Today I’m rambling about how being “average” has opened my eyes to bigotry and racism. Here it is…
I am so average, so mainstream, that I am practically invisible. I am white. Female. Mid (okay, late) thirties. Slightly overweight. Brown hair. Neither pretty enough nor ugly enough to be notable. Not rich, but not really poor (at least not outwardly). I drive an ordinary car and live in a typical house. I’m openly heterosexual, married, and I have two kids (a boy and a girl). Basically, I could not be more average if I tried.
And what this means is that people often assume I’m just like them. That I share their religion, their politics, their ideologies. Here are some recent examples:
I hear racist jokes all the time.
People say things like “ugh! that’s so gay!” in front of me, never dreaming I’d be offended. Or make other comments including the term “gay” in a derogatory way.
People always think I’m christian, and that I am a regular church-goer. I get asked “What church do you belong to?” pretty regularly.
One specific thing recently: In the supermarket there was a transgender woman (I assume? Definitely looked like a man with pretty awesome tits and a killer dress, idk, none of my business), and two other women around me noticed her, then made eye contact with me and gave me a little “eew how gross” kind of grimace, assuming I would commiserate with their discomfort.
Another incident: At an ethnic dance festival, a relative commented that he didn’t want his kid wearing “one of those faggy outfits”, and so was letting him sit out the performance.
People also assume my husband is some kind of jerk. Like when someone noticed my son’s pink toenails and said “I can’t believe you did that! Your husband must be so pissed!”
Trust me, examples abound, but I think you see my point. Everyday, people are assholes, and I am witness. The thing that makes these situations difficult is that all these people are assuming that I am on their side. They are speaking freely to me, or around me, thinking I will share their views. So then, I’m in the position of having to speak up, and that sucks.
Mostly, I do it. I act like a total bitch (even though I’m usually trying to be nice and polite) and tell the person I don’t appreciate their comment, or that I don’t share their opinion, or that they better not ever talk that way in front of my kids again. You know, whatever’s appropriate in the given circumstance. Sometimes, I say nothing. Because it’s hard. Because I’m afraid. Because the situation isn’t right. Or because I can’t find the right words. Then I think about it for days, going over what I should have said, how I could have acted, feeling guilty. (That’s what happened with the supermarket incident. I just didn’t know what to say 😦 )
Now, I understand that the tiny discomfort I felt in the supermarket, under the judgmental stares of those two bitches, was nothing compared to what the transgender woman probably deals with on an hourly basis. And I’m not saying that having to call out my friends and family and acquaintances on their rudeness is at all comparable to actually being the target of this hatred. At all.
But what it does do is make me realize how far we as a culture still have to come in terms of equality. It highlights how deeply held and pervasive hatred, bigotry, and racism are. Sometimes I think that although it seems like things are getting better, that people are more accepting and more open nowadays, really this kind of hatred is not so much going away as going underground. Only revealed through little “jokes” and offhand comments, and only when deemed “safe”.
What being a party to this also does is make me a part of these issues, forces me to take some responsibility for them. It gets me involved. And while that may be uncomfortable, it is still important. Knowing I was born into a certain amount of privilege, just by being so “average”, isn’t enough. I need to take action, to speak up against these offenses whenever I can.
If I associate only with my very close family and friends, I know that I won’t be offended. The people who know me and love me would never say anything like the comments listed above (hopefully because they aren’t assholes, but maybe because they know I’ll freak). It is easy to stay in a nice little bubble, where everyone is politically correct and most people say the right things and you can pretend that such things as racism don’t exist, or aren’t that big of a problem. But they do exist, and they are still a huge problem.
And I need to get better about speaking up. Because the only good part about being “average”, and “mainstream”, is being in a position to hear these rude comments, and to use that position to effect change (no matter how small) from the inside.