Friday, June 08, 2007

On Not Shutting Up

Today on Forum, the program was called “Silences”. It was about the great and peculiar silence that dogs interracial children.

You know, the silence that ensues whenever one makes reference to one’s race….followed by the defensive, jerky platitudes about “It’s their problem”, and “We’re colorblind.” Blind possibly, colorblind, never.

It was a conspiracy that no one ever signed on the dotted line for, but joined enthusiastically anyway. “We’re raising you as a white person, and as long as nobody ever breaks the illusion, everything’s okay”. Well, fine, but every time I pass the front door, I’m not in that world anymore.

What I can’t do is take my family’s perceptions outside the house, nor can I bring the reality of the outside world inside. I have no idea why I’m not a schizophrenic.

Even now, I’m in the process of losing my friend of 15+ years, partially because any time I mention the word “black” her ears shut off and she attributes everything I say to “whining”. You see, apparently there is no history of black people in America, and even if there is, I am not allowed to speak of it or the discomfort is just too much for her to bear.

How do I deal with “I love you except for the entirety of your appearance and what it means historically and contemporarily in society”. It’s been 36 years and I’m still trying to figure that out.

Make no mistake, everyone else seems fine with adopted people taking on any “culture” they want, as long as said culture matches their skin color. Even though my parents are white and raised me as “white” it’s the ONE culture/ethnicity I can’t pull off.

My apparently-soon-to-be-ex friend is adopted, and has no compunction or sense of irony about regaling me with tales of her Czech “heritage” for hours at a time, however, Kwanzaa-talk from me is completely out of bounds. Sharing my feelings about Angola prison, was definitely unwelcome, not tolerated, aroused intense defensiveness and anger. I’m still not sure why.

It’s not even a question of critique, i.e. “Hey, you’re kinda confrontational. Maybe there’s a less intimidating fashion for you to put your ideas across.” No, it’s “Shut up.”

It was my mother’s reaction when I asked yet again about my adoption when I was eleven, she said, “Shut up. I don’t want to hear about it again until you’re 18 and can go do something about it.” Yes, I’m feeling the “love.” Aren’t you?

The few “black” people I’ve dealt with didn’t like the compromises I made in speech and pursuit of higher education in order to survive in the world from which I came. “You use too many words and they’re too big.” Rather than dumb myself down (I do have some self-respect) I continue to go my own way, but the lack of “black” culture makes me uncomfortable with them and vice versa.

So, I stand where I always have, firmly in a limbo of society’s making, but my very own personal problem. I don’t even get any credit from the majority of people who say they “love” me for the mental balancing act I have to achieve daily.

While it’s lovely for young people growing up today to be able to hear the pain of the people in my generation -- who had no one to look up to, identify with, or even read about, I really wish I had known I wasn’t alone until recently. Luckily, there is now an organization called ipride to help those coming up.

I wish I hadn’t been complicit in silence (and many who know me argue I wasn’t silent, but that they had and have no ears to hear), and I refuse to comply, even if the silence demanded of me will cost me someone I was once so sure loved me, but apparently only as long as I participated in the myth of “I’ll help you rejustify your prejudices by joining in your pretense that race isn’t “important” as long as I hang out with you and promise never to talk about it”.

If it’s so “not important” then why do I keep hearing “Shut up”, no matter how long I wait for people to listen?


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