really mean any more than just what i'm saying: we are all a little racist and a little sexist. just like we are all a little lazy sometimes, or a little neurotic, or that we watch a little more television than we think we should. sure, being "r & s" is more harmful than some of those traits, but since we are all that way, we share in a common dilemma. since that's the case, we needn't keep it a secret. let's admit it. it isn't out fault. christianity would say "we've all sinned and fallen short of the glory of god." tweleve step programs would say "it's progress, not perfection." (....of course, some of us are sicker than others...) just own up to it--it's okay.


i, of course, have nothing really productive or coherent to say here--this is really just an effort to get alison going, but i will admite this:

i am a racist and a sexist.

i know this because i've been put into situations (sometimes as non-voluntary as my initial training) where my brain has been held open--speculum style--and was forced to take a hard look at all the crap that's been poured in there from birth on. here's an example of something i've discovered:

i encounter a racial situation every time i see a black man walking across a road. this started because one day i was riding down gallatin road in nashville with a friend of mine. a black guy stepped off the sidewalk and started to cross the road--starting a little later and moving a little slower than i thought he should have. we were gonna have to change the speed or direction of the car because of his actions. my first thought was "he's giving us attitude." in other words, i interpretted his actions as a power statement. my friend muttered under his breath "fucker..." it was the particular way he said this that made me recognize the racial situation that was going on here. first of all, if it had been a white guy, i'm not sure they would have stepped off the curb like that (because white folks in this area of east nashville tend to be driving, not walking, and are therefore more paranoid street-crossers). but secondly, if the pedestrian had been a white guy i think my buddy's annoyance would have been more vocal--he might even have yelled something, or driven aggressively at them.

anyway, the guy stepped off the curb. the ball was now in our court. i put myself into my friend's shoes and i recognized, first off, that my reading was indeed a racial one. but what if this guy was really just crossing the street? he probably crossed gallatin road every day. next, i recognized i was gonna have to make a choice: change the speed/direction of the car, or just barrel ahead. the first choice would mean that i was giving in to his power trip. the second choice would make me an aggressor.

i started to empathize with the guy crossing the street: "hey, i gotta get across the road." "if i speed up they'll think i'm implying their gonna hit me." "if i go slow, they'll think i'm giving them attitude."

that story ends with us merely driving on by and going about our day, but the implications have stayed with me for a long time now. a wierd story, i know, but i just want to bring it up because i think race informs just about everything we do. just try it out yourself--the next time you are inconvenienced by a person of a different orientation than you, just listen to yourself think. what is your brain saying? that's your non-vountary training, and it's got to be dealt with.

words i should have looked up in order to write this:

inconvenienced, empathized, barrel, interpretted, coherent, neurotic, precious, empirical, nonpareil.

a spelling story. one branch of my cousins has that particular tennessee accent that pronounces words like "pants" as "paints," "aunt" as "ain't," "cold" as if it were "code." told as toad. for example: "i toad him he had a code, but he didn't listen no more'n na maan in na mooon." well, one day one of these cousins called my mother--a terrific speller, by the way--with a question. he asked:

"ain't shurley, how do ya spell paints?"

thought for the day:

religion is for people that are scared of hell. spirituality is for people that have already been there.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

For other ways/terms to use to talk about this, and for psychologically validated evidence for what you are talking about, Walter, check out the research done on Implicit Associations (google the implicit associations test and take it, read the research, etc.). It's still a controversial topic in psych, but the research is compelling. One of my new friends at UVa is involved in the research.
-deandra

Walter said...

yeah. i saw a thing about that on the television. onimus said it was faulty as a psych thing because it doesn't give a person a third choice. i, however, lover of faulty research that i am, was sold sold sold.

Miss Meghann said...

:(

This is not a smiley of distaste for what you are saying, Mr. Biffle, but of sheer continued pondering over this "r & s" debate.

A debate which is making me feel more and more disheartened about oh, everything.

Walter said...

that's funny (and not funny haha). i didn't really intend it to have that effect, but i can see how it's a tough thing to deal with.

it's like, with alison's feminist concerns and my rants about out society of privilege...it's out and out criticism. one has almost gotta react defensively. it's part of self-preservation. i figure people operate from a place that says the way we currently do things is the BEST way to do things. "assumed wellness."

i guess i'm saying--like an old school calvinist--but for the grace of god, we're all goin' to hell. except i'm suggesting that we're all going to hell if we don't take long hard looks at ourselves.

besides, i don't think "assumed wellness" is working all that good. after all, how is a gated community a sign of wellness? or the design of crosstown in charleston? or the debacle of the katrina aftermath? or metal detectors in the entrances to our high schools?

is every politically astute hip hop artist or african american leader and feminist writer just dead wrong?

anyway, i see the questions as a sign of health--not a reason for despair.

christiemckaskle said...

I fervently hope to get back to say more about this later, but as I suspect the window on this will quickly get lost among other things, I want to say (in the least hair-splitting way possible) that NONE of us are "racist" or "sexist." (!!??!!) The more I realize I am not my conditioned thoughts, the more I recognize this. The difference in degree is not how racist or sexist - because we all face the same degree of conditioning - but in how aware we are that our thoughts are not "first thought" (from our essential being, Christ self, Buddha nature, what have you) but conditioned thought. A person that easily gets pegged as racist erroneously confuses conditioned thought for honest opinion, or even as "the truth" and is willing to hurt or villify others in obedience to those thoughts. A person who watches his thoughts and says, "wow, look at that, I'm a racist" is more aware of the thoughts, but villifies the self by identifying with them. (IMHO)
Oh, and when I was a (white)teenager walking back from the laundrymat, younger siblings and red wagonful of laundry in tow, I might smile sweetly as I crossed the street, but I often thought, "You there in that comfortable warm car (or cool car, depending on the season), I'm not rushing! You can just sit comfortably and wait for me to cross the street!"

christiemckaskle said...

Maybe a shorter way to put that would be to put a twist on a familiar saying. The new version is, "We aren't bad people trying to become good - we're sleepwalking people trying to wake up!"

Miss Meghann said...

I really like what Christie is saying and agree with it :)

Walter Biffle, what I mean when I say I feel disheartened is what is the point to Alison doing any kind of activism, or any of us having a stance on anything, if we just ARE these things we're supposed to be combatting?

Walter said...

i think i'm being misunderstood, here.

christiemckaskle said...

I think of the questions as a sign of health, too (hearkening back to 2 Walter comments ago). I think that's what I mean - having enough distance between ourselves and the thoughts to question them and their implications.