Saturday, March 13, 2010

If Your Body's Sexed Female, Boo Hoo Who?

Katherine's not the only one who's said my women's history (month) series of blogger posts is, at many points, "depressing" or "discouraging."  Bitsy posted that at her blog, and Jay also said it over here.  And Jane called it "challenging and salutory reading.  For ... there is still a long way to go."

David's not the only male with white skin and all the privilege he can hardly see it brings to say "Boo, white males!"  He's just the only one so far brave enough to say it out loud.

Which brings me to some of my own true stories.  You can tell me whether they're depressing and discouraging and whether someone needs afterward to shout boo.

When I was entering puberty my family had to leave the country where I was growing up because of a war.  Although we didn't have to risk our lives in escape during the night to come to a land where our skin was dark and our language was very strange and our societal positions were dropped to the lowest classes -- like the hundreds of thousands of others abandoning Viet Nam for the United States of America -- it wasn't a particularly easy time for me or my siblings or my parents.  My new interest in Baba O'Riley ("The exodus is here") got my mother interested in forcing me to read with her a chapter a day of the real book of Exodus until we finished it one month in 1975.  She didn't know that, and I didn't understand why, the black girls on the bus home from school would beat me up from time to time.  I am a white male.  I'm not saying that as if you didn't already know.  I just want to make clear that I'd been in many a rock fight and kid gang fights because of my skin color in Vietnam already.  Violence in my home, where my white male father was king and my mother was his subject and we children were there not to question but to obey, was nothing new.  The gang of girls, however, brought attention to my body sexed male and colored white in new ways.

Before this gets too depressing, I'm going to fast forward a bit to the days in America when I was taking one of my first Ph.D. courses in English, in Composition and Rhetoric.  Just so you know, I was a bit older than the typical student, having already worked some years after a Masters degree in Linguistics and a publication in an international journal and quite a few conference presentations in the US and abroad.  The prof asked me to read to the seminar class a paper I'd written.  It was my response to Jacqueline Jones Royster's must-read essay, "When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own," which is her response to how she, a black female, has to hear all too frequently the voices of others who are neither African Americans nor women as they (mainly white males) go on and on in the academy as the experts on black women's rhetoric.  Hers is really a kind essay, a call to subjectivity "as a terministic screen in cross boundary discourse."  And so I was just trying, by my response, to answer her call.  But another white male student in class had his own response.  His was rather violent, calling me down and more shouting down the professor in front of the class for letting me so speak; and he leaves class to report all this to the department chair, which caused the whole event to be censored while some in the department did an investigation of what was going on.  The class was censored from writing or talking about the episode from that point forward that semester.  That was my first semester in this program.  Attention was brought to my body sexed male and colored white in new ways.

The third story is probably funnier.  No it is.  It should depress and discourage you less.  While some of us were standing in line to vote for Barack Obama, this second time now in the US presidential election, the lights went out in the building we voters were in.  It was pitch black for a few seconds until whoever was able to flip the switch back on did.  Standing among a few friends and strangers, black and white, I exclaimed something:  the first thing out of my stupid mouth was "Ooh that was spooky."  If you've not lived in the south in america, then you may not know all the public connotations of a white male saying aloud the word, even or perhaps especially blurting out as his knee-jerk reaction, "spooky."  My body sexed male and colored white turned a little pink with embarrassment, as we finally all smiled and then laughed out loud together.

I guess one of the points of telling you these stories is to say that I feel there's much recovery yet to do.  Gender, race, and class are not just academic lines of investigation for heady abstract projects to get somebody tenure somewhere some day.  If I'm going to take the time to blog, I'm afraid it's going to be depressing from time to time.  I'm sure its going to make us discouraged a bit and to cause us to wonder whether anybody needs to say boo or boo hoo from time to time.  And I'm not sure how to talk now without sometimes talking about the constructed inequities around our bodies.  But I sure do cherish the conversations with each of you!

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