I’ve resisted making friends for about two years.
My partner and I moved to the non-coastal Western town we currently live in about four years ago now.
When I first started attending the university here I let myself grow attached to people in the classes I was in—so that, when we disagreed about fundamental issues of standpoint (e.g., they did not think that race/color changed gendered experiences) it was like a slap. I remember, very clearly, that there seemed to be no communication, only repudiation of my personal experiences as a young woman of color.
There were two classes early in my academic career here that I specifically remember experiencing these types of almost-friends ruptures.
I closed myself off.
Last semester, Fall 2011, the dread semester, my whole life seemed to rupture. A series of incidents occurred—nothing life-shattering, but, I am not ashamed to admit that I experienced such a large crisis of confidence that I daily feared mental breakdown. This crisis coincided with the personal decision to try to open up again. While the results of that semester still refract through my life, my immediate reaction was to seal myself up.
I tried to guard myself so perfectly against hurt from others that I didn’t even feel myself start to go tingly-numb from emotional self-suffocation.
This semester has represented another rupture, but there is a difference. If last semester was the blinding, encompassing blizzard that started a slow death of hurt and isolation, this semester has marked a shocking thaw. As the trees and bushes bud and bloom all around town, my heart, too, has seemed to thaw. I felt dead, but underneath my skin things were happening, and now I find that my heart is wick, just as Mary’s Secret Garden was.
Only a few short weeks ago, afternoons like today would have nearly devastated me. In class, discussing The Laramie Project, a debate sparked. A young, white, heterosexually identified, nondisabled man who listens to music by hanging his headphones around his neck and turning the volume up on his music player said that it’s more acceptable for two “girls” to make out because “at every party you go to there are always two girls making out.” He proceeded to suggest that if “girls” making out with other “girls” don’t want to be watched, “they should stop making out with each other.” He laughed. A lot of the young men in that class laughed.
A young, Indian, heterosexually identified, nondisabled, feminist woman who had been speaking about the subtlety of heterosexism was incensed. She’d just been talking about double standards and stereotypes, and all that she said, he attempted to undo casually, laughing. We locked eyes.
He proceeded to talk about how no one can really be pro-gay unless they are gay themselves.
She charged, “That’s like saying no one can be pro-Black if they aren’t Black themselves! We’d still be living in [officially state-sanctioned] segregation! That’s like saying that racism is okay!”
He argued that the two were totally different, because it’s easy to not be racist, “I just see people as people. I don’t see them as having a race.” It is at this point where I interrupt his statement with loud, raucous laughter. I am the only one laughing, but really, this is hilarious. A young, white, non-disabled, heterosexual man telling a young Indian woman that he doesn’t see race. If this isn’t a perfect example of Dadaism, I don’t know what is.
Because, of course he doesn’t feel like he has to see race. He’s a young, white, non-disabled, heterosexual man attending college. Of course things are easy. It would be strange if he thought about race, because society tells him that he is always the norm. He’s the measuring stick of others’ success. What my female, Indian classmate and I know, because we have lived it, is that it is a privileged position that situates the white man who says he doesn’t see race.
When I came home, I had a comment on an unfavorable review I left of Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black (which I would not dissuade anyone from reading) on Good Reads. The commenter says that perhaps the book wasn’t “clear” to me because I’m neither Black nor a comedian.
Where I would have let this crush me previously, I now find complete and total humor. Disregard that the commenter looked at my picture and assumed that I’m not Black because of my skin color (I’m not, but really), effectively reifying the whole concept of race as a biological construct. The symmetry alone is the stuff of Joseph Heller or David Lynch.
Somewhere along the way I decided the only way to get by was to keep my head down. I forgot the joy of friends, the way that laughter can be power. I talked myself into being a serious copycat of the hegemony, and all it got me was twisted and nervous.
This post is me, cracking open my ribcage because, I’m realizing that there’s always room for more.