Thursday, April 24, 2008

Musings from a black woman: Cheese and Crackers, I'm tired.

I was reading Hear me Roar by Tobes yesterday, when I got sucked into this drama: This has not been a good week for woman of color blogging, by Holly at Feministe. I didn't leave any comments. I didn't even have an opportunity to read all of them.

That eventually led me to On having a black name, by Daisy at Daisy's Dead Air (where I did leave a comment), and Denial: It’s a White thing, by Ampersand at Alas, a blog, which led me to this comment by Leora:

My sister and I are both white females, both came from working class parents with a strong work ethic, and are both first-generation college educated with advanced degrees. Inasmuch as we can be similar, we are as sisters. The main difference in our lives is that she is able-bodied and I am disabled. (I am very obviously vision and hearing impaired.)

My sister is a very hard worker and has a successful career. I would not say that she hasn’t “earned” her successes because she put her nose to the grindstone, made the right decisions to get to her goals, and met her goals by working hard.

The difference between her and I is that she has always had the OPPORTUNITY to work hard. For her, say the goal is “D”. If she worked hard at A, it would get her to B. If she worked hard at B, it would get her to C. If she worked hard at C, it would get her to D. She pretty much has always had the benefit of the assumption that A B C=D. There was an obvious return to her investment.

For me, A may or may not = B, which may or may not get me to C, etc. And the time I will have to spend at any one of these steps (working just as hard or harder than my sister, is usually longer and may offer me less return on my investment.)

To use real life examples: My sister could earn money in high school by babysitting or doing high school fast food jobs. It was relatively easy for her to get the opportunities to work hard. I sat around a lot in high school earning way less money because people were less inclined to hire a deafblind babysitter or fast food worker. She had the opportunity to work hard.

She was in honors programs and I was in special ed, which didn’t even allow me to take the qualifying tests for honors programs. She worked hard in her honors programs because she had the opportunity to work hard.

She got through college more quickly than I did because she was able to work to pay for college at a much increased rate than I did. I did work, in high school and college, but I spent much more time job hunting and doing volunteer work to get my foot in the door or begging for more hours than she did. She did work hard to put herself through college, as did I, but the benefits allowing her to work hard gave her more opportunities.

Most notably, she got many jobs and internships, etc. by word of mouth. Someone would recommend her and she would get hired. I had people who were also willing to vouch for me, and they would come back to me apologetically saying that they put in a good word for me but that the other person said that they just didn’t know if they could see themselves hiring a disabled person.

In her case, with all of these opportunities to work hard, she was able to build on her success over time. In my case, any accomplishment I earned in the past by hard work was not likely to count for anything past my disability. Her past accomplishments led to more opportunities to work hard and earn more successes. I have to start over proving myself at every opportunity as if I have no past. I have to defend myself for things that may or may not happen in the future. I have no past and no future in regards to earning things, her past accomplishments are step ladders for her and no one expects her to prove that she will never make a mistake in the future she cannot foresee.

So, I have never understood this argument that sailorman gives. No one is saying that white people didn’t work hard to earn their successes. But don’t they understand how fortunate they are to have those opportunities to work hard? And how frustrating it is when you want to work hard, you have the skills, you have played by the rules, yet there is no return? Working hard and earning success is a privilege that is not afforded equally to everyone in society. Why is that so hard to understand?

As an interesting epilogue here, my sister has now reached the proverbial glass ceiling in her career. She is finding that she has reached a point that she cannot move out of. A B C is no longer easily equal to D. She is seeing younger, less qualified men jump past her in promotions and opportunities. And I’m sure they worked hard, too.

Notice how I linked to all those posts and acknowledged the authors, even though I was pressed for time.

Oooh! Also this: Taking credit for other womens' work isn't feminist. It's just tacky., by belledame222 at Fetch me my axe, and her comment about the origins of Rent. I knew Joey Fatone and Chris Columbus weren't the worst things to happen to that musical. Well, maybe Chris was. You can read more about the appropriation and whitewashing of the story here and here.



Tobes said...

Sorry for bumming you out. I am so dissapointed in Marcotte's response. This whole situation is just sad.

I *heart* You Bianca! Off to read your AMAZING book.

Bianca Reagan said...

You didn't bum me out. I am fired up and inspired. Woo-hoo! WaMu.

angryyoungwoman said...

Leora's comment: very familiar story. But if you ever complain about it, be prepared for some defensiveness from whoever you're talking to.