Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Separate Peace

I recently had a conversation with someone about coming-of-age novels, like the above mentioned book by John Knowles. I expressed to him that during middle school and upper school, I was required to read my fill of said novels, which, I lamented, were almost always about boys. Specifically, white, American or British, heterosexual boys. He innocently replied that coming-of-age novels have universal stories about growing up, implying that these stories should be relatable to anyone who reads them.

Oh really?

What I wanted to do then was give him a two to five-minute presentation on white heterosexual male privilege, including references to the exclusively-male cast of Lord of the Flies, the misogyny present in The Chocolate War and in its sequel, and everything Superbad, along with an appendix on contemporary gender studies and Reviving Ophelia.

What I did was say, "Hmm."

Why didn't I say something more scathing, or at least more verbose? In the words of Avril Lavigne, he was a boy, I was a girl; can I make it anymore obvious? I wanted to be likeable, instead of being my usual "too much".

Additionally, a month ago I had a conversation with an entirely different gentleman about an entirely different subject. Specifically, this second person thought that it had been an unwise move for a certain Fortune 500 company to purchase a certain television network. I disagreed, stating that it was a overdue power move that the company needed to make to control distribution. He then said that I was picking on him. I said that I was sharing my opinion. Later, another gentleman applauded my words . . . by saying that he was glad that I had been "combative".


I know none of those gentlemen was trying to confuzzle me or hurt my feelings. Yet as a black woman, I walk this tightrope of misconceptions and expectations from all sides that few people I know can understand. This balancing act fosters personal fear, doubt and anxiety.

Today I spent my part of my afternoon listening to a panel about being a multiple minority, or more precisely, about being in multiple oppressed groups. For instance, being a black lady like myself. Or being a gay Filipino individual like Alec Mapa or the animated Rick Brocka. The message to take away from the panelists was a positive one: let other people get to know you as a person, and they will stop seeing you a simply a minority. Just be the best you that you can be. No, my mother was not on the panel.

That sentiment is easy to say and difficult to practice. It also doesn't provide you with any solace when you know that expressing an opinion can get you labeled as angry witch. Whereas that same opinion expressed by a (paler) gentleman gets him labeled as an assertive leader. The sentiment "it is was it is" does not make you feel any less isolated when you experience a situations that no one you know is going through because you are literally the only one currently going through it at the moment.

This why I watched Girlfriends before it was canceled. This is why I listen to Frangela on the radio (when they are not preempted by sports) and why I ask that they write a book about their career. This is why I want the new Wanda Sykes talk show on Fox to succeed. I need role models. There are events and issues and humor and pain that are specific to being an overeducated black woman in business, in comedy (Hey, I think I'm funny), in life that other people don't completely get. It helps to know that someone else has been there before, or is still there now.

You know what would help? More coming-of-age stories about girls. It would be a start.


1 comment:

angryyoungwoman said...

I know it's not the same thing at all, but a lot of people underestimate my intellect because of the seizures, then when I actually state a reasoned opinion or fact that differs from the narratives they try to feed me (or when I want to do medical treatments my way, or home-care my way) they are stunned and offended. I think they are so used to the ideas a)that disabled people are passive, and b)that women are passive (or should be, ha) that it seriously throws them off balance when I try to play an active role in my own life.