Taking Off the Wraps

It is cold outside. The sky is shadowed and grey. The chill wind raises goose bumps on my bare arms. I have a cobalt blue sweater in my bag, but I don’t put it on because I need to be here right in this moment—I need to feel it.

 

Yesterday was May Day—International Workers Day.

Yesterday someone whom I care about told me that they needed a medical procedure. Told me that they had known that something was wrong, but that they could not afford to go to the doctor until very recently because of the limits on their health insurance plan.

Maybe it will be nothing. I pray that it will be nothing. I cry, thinking that it might be more.

I tuck this knowledge inside of my heart, folded up right alongside of the stories my partner had told me of ambulance rides and an off-the-books surgery from his youth specifically delivered to him because his family could not afford what he needed to stay alive.

 

Today after class I cry from anger, from frustration, from hurt, from fear. I am afraid for my friend, and I am afraid for these white men in my class who have exhibited so much bigotry today that, even as I rage at them, I fear for their souls.

 

I erupted today in a flurry of hand-waving, voice-raising, expletive-laced action. No passivity left in this woman. None.

One of the lessons I learned from my father is that some people don’t want to talk—they want to lecture, and when you meet someone who wants to lecture you about your experience the only good listening does is help you to get acquainted with their argument so that you can decide how best to not only meet what they throw, but better them.

 

I am small—not even 5 feet 1 inch. My looks come from Korea.

Do not be fooled by these outward appearances because my stamina for arguing is the gift of years of misunderstanding and my words are the lovechildren of middle-class academia and all of the working-class folk I have loved for years.

 

So, when my young, white, male, heterosexual, nondisabled peer tells me that, as a white man, he’s experienced racism, I take off the wraps because, stepping to me in this fashion this late in the semester, it’s easy to identify that this is a street brawl.

I tell him it is history and structure. That he may well have been discriminated against, and/or been subject to prejudice or bigotry, but that doesn’t equal racism. No.

And he fights me, tooth and nail, but what he doesn’t count on is that I can see things clearly now and I know he’s not going to change. I’ve got nothing left to lose.

I call him out when he interrupts me. He thought I’d just let him talk over me like I’m nothing.

They start to agree with each other, these white men I’m talking to.

Since there’s three of them and only one of me, I raise my voice because I can play that game, too.

When my peer finally tells me that if people of color want any change they need to make white people stop feeling like “assholes” for bring up historical inequality (think slavery), I finally understand the landscape I am travelling.

 

During class discussion, I call out another young, white, nondisabled, heterosexual man when he says that the Middle East is the most patriarchal society. As if such a thing is quantifiable. As if the Middle East is one place made up of a completely homogenous people—this from a white man who probably wouldn’t like it very much if people lumped him in with all other white people.

I tell him that what he’s saying is patently ridiculous and reflects U.S. American propagandistic portrayals of the “Middle East.” He does not take this well and does what every over-privileged white man I’ve ever met does—yells out demanding to be heard.

So, I call out, too. Specifically, I call him out for being so privileged by his whiteness and his maleness that he does not see the way that women are subordinated in our culture, the way that all minorities are still discriminated against in our society—so much so that it doesn’t even have to be state-mandated.

 

Ultimately I’m glad that I did what I did, but it didn’t come without cost to me.

That’s the double-edged liberation of taking off the wraps—you aren’t protected anymore either.

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