Wednesday, July 06, 2005

One Classy Dame

A friend of mine recently broke up with his girlfriend of three years because of class. Well, actually, it was about trust. It was about being in different places of their lives. And it was about cocaine. See, my friend's ex-girlfriend thought my friend was snorting cocaine, dealing it on the side to support his crack-y habit, and possibly even moonlighting a secret life of crime and prostitution while spending the daytime as a mild-mannered office manager. It didn't matter that she was living with him, spent the better part of every waking hour with him, and that he has a long-standing distaste for most behaviour-affecting drugs. What mattered was that there was a white powder that seemed to fall off his clothes and belongings (probably dandruff...), that he could conceivably drive all the way to Syracuse or Rochester every day to deal and do his cocaine snorting in the time that she was out of the house, and that he had a big nose and occasionally sniffed just like a Dave Chapelle crackhead stereotype. It didn't matter that, knowing full well that he would pass a drug test, he went and got one anyways, spending over $500 of his savings to do it. It did matter that she wasn't in the room when he peed into the cup, so he could've smuggled in some clean urine on this spur-of-the-moment trip to the hospital. In the end, she was so terrified of him, and in fear for her own life, afraid that he would actually murder her to protect his cocaine, that she moved out and their relationship didn't last much longer after that. It sounds insane, doesn't it? It sounds like this woman has gone off the deep end with her paranoia and really might need professional help. Interestingly enough, she's not. As much as someone like me might write this off as pure insanity, the problem towards the end of this relationship was as much about class as it was about trust. The ex-girlfriend, it turns out, grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood in which living secret lives of drugs and crime are so commonplace that it was completely conceivable to her that her boyfriend might indeed be a secret drug addict, hiding it even from her. I found out through the course of a conversation with my friend that his ex knew several friends who had been killed in just such a scenario and close members of her family had even hid drug habits for decades. Her childhood had been spent in a rough neighbourhood of a lower class than what we both were familiar with, and what sounded crazy to us was understandable and even logical given her circumstances and class background. The reason I highlight this story is because as part of the ongoing privilege discussion going on in my head, I've been wondering exactly how activists can deal with a majority group that can't recognize privilege and bias. In this case, no one, myself included, even realized there was a class element to the story -- we all thought she was acting totally off her rocker until it was explained that, given her class background, she wasn't insane after all. Which leads me to wonder if perhaps there isn't a lesson to be learned about dealing with the mainstream. Can we, as members of the minority, get but so upset of the majority doesn't recognize or want to deal with our issues? Just as I didn't recognize the class issues in play with my friend's relationship, members of the majority have no frame of reference to even recognize that there is a problem of race, class, or sex coming into play, let alone how to deal with it. Having never had their identity challenged, can members of the majority even see the issues when it affects others? For members of the majority, when a minority claims racial, sexual, or even economic bias, it seems like a non sequitor because the mainstream doesn't have a clue as to what the minority experience is even like, let alone how it might influence day-to-day activities. It's not even necessarily an issue of hatred or bigotry, but total and complete ignorance. Not to echo a previous post, but it seems more and more to me that the issues we as a minority face are not about finding solutions but raising awareness so that those who have no frame of reference can recognize the problem when they come face to face with it. Of course, this raises another issue -- at what point does this path become one in which the minority is forced into the role of teacher? Minority groups shouldn't be redefined as the oppression educator or ambassador to the mainstream, and as much as I learned something through this example I cite, I would be just as uncomfortable with the ex-girlfriend becoming my "teacher" as she would be. We therefore reach an impasse. Minorities have the right to expect the mainstream to understand and recognize identity issues when it faces them, after all, it's not as if America wasn't built upon a history of bigotry and oppression, but when it becomes so subtle and detached an influence as this, is it our responsibility as a community to connect the dots? Still, my inclination is to be unforgiving, that it was my fault for not recognizing the class issues just like it is the white man's fault for not recognizing racial intolerance in his own actions. In the end, it's not the responsibility of the minority to teach, but for the majority to recognize the gaps in their own education and take it upon themselves to learn on their own without appropriating the minority as educator. Of course, that's not to say that, class aside, the ex wasn't guilty of having some serious trust issues.


Anonymous Kaede said...

You know, this really hits the nail on the head with regards to our discussion of the other night on that racial harrassment issue. It really does make me think and re-think my reaction to the article in question. As you know, I've never had to grow up with what my mother and aunts did, and thus haven't got this particular frame of reference, otherwise I might have reacted differently. NOW I recognise it LOL. You prolly wanna beat me round the head now ;) *is teasing* but yeah, I do agree with you in a lot of what you said.

One thing that perhaps I might say though - I think it goes a bit of both ways with regards to educating each other and oneself on these issues. We can't have just one way or the other....That's the tricky part - finding that middle ground. I would have to argue that leaving the onus on the majority to work it out for themselves is a bit of a cop-out. I am sure that minorities of all stripes are sick of having to beat their heads against brick walls, I can't really relate, not being brought up that way. It just seems like it would be fairer all round (tho perhaps what's fair isn't so, considering the history of people in the last several hundred years and their treatment of minorities) if people met each other halfway.

I have other stuff I wanted to say but can't think of how to say it without coming off as rude or condescending (maybe moreso than I already am?) so I'll shut up now...

Just think you are and were right....*chuckles ruefully*

7/06/2005 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

thanks for the comments and for the most part i agree with you, although i disagree that minorities should play "teacher" in any sense because, in a perfect world, there's no reason we should end up having to defend who we are. and in the real world, the privileged rarely take the responsibility at all to educate themselves, even when the minority IS actively teaching them.

i dunno, i guess it's just me getting fed up with the idea that racial or sexual minorities are just discovering new ways of being used.

7/07/2005 01:40:00 PM  

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