Monday, April 04, 2005

[politics] whitewash

It happened when I was 4 years old. I was younger than my son when I first used the word 'nigger'. I was still living in Rhode Island at the time, and I moved to Massachusetts the summer I turned 5, so I must have been 4 years old. I actually remember it pretty vividly. I spent part of the summer I was 4 at my grandmother's house - one of the days I was down at the lake (Lake Watuppa, in Westport, MA) one of my cousins was singing a silly (but racist... oh, so racist...) song. Something about seeing a nigger and he tried to pee on me or some such crap. I remember it quite vividly, actually. I don't remember the circumstances under which I actually said the word 'nigger' - I think I was alone with my mother, my sister must have been nearby since she would have only been a year old - but I remember my mother's reaction quite well. [she paused - I can only imagine what she was thinking] "Do you know what that word means?" "No." "It's a not nice word that some people use to describe people like your friend Brian. It's a word people use to mean that people that look like your friend Brian aren't good people. Do you think Brian's a good person?" "Yes." "Then I don't want to hear you use that word again." I haven't since... But man, do we have a long way to still go... Hell, I know I still have a long way to go. I'm a programmer, I work in a field that loves to believe that it's a pure meritocracy, that if you're good, you'll be recognized as good. What a crock of shit. In St. Louis, I worked for the sole certified minority-owned, female-owned IT business in the city. I worked with a Black programmer, slightly younger than me, who probably overall was a better programmer than I was. You'd never know it from the other white developers I worked with (I was sub-contracted to another IT firm). He had to be at least twice as good in order to be acknowledged as competent. I saw the way they talked about our firm... The irony was that they worked for a Black-owned business as well - but the guy who owned it let a white guy call all the shots and run the business while he raked in the money. It was definitely a minority enterprise in name only - a good means of winning contracts, but once they were won, see ya... They never hired a Black programmer until they were forced to by the City of St. Louis. And even then, they dragged their heels and hired some naive girl straight out of some small Christian college - they set her off in a corner cube and had her teach herself Access 97 VBA macros - that's how much they valued her as a programmer. I want my son to see that this is a crock of shit, too... While I'll hold off on teaching him that exact phrase, I want him to know exactly what it means to be a pale-skinned boy in a society that values Whiteness and Maleness over all. I hope to go beyond my mother's simple object lesson in close-to-home right and wrong - I want him to see the wounds that we inflict, the barriers that we raise, the fists that we raise... and I want him to understand that sometimes we do it for reasons that are even dumber than skin color. But I'd never be able to want any of this without that first lesson. I hope I never hear 'nigger' from my son's lips. I never want to hear 'faggot' or 'kike' or 'dago' or 'spic' or 'chink' or 'jap' or 'towelhead' or any of the other wonderful names that we come up with to devalue those who differ from us. Yet I know, at some point, I probably will. He's a sweet boy; I know that when he does, he will do so without intending malice. But when it happens, I hope my first reaction can be at least as calm and measured as my mother's was over 30 years ago. Catgories: , ,


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