Living in an ivory tower; race, privileges, and advantages.

First: I am going to reflect that people who say, “In the past women had to say no when they meant yes or they weren’t worth having” are perpetuating bullshit. Say it to someone other than me, please.

I don’t believe that I am a worthy person despite my promiscuity because I was born at the end of the 20th century. I’m worth what I would be worth no matter what. I’m offended by the (probably true fact) that if my behavior were discovered one hundred years earlier I would have been murdered to protect the “purity” of the people around me.

Awesome!

But that isn’t even what I want to talk about. I want to talk about race. I see race. As I drive across this country it is stark where people feel comfortable and where they don’t.

I counted 86 people in Duluth who looked like they had African ancestry. In almost two weeks of being out every day. In a town of 86,000 some people. I started counting on the second day when I happened to notice a large group of black teenagers standing together. Biggest grouping of black people I’ve seen since I left California. I wanted to walk over and say hi and I decided that was a bit weird.

I told my friend I would stop counting if I hit 100. Didn’t happen. So Duluth is much more diverse than many of the places we’ve been but it isn’t what I’m used to.

Milwaukee! We are staying in a historically black neighborhood. I can tell. It’s great! I haven’t counted because out of the first 15 people I saw 13 were black. I counted that high and stopped and thought, “Ok I feel good here; I like Milwaukee already.”

My childhood was so fractured. I spent time in so many places. Sometimes I was in all black neighborhoods. Sometimes I was in all Hispanic neighborhoods. Sometimes I was in all white neighborhoods. I’ve never hit an Asian enclave but not for reasons of specifically rejecting them. Just didn’t happen.

I feel most comfortable in Hispanic neighborhoods. I love the music. I love the smell of the cooking. Spanish, for me, is the language of loving mothers. The loving, considerate, caring mothers I knew were mostly Hispanic. So very loving. I spent much of my childhood crying and wishing I was born a Mexican so I’d have a mother who wanted me. I didn’t understand why my mom didn’t love me the way the other mothers loved their children.

I no longer believe that only Hispanic mothers love their children. But it was weirder and harder to shake than you’d think. Black mothers always seemed more fierce and less… gentle. They had too much shit to get done to baby your ass. Get your shit done. Of course I have known black mothers who weren’t good at mothering, but mostly I’ve known a lot of black women who are very good at passing on what they know about living in a hard world. I admire that.

I don’t especially want my children growing up in a white bubble. There are good things, yes, but lots of bad too.

The family we are staying with for two nights (we aren’t talking to them much) are incredibly involved in their church. My kids are asking me about how that works. It’s fun talking about the roots of community support and engagement that grow from religion. It’s easy to talk about why people would want it and what it does. I get the appeal of religion. I just… don’t believe.

My kids asked me if only people who aren’t white go to church. I about fell off my chair laughing. Kiddo, lots of white people go to church. Remember how we went to your friend’s first communion just a bit ago? Oh. Yeah. Ok, I guess they do.

That was funny.

Someone on line said something that made me think really hard. Privileges are things you are born with. You can’t change them. Things you earn after you are here are advantages.

I was born white. In this place and in this time that means I’m given certain structural support and acceptance. I’m not trailed in stores. People will assume I’m the victim in an altercation with someone of color. I’m more likely to be thought “honest” than someone who isn’t white. (Despite the fact that white people are huge fucking liars. Oh my god.)

It is fascinating to think of my life since 18 as being one long series of advantages rather than privileges.

I wasn’t born with the accident settlement, but it changed my fate. So it isn’t a born privilege but it is an advantage I earned through violent attack? Man that’s how I get lots of my friggin advantages. Assault the shit out of me. I’ll make you pay.

Only.. that’s bullshit. Mostly I shut my stupid mouth and walk away and I don’t make people pay. I go home and cry and cut on myself and hate me for being so stupid I let that happen again.

I don’t know how to talk about the advantages very well. I’m trying to get better. We frequently offer to pay for things for folks. We asked to take my friend’s family out to dinner in Duluth and she was clearly not sure. She hemmed and hawed and talked about how expensive it was and how hard it was and…

I said, “Sweetie I feel weird saying this but I grew up starving and now I’m rich and I can pay to let others eat. It makes me feel very good about myself that I’m in a position now where I can feed other people, please let me have that feeling.”

She looked at me for a long minute, evaluating, then said yes. We had a great time! Oh and the food was so good. The Smokehouse in Duluth makes ridiculously good meat. And the tapenade… drool.

When I walk through upper class white neighborhoods I feel afraid. I feel like someone will set a dog or the police on me at any second. When I walk through a lower class white neighborhood I feel tense. I feel like someone could be looking for a territorial fight at any minute. Lots of bullshit posturing. This wouldn’t be a big deal only I don’t walk away from a dick contests. I’m going to win, motherfucker, because mine is bigger.

When I am in black or Hispanic neighborhoods… I feel comfortable. I can say “Hello!” to everyone and smile and they will probably smile and wave back. It will smell like the best food ever as you walk down the street. People will be playing and interacting in public like they aren’t ashamed to be seen existing.

I feel much less anxiety.

I spend a lot of time thinking that if I ever move I’d like to move to a historically black or Hispanic area but then I’m a piece of shit gentrifier.

So complicated.

Most of what I initially liked about my neighborhood is that it feels like the United Nations. Lots of us are outside just living in front of our neighbors. I like it.

Communities that want to have people living outside right next to each other are ok with interventions. If you see a kid doing something they ought not be doing… you comment. Period. Everyone does. They jump on my kids like white on rice and I smile benevolently and nod, “That’s RIGHT!” Listen to that woman. She knows what she’s talking about.

I like messy community involvement. I’ve already “stood alone” for most of my life. I’m good.

This is uncomfortable to talk about because all racial concepts are loaded in this country. Probably in the whole world, but I live in the US.  I don’t know what to do about the fact that my presence would pollute the environment I wish to be in. Most folks in historically black neighborhoods don’t want bitches like me moving in.

I’m not trying to co-opt your culture. I try like fuck to not appropriate. But there are things I want to emulate and I want desperately to believe I am doing it in a respectful way. Not sure I am. That bothers me.

I grew up reading books centering the Black experience. Those mothers are who I liked and respected. I don’t think I’m black. I don’t think that is a decision I can make. Black isn’t a religion. I can’t convert.

But I can choose my words and tone to try and be respectful in the ways I’ve heard people hit respectful along with very forcefully effective. Damn I admire that.

I hope beyond hope that I’m not just mocking AAVE (African American Vernacular English); I’m sincerely not trying to be disrespectful.

Where is sharing respectful? Where is stealing disrespectful?

I have a hard time with this because adopting white culture is ok across the board. I have a hard time with this because that means everyone gets to be more rude and demanding and self-absorbed.

Maybe white culture shouldn’t be the one we pick as the one to shoot for? Just sayin’?

White culture is shit at community engagement. I believe this is partially related to capitalism. Whites have traditionally lived in areas where they don’t have to work in large groups for the basics of survival so they distrust and dislike groups.

If you look at the living conditions in Africa and South America… group cooperation was more useful.

For white people we aren’t big on group cooperation. We are big on one asshole getting an idea then buying slaves and forcing the slaves to do what that one asshole wants. And that asshole could be male or female. Everyone sucks. Yay!

That’s not the same thing.

I’m tired of the idea of bootstrapping. I’ve never seen a bootstrapper who didn’t have some systematic support.

LIKE THAT ASSHOLE THOREAU AND HIS GOD DAMN DONUTS. AND HIS FUCKING LAUNDRY.

“I wish to live simply. And let my mama take care of me forever.”

Yeah, that sounds like a white guy. Fuck everything.

He was considered one of the leaders of thought! He is to be emulated! I WANT A FUCKING MOMMY TO TAKE CARE OF ME FOREVER TOO, MOTHERFUCKER.

When we drove up in front of the AirBnB place Eldest Child said: “I don’t think that house is the one we are looking for because the guy standing outside is white and we aren’t staying with a white family, right?”

I said, “You need to stop pointing out race when we are looking at the same person. You can say, “That guy doesn’t look the people in the picture we saw” and I’ll agree and you won’t be classifying everyone by their race.”

She wanted more explanation about that. I said, “Mostly if you are looking at groups of white people you don’t feel the need to point out they are white. Yes, this time it was a white guy. But mostly humans do that. White people are people and then other races are black people or brown people or or. It’s not ok. People are people. That’s a dude regardless of race. Unless race is a necessary part of the conversation like, “I was assaulted and the police are looking for the person ok I’ll mention the race of the person.”

Peoples personality and appealingness and behavior have nothing to do with their race.

I feel scared that I make people feel uncomfortable because I am comfortable in other cultures. My anxiety levels go down.

I don’t fear I’m about to be assaulted in mixed race groups. Just in groups of white people. I’ve only ever been assaulted by white men. I know there are non-white rapists (come on here) but they are very unlikely to target me so it’s a non-existent threat to me. As long as there are no white men around I can relax.

White men usually make sure I know that they think I’m less than them. It happens in a remarkably diverse group of settings. Pisses guys off when I won’t let them win. “Start telling me how bad ass and tough you are. I’ll tell whatever stories I have to until we prove that my dick is twice the size of yours, motherfucker.”

I am starting to notice that I have lived an extraordinary life. My stories are endless. Let me freak you out.

I was not worried about dying for many years. I made a lot of choices that were stupid and could have killed me because I wouldn’t consider it a bad thing anyway. I’ve got some intense fucking stories.

Mostly I try to leave them out of daily life because they bother people. But when I want to, I have ’em.

My kids were asking me yesterday if they would grow up to be rich. I said, “Well you are privileged enough to start out life with parents who are good at amassing money and conserving wealth. Statistically, if you pay attention to your parents, you will end up rich. We have skills that are making us rich. If you copy those skills you will probably do well. Most people who are poor have poor parents and they just don’t know how to do differently. But sometimes kids of rich parents have no money sense and they are always broke. It’ll be up to you.”

They both promised to listen to me about money. I’m not sure that is the point either.

Advantages are things you get for yourself. I was privileged enough to go through basically competent schools. I earned the advantage of my college education. It was paid for by the accident, but I did the work. I wasn’t born with the privilege of a trust fund, but I’ve managed one very well once I had the advantage of access to one.

That’s an interesting nuance to think about. I’m going to be puzzling that one over a lot.

I want to make the world better. I want people to be treated better. But what does that even mean?

I’m not sure. I want everyone to have the same feeling of peace and happiness when they walk through neighborhoods of people who don’t look like them. I want everyone to see a black man and smile and assume they are still safe.

I want black women to be paid what they are worth.

I want latinx women to be paid what they are worth.

I want trans* folks of every persuasion to be allowed to have jobs where they are respected and admired. Because there is something to admire in just about every human.

But I don’t know how to get there.

I tell my kids that you can’t look at someone and tell what kind of life they’ve had. Be careful how you ask people where they are from because exterior tells you little. “How long have you lived here?” is better than “Where are you from?” It means people can smile and say, “All my life” without deflecting the idea that they don’t belong here.

We all belong here and we all don’t belong here. It’s complicated.

Help people feel like they belong here on this planet. That’s what I want to do.

How do you get to know people without having them feel used or exploited? How do you have reciprocal relationships?

I don’t know.

I assume, with every person I meet, that there is something I could do for them. Maybe it is helping them weed their front yard. Maybe it is carrying heavy boxes. Maybe it is making food. Maybe…

I can do things that make life better. I have mad skillz, yo.

But I no longer need much help so I don’t ask for as much.

A nice young man helped me push the trailer up the driveway yesterday. He saw me struggling and offered. Thanks! That was super useful. I can get it but it is hard and wears me out. It was so kind.

I have to ask for that kind of help in white neighborhoods. I have to go bang on doors and intrude on peoples lives and say, “Will you please help me?” I do it because I’m assertive as fuck and when I need help I’ll ask anyone. When I broke my arm and I was living alone I wandered through the apartment complex looking for someone to open my jar of spaghetti sauce. I’m totally cool with taking my needs to anyone who is there.

I didn’t ask yesterday. He walked over and offered. That’s why I feel more comfortable in black neighborhoods. You are expected to offer help. That’s just how it is done. Which is why I offer so much help. Because I expect that it should be that way. That’s the world I want to live in.

Many years ago I was reading about an archeologist who moved to South America with his family. He thought it was weird that the natives, as they settled in, would come to visit and start doing work. Preparing the local foods was a many-step, time intense process. If locals saw that you were in progress they’d start helping without even asking. It needs to be done and isn’t done yet.

I want to live in a world like that. So.Bad.

I help neighbors with projects all the time. Because I want to. Because I like being able to help. Because I have layers of privileges and advantages and I can.

Kids up.

6 thoughts on “Living in an ivory tower; race, privileges, and advantages.

  1. Noah

    Someone on line said something that made me think really hard. Privileges are things you are born with. You can’t change them. Things you earn after you are here are advantages.

    That’s a good distinction, but always more complicated than it looks.

    Part of why structurally-advantaged people hate talking about privilege, and why structurally-disadvantaged people prefer to, is that it comes with that “unearned” tag. It’s about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

    Making things you get later be “advantages” with the (explicit, in this case) association with “earned” is complicated because privileges make it easier to *get* advantages.

    You’ve seen how hard I work. In some sense I can say “look at all my earned advantages.” And yet you’ve also seen how hard people work without the structural support I get from society, and they don’t get those same advantages. *Some* advantages, maybe *many* advantages, but fewer. Does some (unidentifiable) subset of my earned-later advantage also count as “privilege,” since some of it is clearly gotten by leverage of privilege?

    Privilege *plus* hard work *plus* smart work gives far better results than any of those alone — and there are other multipliers you can add to the list. But of course, you have to have privilege to get access to some of those multipliers, and a multiplier has a big effect on the final total.

    Complicated.

    Reply
  2. DSH

    I’ve always been troubled that you say you feel uncomfortable in white neighborhoods. I remember feeling out of place when I lived in Los Altos Hills, but I comforted myself by saying nobody would come into that neighborhood and steal from me, because I was obviously the lowest privileged person there. ( I had an old car, an old bicycle, ordinary clothes, and I rented a little piece of a big house. Although, the family who owned the big house may have read as lower status than me.)

    I tend to be classically American independent, so I don’t long for the kind of community you seem to what. I think that much closeness would freak me out. Aren’t people and their differences fascinating?

    Reply
    1. Krissy Gibbs Post author

      Why are you troubled by the fact that I don’t feel comfortable in white neighborhoods? It doesn’t impact you, does it?

      Yes we are all different and that’s good. 🙂 The amount of independence you want in your life would guarantee I wouldn’t be alive for 12 more months. I couldn’t live how you do. I think you doing it is *great* because it works for you.

      I’m inter-dependent.

      Reply
  3. K

    It’s an interesting thought, about helping. I was raised in a helping culture. But outside of that bubble have been surrounded by independent culture. I always struggle with the help/don’t help question. I don’t ask for help, but wish people would offer. At the same time when I offer, I often get looked at askance, because people think I want something.

    And I agree about the race thing. Other than the farmer’s mkt (which is still predominately white), there are very few POC here, and I struggle with just how white this community is. The first person I’ve made a connection with in the 2 mos I’ve been here was a Latina mom from LA at swim lessons, and we were able to discuss just how lily white this area is.

    Reply
    1. Krissy Gibbs Post author

      I find that help/don’t help is one of those things that has to be explained to people so you can then ask permission. Most Americans really don’t get it. They find it off-putting. :-\

      I FUCKING LOVED Milwaukee. Oh man diverse.

      Reply

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