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White Pride

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I don’t understand the concept of “white pride.”

To be fair, I don’t really understand “black pride” or “gay pride” or any of those others as well. But since I am white and straight, I am going to talk about “white pride.”

I have never grasped the idea of being proud of anything other than one’s own accomplishments. I have always been reluctant to say that I am “proud” of my (now adult) children’s achievements or character, because those are theirs, not mine. To say “I am proud of you” seems to take credit for something I didn’t do. Oh, I know that their dad and I contributed to their lives, but that’s just what we were supposed to do, the job of parenting. They are the ones who took our input along with everything else around them and within them, and turned it into wonderfulness.

So how much more strange it seems to me to take pride in things that were done by people who share one incidental, superficial characteristic with me, to take pride in things I made no contribution to at all. And if that characteristic is the color of my skin, my hair, my eyes–something I have absolutely no part in deciding or maintaining–it becomes downright bizarre.

The larger the group that shares the characteristic, the stranger this is to me. To take pride in being Irish American is less weird–”less,” but weird–to me than to take pride in being of Irish heritage or to take pride in being European American, and those less weird than to take pride in being “white.” Depending on the definition (I’m pretty sure that most people who claim “white pride” would not include as “white” Caucasians such as some [subcontinental] Indians and North Africans), there are hundreds of millions of “white” people alive today. Where is the “pride” in belonging to such a category?

If one is going to take pride in simply belonging to a category, I think that one must also take shame. If one is proud of being white like George Washington, one must also take shame in being white like Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer. If one wants the pride of belonging to a group that one had no part in joining, one also must bear the shame.

For myself, the pride and the shame of things I have actually done is sufficient for my lifetime.

“Real men” and “real women”

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“Real women have curves.” “Traits of a real man.” “Transgender women/men aren’t real women/men.”  And so much more…

I hate the idea of a “real man” or a “real woman.” I have often enough in my life been considered not a “real woman” because I haven’t had some experience or been in some situation or had a feeling or opinion that the person is convinced every woman has–so if I haven’t, I don’t count.

To me, a person who self-identifies as a man is a man, and a person who self-identifies as a woman is a woman, and if someone doesn’t choose either of those, that’s OK too. Each one of them is as “real” as any other.  What counts is what kind of human being each one is. How do they use their unique gifts and talents? How do they accommodate their unique weak points? At the end of an average day, is someone else glad that they are who they are, they do what they do? At the end of their life, will they have done more good than harm? Their genital configuration doesn’t make them a “real” anything, nor does it define how they should live their life.

Lead characters and identification

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Before I begin: I am not saying that there is no need for more strong, competent female lead characters in any genre, so please do not comment as if I am.

Am I the only female who has never, from childhood on, had any trouble identifying with male lead characters? (Surely not!) I read books, watched TV and movies, with both girls and boys, women and men, as main characters, and whether or not I identified with the character never had anything to do with their gender, but rather with whether the character resonated with me. I was never Tom Sawyer, but neither was I Becky Thatcher; I was, however, Huck Finn. I was Jo in Little Women and the sequels where she is grown up and married to the Professor, but I was never Rose in Eight Cousins; rather, I was kind of a combination of Phebe (the maid) and Cousin Mac. I was Dale in the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show, but I was never Annie in the Annie Oakley program. I identified with Zorro but never with Wonder Woman. I’m more Mickey than Minnie, and back in the old Mickey Mouse Club, I felt much more part of the boys on “Spin & Marty” than like Annette in her series.

When The Golden Girls came along, I didn’t identify with any of them, but I picked Sophia as my role model for aging–and I think I’m getting there! I felt more like Magnum, too, than like Jessica Fletcher. On NCIS I identify most with Ducky, and also McGee’s grandmother Penelope when she’s around; but on NCIS: LA I’m definitely Hetty. On Bones I identify most with a couple of the male interns, and not at all with any of the female characters.

I don’t experience my gender as nearly as essential to who I am as I do many other characteristics. So it’s the character of the character, so to speak, and not the gender, that I identify with.  Unless it’s a component of the plot, I don’t really think of the characters as “male” or “female” but as themselves. I’m not oblivious to the societal/cultural gender aspects as they show up, but those have nothing to do with my identification.

Reality, or what passes for it

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People in general tend to think that there is only one reality and that it is the one they experience. I don’t mean “without protection in the rain I will get wet” reality, I mean “this is exactly what happened in X place at Y time” reality. And they do this not only about situations where they were present, but also about situations related by someone else whom they consider a reliable witness/reporter. Just look at how much credence people give eyewitness accounts, and how unreliable those actually are.

A lot of (many? most?) people seem to hate to admit that this is true. The idea that someone else saw/heard/experienced the same thing differently can be scary, because, in our culture at least, many people–and I think the society in general–are so locked into the idea that there is a single, “objective,” reality. (Again, not talking about “rain” but about “what happened.”) It’s scary to think that one cannot totally rely on one’s senses, and even more on one’s brain’s processing, to deliver up the truth, the facts, the reality.

I think that a lot of “this person said/that person said” cases involve no one lying, but two people who adamantly believe in their reality. I think that some (not all) cases of police brutality involve an officer who truly believed that he/she was in danger from the person, because of the police mindset and worldview. I think it’s possible that even George Zimmerman believed that the account he gave reflected reality.

Add to this “selective validation,” in which people tend to believe things that are significant to them or have some personal meaning for them, and “confirmation bias,” in which people tend to believe information that confirms their existing beliefs and disbelieve information that contradicts their existing beliefs, and it’s a wonder that any two people ever perceive the same “reality” at all.

 

9/11

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I don’t really understand the lasting power of 9/11.

That isn’t rhetoric or exaggeration; I really don’t “get it.”

For anyone who lost a loved one, and especially for those who lost numerous family, friends, and acquaintances, yes, I get that. For those who were in New York City at that moment, of course. For those who missed being in the Towers only because of a last-minute phone call or a missed bus and so on, sure.

And if the 9/11 attack had been like, for example, Pearl Harbor, the beginning of a war that went on to personally involve almost everyone in the country, I would understand.

But it wasn’t. Yes, 3,000 people died. In the U.S., about 3,000 people die every month, every single month of every single year, in traffic accidents. Since 9/11, more than one hundred times as many people have died on our roads as in that attack. ONE HUNDRED TIMES AS MANY. We don’t take that personally; we aren’t traumatized by that. Certainly some of the deaths in traffic accidents are every bit as physically horrible as the deaths on 9/11, and I doubt that the survivors of the car-crash victims grieve one bit less than survivors of 9/11 victims.

Yes, it was the single largest terrorist attack in history. (At least for certain values of “terrorist.”) But it wasn’t the largest loss of life in a single human-caused event, even on U.S. soil; the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, killed nearly twice as many–more than 3,000 in the Union forces alone. Combatants undoubtedly took it personally, and many were traumatized for life. But civilians who didn’t lose a loved one weren’t.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, an emotional response was, if you will, reasonable. Lots of people died, and in horrible ways that were all too easy to imagine. It was a coordinated series of attacks, they took place on the U.S. mainland against some of our most iconic sites, they targeted civilians. We didn’t know what might happen next. Of course many of us were emotional.

But then the news media showed it all over and over, playing always to our emotions, never to our reason. We saw and heard from survivors, and the kin of victims. We saw the planes crashing and the towers collapsing and the bodies falling; later we heard recordings made by victims in the last moments of their lives. It all played to our emotions. So responses stayed unreasonable, and have done to this day. The events of 9/11 were shoved into our consciousness, then were kept there by unceasing media coverage. We’ve been forced to relive our helplessness over and over and over again.

Before the 2004 election, on the radio a Bush supporter said, as a reason for his supporting Bush, “I live in the 9/12 world, not the 9/10 world.”

Maybe that’s the essence of the difference: for some of us, it was the same world.

That the terrorists attacked the U.S. in spectacular fashion didn’t make it a different world; we in the U.S. were, as we had always been, part of a single world in which terrorists did what terrorists do. We gratefully took all the condolences and friendship and help that those in other countries offered, much as we had extended condolences and friendship and help in the past, when others were the victims. And we set about doing what Americans tend always to do: taking action. We started rebuilding and we started taking names and kicking ass. That was OK, because it was what we always do and what others expected of us, and they supported us. We were still in the same world we always had been. The 9/12 world and the 9/10 world were one and the same.

Most Americans had managed to ignore the real 9/10 world. The sad truth of human history is that very few humans, of all the humans in all places at all times, have had the luxury of feeling safe. The only real change that 9/11 made was that it brought some Americans who had managed to escape it back into the reality that most people in the world already faced, and that most humans have faced throughout history.

Not like me?

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I once took an online test, involving faces, words, and reaction times, that returned the result “You have a moderate preference for African-Americans over whites.”

Now, I don’t think that’s accurate. Except for my huge weakness for Asian or Asian American children (because they remind me of my own kids, now all grown up), I don’t think I have a preference for any race or ethnicity. (NOTE: Before you get all up in my face, I am not saying that I am not affected by racism in society.)

In the fall of 1952, I went to kindergarten in Des Moines, Iowa. As was the case in much of my early years, my father was somewhere else, finding construction work where he could, and my mother, my 11-months-younger brother, and I were living where we could find a place. It was during the Korean War, there wasn’t a lot of non-military construction going on, and affordable housing was hard to find. The place we were living this time was a basement apartment, not in the best part of town. I remember the plumbing pipes that ran near our ceiling; my mother told me years later that there were rats.

So off I went to kindergarten. It says something about the way kids lived then that at 5, in a city and not the best part of it, I walked alone several blocks to and from school each day.

In my kindergarten class I had two “best” friends and two “second-best” friends. But one of my best friends was special, because I saw her as being the most like me of any of the girls. Why? When I stood behind Karen in line, I was looking straight at the back of her head–she was as tall as I! That was the first and last time I would ever have that experience in school.

We didn’t live there long. I may never have known Karen’s last name, and I can’t remember even the first names of the other best and second-best friends. But I’ve thought of her thousands of times, I’ll bet, in the more than 60 years since then. She had been like me–a tall girl–the only female classmate I would ever have who was as tall as I.

I think it’s to the credit of my mother, a small-town Midwesterner born in 1922, that it never occurred to me that Karen wasn’t like me…although Karen was black. I may have been aware at the time that she was “Negro,” as was politely said then, but I had no awareness, none at all, that she was therefore “not like me.” Lots of girls in my class had my color skin, my color hair, my color eyes, and others had Karen’s. But among them all, only Karen and I could look each other straight in the eye when we held hands to play “London Bridges.”

That was two years before Brown v. Board of Education. So probably I had those two years before I found out (and find out I would, as I was a precocious child given to reading the newspaper) that in many places in the land of the free not only could Karen and I not have been friends, we couldn’t have gone to the same school.

What I know came from that experience is that never in my life have I looked at the color of another person’s skin and automatically thought “not like me.” It’s one of the greatest gifts life has given me.

{Parts of this appeared previously in my LiveJournal.]

The Rule of Law

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“The rule of law” works only if it is followed by everyone involved in the process, and in this case–in far too many cases, and they do include some white defendants (check the Innocence Project if you don’t believe that)–it is not.

Police, prosecutors, AND defense attorneys can be influenced by their own personal bias, can even let it dictate their entire approach. Some police look for the “obvious” (to them) answer, and no further. Some prosecutors want wins, not truth, justice, or fair trials. All defense attorneys want wins–which is their job, after all–but some are willing to smear victims or witnesses, even unfairly or inaccurately, to get the win.

And even if everyone has good intentions, there are some people in those fields who are honest and decent, but not competent to do the job properly. Not to mention, there is the issue of money–budget cuts for police and prosecutors, lack of resources to hire a great defense attorney. Many factors conspire against the process.

But the fact is that the rule of law, even perfectly applied rule of law, CANNOT protect the most basic right, to keep one’s life. Law cannot stop someone from violating another’s right to live. Law certainly deters some potential murderers, because they fear the punishment. But if someone wants to kill another, law cannot stop them. The best law can do, the absolute best, is catch, fairly convict, and appropriately punish the killer. That may (or may not) bring some closure to the survivors. It may feel like “justice.”

But it does nothing, nothing at all, about the violation of the murdered person’s right to live. The only thing that can address that is to stop the killing before it happens. That requires not law, but human change–change in society’s values, change in culture, change in the humans themselves. If we want to stop the violation of the right to live, we must stop people from doing the killing, not punish them after.

(Also published on Facebook and LiveJournal)

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