Everyday I struggle with my own mind and social conditioning. Everyday. I live in a world that tells me that I am not valuable. I am black. I am a woman. I am poor (or damn near it).
But then I am also told that I am valuable in other ways, even though I’m still pretty shitty. Even though I’m a poor, black woman, society tells me that I’m not so bad off since I’m straight, able-bodied, thin, light skinned, and overall okay when it comes to a euro-centric standard of beauty. I speak the white man’s english and have a Master’s degree.
If something terrible happens to me, am I valuable enough to deserve your sympathy? Am I good enough?
I ask because this morning a friend of mine posted a status on his Facebook that surprised me. And this is not some John Doe that I regularly argue with in the comments section of online news stories. This is a man that I consider a friend. Someone I love and respect.
If a reporter wants you to talk about the fallout of Hurricane Sandy on camera, do not expect sympathy for all the things your community has lost if one of those things is a “liberry.” A hurricane doesn’t make you stupid. Learn to speak correctly, fools!
Now, this friend of mine is the shit. He has everything going for him. He’s intelligent, funny, tall, handsome, athletic, educated, artistic, well-traveled, and even speaks a few languages. I don’t think there’s a girl or guy I’ve met that wasn’t attracted to him in some way. Poor girls just piss all over themselves for him even when they know he prefers men.
He’s also white, male, and comes from money.
If something terrible happens to him, will he get your sympathy? If tomorrow everything was taken from him, will he get your sympathy?
If we were put up against each other, if we both lost everything and put up a donation page…I wonder who would get the outpouring of love and support. I wonder if there was a photo of me and a photo of him, who would folks most likely think deserves their help and sympathy.
Faced with this, I wanted to engage him. I wanted to give him something to think about. So I simply wrote “Sympathy is contingent on your perceived intelligence?” and left it at that.
What I hope happens is that he reads it. I hope he thinks about it. I hope he ponders the politics surrounding language. I hope he thinks about the issues of language, ethnicity, class, and race that play into someone’s perceived intelligence. I hope he realizes that he had and has opportunities that not a lot of people have. I hope he considers that public schools and libraries in poorer neighborhoods are struggling. I hope he does a bit of research into environmental racism and residential segregation.
I hope he will change his own mind. I hope he’s not the only one who will think about these things. I hope we all will. I hope that we’ll all keep trying.
I hope one day there won’t be a prerequisite for love and sympathy.
The other day I started a conversation in a Facebook group I belong to that’s supposed to be for nerds to generally geek out over dorky things, but to also sometimes have meaningful conversations.
The topic I brought up was The Onion and Quvenzhane Wallis. I was noticing how people were reacting all over the Internet, and I started to see that there were demographic patterns emerging. It seemed that the people who were most vocal about their disapproval of The Onion where female and black. It seemed that white men were more likely to defend The Onion. White women and black men seemed split in either camp. I wasn’t sure if it was as much of a gender thing than it was a race thing, so I brought it up in a Facebook group which consists of mostly men of color.