Tuesday, April 23, 2013

White People

Ah, as I start in on this post, I'm already afraid of the consequences that might arise from failing to perfectly explain myself.  Or from being misunderstood.  I shall sally forth anyway, because this conversation is nipping at my heels.

A few posts back I mentioned very briefly my daughter's fencing teacher- a fabulously strict, bawdy broad who goes by the nickname of Nana.  If she were a character in a 40's pulp fiction novel she'd be something like the "hooker with a heart."  Happily, she's not a hooker- never has been as far as I know- though if she were, she'd definitely be the Madame of the place. She is however, Russian born, fiercely competitive and entrepreneurial, intense in all ways including the humorous one.  She is the lady who so deftly (according to me) coined this benignly derogatory term that has been trying to birth itself in the corners of my brain for years.  And that would be... no surprises here..."White people."

Nana rolled this out upon me one day when I was at the studio, waiting for Josephine to finish her group lesson, chatting with some of the various moms and dads in the room.  I had to stop her in her speedy march down the tiny aisle stuffed with parents, bags, helmets, kids in various states of undress.  I just had to tell her Jo would miss her upcoming Saturday private lesson because we, yet again, were going to Ojai to hang out in our house there for a weekend getaway with some friends.  And that Josephine would be going to the upcoming tournament, but there was some additional family scheduling snaffoo which meant that only I would be there one day, Jeff, the other.. blah blah blah.

She looks at me in the unwavering glare of the stare you get whether she's miffed or marveling at you and sighs.  Gives a little eye roll. "Ok."  She says.  Then she turns to my fellow parent (who's also caucasian, by the way, as is of course, Nana herself)  points at me and says "White people."  Rolls her eyes.  Then turns to wink at me to let me know that I'm in on the joke.  Which of course, unbeknownst to her, I already knew because I loved the whole teeny slice of life moment as it was squeezing itself upon me.  The only sadness in it was that I also knew in that brief millisecond that Nana had sized me up perfectly.  I wasn't aghast at all, though I concocted a mock jawdrop "I'm offended" face just to make her sweat a little.  (I can't always show her how much she cows me....gotta show some backbone now and again...)

But really I was delighted.  Because she had encapsulated perfectly this enormous amount of disdain I myself have been cultivating for the "White People" of America- perhaps specifically the ones in my own purview.  Of which, of course, I am solidly a member.  So it goes without saying that Nana beautifully identified for me in that minute my own specific guilt and tendency toward self loathing.

Now for the explaining.  Because as much as "White People" sounds like a slam on color, it's not.  It's not about necessarily being white at all.  At least for me it's about other, deeper things. The primary of which is being privileged.  Being supremely busy with all the spoils of your "white person" life.  Being soft.  Having no backbone because you haven't really had to foster one, and so -Being used to cush.  So used to cush that you have to create things like anxiety and ennui to remind yourself that you are still here in the whole soup of the human race in which there exists quite a lot of suffering!

Tell you what- try the phrase on for size.  You need to add a heap of disdain, and an eye-roll akin to what my (likely your own if you got one?) rapidly developing teenage daughter is so diligently cultivating.

"White people."

Make sure you're elongating the "i" in "white."   Really punch that first "P."  Be sure to say it like it's the PG version of what's most likely the real phrase which begins with a gerund word starting with F.

But now, here's the key.  Make sure when you're saying this- your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek.  (Which, by the way, is a hugely "White Person" kind of thing to say.)  In other words, the Nana wink is included in the delivery.

See- because part of me identifies with the derision, as mentioned above.  How could I not?  I was lucky enough to be born to a family, not with proper "White Person" money or even what now passes for "status" in our 21st Century American milieu where most can still rise given enough pluck, luck and elan.  But my family was midwestern and stubbornly driven to succeed.  And so, I was too.  I did well in school.  I did well in extracurricular activities.  I learned to care about myself and other people.  I grew up in a relatively safe, loving environment despite the dissolution of my parents' marriage in my early teens.

And thusly even through all the crappity crap that ended up being my particularized dealt hand, I not only survived, but actually thrived and (though my neurosis would try to convince me otherwise) now enjoy a fairly cushy, easy, privileged lifestyle.

Oh yeah, and I did also happen to be born white.  Which in this day and age sadly, tragically, still really really matters in this world.

So I think it's important to identify and understand the validity of this phrase, "White People."  I'm choosing to take it on and with zeal, apply it to those I see around me every day.  Maybe in a weird way like the African American community boldly embraced the N word (I am a white person and therefore not allowed to even type it.)   They turned the socialization and stigmatization around.   You gonna call me that?  Fuck you- I'M gonna call me and mine that with ENDEARMENT so you can't HURT me with it anymore!

Now, we whites taking on the low-racist-level version of "White People" as some sort of a burden really have no business comparing ourselves to this bold maneuver- but I'm using the comparison just to illustrate the point that it's similar from a sociological vantage point.  I am attempting to turn around what I feel has been unfair and untrue underground socialized thinking as well.  And that's namely that White People are Better.  See- I think that's just simply not true.  In any way.  Though we certainly have been in charge of the better part of the Western world for a very very long time now, we are just no more deserving at all.

There's the heart of my highly-educated, white person guilt.  I and mine don't necessarily deserve the keys to the kingdom any more than anyone else does, and yet- we've got em.


So- in case you're still a little fuzzy about what this is all about- I'm going to provide you with yet ANOTHER list.  Because I think it might help.  And please, feel free to add more in the comments section if you get it.  And god help me, I hope some of you- white, black, yellow, red, green, puce- understand what I've been trying to get at here.  Otherwise I perhaps come across like a horrible reverse racist.  Well- perhaps that's true of me.  Oh well.  Just trying to work it out.

Here's a list of some shit that's really really "White People:" (And just to be clear, at least half of it applies to Yours Truly.)

1. Whole Foods

2.  Second Homes   (oddly, not third, or anything upwards.  Because by the time you're there- you're possibly in the very most uppercrust of monied society which could mean you're a famous sports star, and you're most likely not white in color or in any other way.  Or you're a sheik, and you have 15 domiciles.  Not white either.)

3.  Vitamixes

4.  Private cooking classes

5.  Colonoscopies

6.  Ativan, Xanax and Klonopin

7.  Malbec and Viognier

8.  Luncheons

9.  Hybrid vehicles

10. Organic everything

11. Cloth baby diapers

12. Hand sanitizer-- especially purse size

13. The Symphony

14. Espresso makers

15. Jimmy Buffett   (**does NOT apply to me- I feel compelled to make note)

16. Smart phone headsets

17. Sur La Table

18. Naming your daughter Madeleine, Abigail, Emma or Kaitlyn.  Especially if her middle name is Rose or Grace.

19. Pet spas

and perhaps the whitest of all white things-- with which I am very much enthralled--

20. Downton Abbey

And seeing as I just got home from a Ladies Luncheon today- replete with rented fine china service and  65% cacao chocolates dusted with curry and/or bacon bits- I am rather relieved to have written this blog today.  Like a coming out for me.  Not only is my name on the top 20 list of the Whitest Names in America (really?  Holly?  yep..)  but I just might be for surely and for real be an actual "White Person."  My music life, which maybe gives me a few points in the soul category, doesn't really even begin to balance out the White Personess I emit out of my very lavendar-lotioned pores.

I guess my kids really are right.  I am not cool, and never will be.

Fuck it.  Gotta run.  Need to go shine up the stainless steel kitchen appliances with some metal polish.  The Windex has been leaving streaks and I am NOT HAVING IT--

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