About Me

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Quaker, French-speaker, educator, anti-racist; Southern-born & raised, and talking enthusaist.

2010-08-09

Am I really a Cracker Faggot?

Pat's comment makes me think about the value of living in Baltimore. Here, where I'm a minority in my sexual orientation, race and class, I am forced to learn more about the dominant culture here. I am faced every day with poverty (I live 3 blocks from a massive public housing project), and in my neighborhood there are a number of section 8 apartment complexes or buildings. We are frankly an island of gentrification, even though Seton Hill is the oldest "integrated" neighborhood in Baltimore (always has been since the Haitian refugees came here during the French Revolution and joined the European French already living here). When Baltimore burned around us during the race riots, Seton Hill was spared, deliberately. I love my neighborhood.

I come from a family that 2 generations ago lived in stark poverty in Appalachia (Gevedons and Combs) and on the other side were barely working-class near the TN/AL border (Olives). However, my grandparents all worked hard to leave that behind and join the middle class. Grand Dad Olive made a career in the Air Force and was a retired officer when he died. Our country helped bring him into a comfortable life, but he paid for it dearly. PaPa Gevedon worked full time in a unionized factory and part time at a gas station, never taking public assistance. Ever. Both grandmothers stayed at home and raised the kids working their butts off to make their homes, safe, clean, secure and loving. Papa was known in the factory for his advocacy for black workers, and often found himself opposing overt racism when the union would offer blacks the same benefits as whites. That's not to say he wasn't racially prejudiced, but he challenged institutional racism head on. My father would sue private and governmental entities alike over racial and gender discrimination. He chose an honorable path in law in East Tennessee; hardly a lucrative endeavor. Still, though aware of this past, I was raised with all that I needed, in a mostly-white town, a mostly white neighborhood, and in the best schools in East Tennessee. Most of my friends were middle class if not rich. I went to Guilford College and again was surrounded by mostly white people who were mostly affluent. The blacks who I knew growing up were all as wealthy or more so than my family, and at Guilford this wasn't different. I carried stereotypes of blacks, mostly taught to me by good ol' television and the racism and racial prejudice that permeated the culture in which I lived.

So here I come to Baltimore. My first year here I'm confronted with all things "ghetto," (yes I know that's a loaded word, and I use it the way it's used where I live). I am denied a transfer from Baltimore's then worst high school to one of its best because I'm "white and male and there are black women who have tried for two decades to get into that school," (to be fair, my principal would have let me transfer, but in my naivete I told colleagues I was going to be allowed to transfer after one year there when the policy is transfers are allowed after two years in one school; I should have kept quiet). I have been called a faggot more times than I can count and only by black people. I've been called a cracker and whitey as well. None of these people knew me. Usually all I was doing is walking by, not saying a word or talking on my cell. None of that includes the overtly racially prejudiced and homophobic commentary by the black people on the buses (I don't own a car by choice). They would talk about faggots ("faggy" they usually say), dykes and whites as if I wasn't even there.

Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for black male youth in Baltimore to sometimes intimidate people on the street. There is this sense that they can scare white people, and this assumed fear is used to bully. How do I know? It's usually overt with anti-white language. My own students, most of whom are black, will talk openly about this sort of thing with me. And honestly sometimes it's not the intention at all, it's just that middle class sensibilities are unnerved when a group of kids of any race are screaming profanities, talking openly of "fucking people up," or beating each other up and laughing about it. That behavior is anti-social and anyone would be scared!

I know this behavior by these boys drives other black people crazy because the very thing that I understand many black people want is for white people to stop fearing black men and being racist in general. Well, let me tell you, it's hard to stop fearing any group when they use your fears against you. Used to be, black girls were excluded from this. Now? It's black youth in groups in general that intimidate people, including me, though, again, it's mostly because the behavior is anti-social and not directed at any one in particular. For no less than asking people to pick up their trash instead of dropping it on the sidewalk, I've had girls who live in the section 8 housing 2 blocks over vandalize my house for weeks on end (I just cleaned it up, and eventually it quit). Let me add as well that i still am getting over fearing straight guys (well, jocks) in general after all the bullying I experienced growing up. If I hold my partner's hand I risk being jumped by a gang of people at worst (girls and boys) and at the very least will be verbally assaulted. A man was shot point blank in the chest and called a faggot when walking with his partner. The assailant? Black. Didn't like faggots. This happened two blocks away.

Now, perhaps my friendly reader is about to burst with anger or frustration due to all of the racially charged and prejudiced stuff above. Friend, I realize what I'm saying. Remember, I grew up in Whitey Land, and the people who made my life a living hell because I was gay were not black. No, they were middle class if not rich white so-called Christians. Back in the 80s it was still ok among the white privileged people to be overtly homophobic and bully others. Teachers wouldn't do a thing. That same school now has out gay kids (though no safe school laws in Tennessee). Teachers there are more apt to stand up against bullying. It's not seemly to be openly anti-gay. Now they are learning how to love the sinner and hate the sin. *puke* In Middle School gays wore an earring, straight boys didn't. Then gays wore it on the right, straight on the left. Then gays wore one on each ear, straights only one, regardless of the ear. Then gays had multiple ear piercings, straight guys could have one or two, but only one on each year, max. Gays would start all sorts of trends and then they would be come accepted. This was among white people, I have no clue what was going then among black youth. Gay and straight kids at Farragut are more likely to be friends, and more straight people are standing up for their gay friends as opposed to just sympathizing with them in private. But again, this is in a school where parents have money and education is part of the culture. It's paramount. After all, these kids will almost all go to college, and many to the best colleges in the country.

I find frankly, that the behavior of the kids in this city towards me as a gay man are based on cultural assumptions of what is masculine and what makes a man. And if you listen to rap and hip hop, many women do nothing to challenge misogynist and homophobic patriarchal bull crap that permeates black pop culture. Oh wait, I forgot, it is reinforced by the predominantly Baptist, Holiness or Evangelical black churches too. Doesn't sound too different from white people in the same denominations though, does it? Doesn't sound too different from rural white or white Blue Collar America, does it?

I wasn't kept from a job transfer by poor black people either. The principal who made the decision ran for mayor here and went to an Ivy League school. Not all anti-white commentary has been made by working class blacks (some of them were employees at Social Security). How often do middle class and wealthy whites discriminate without ever being overtly racist in their speech?

Wait, ok. Here it is: all of this anti-white or anti-black behavior has little to do with race. It's deeper than that. It has to do with education and economic oppression. It has to do with the trying to find identity and a sense of power (unfortunately power OVER someone else). It has to do with education and experience. It has to do with not coming from a place of love for self and others. It has nothing to do, really, no, not REALLY, with being black. Poor white people sometimes need someone to be under them, and it can't be rich white people who are their targets. And in countries where differences aren't white and black, the same problems occur.

So, I could sit back and and continue to write stuff like this and let it fester. I could get to the point where I just sell my house and move to a liberal enclave somewhere that isn't near poor people. I could leave Baltimore and go back to Tennessee. ha. yeah right, like THAT place is really all that different? Has anyone been following the governor's race there? I really don't know of many affordable liberal enclaves.

Truth of it is, that as with most things, I have to go to God with all of this. When the girls were vandalizing my house, I was trying to figure out how to catch them and get them in trouble. I wanted to get back at them. I knew this wasn't going to get anywhere, so I went to God. From meditation and prayer, I was given the strength to clean up the messes that were made and pray for them. I shared the situation with my neighbors, so that I wasn't alone in this. God showed me how I could have handled the situation more lovingly, and where I outran my guide and didn't address them in a way that he would have had me do (when I caught them littering). The day came, when I heard them walking by my house talking loudly about me as they walked by (again in homophobic terms). I came outside to see them a block away, but looking back. I just stared at them. I went back inside and stewed. Then I thought, those people are going to come back (large group of young women and teen girls) on their way home. So, I went outside with my two little dogs and sat on the porch. Sure enough, they passed by, but avoiding looking at me. I greeted them and the last person to walk by was wearing a fierce dress. I commented on it. Her eyes lit up. She thanked me and i said "sure, have a good nite, be careful you all." All but the girl who instigated the whole thing of revenge on me said thank you. So far, no vandalism.

I have always greeted passers by, most of them who live in the projects. I don't just greet them, but I talk to them about whatever they bring up. We laugh, share looks of understanding, and I answer their questions. I make sure I'm respectful, especially to those who are older than me, but also to the kids. I make eye contact. People often ask me if I'm outside where my dogs are, or if I only have one, where the other is. I don't always recognize them, but they remember me. Perhaps if I had approached the group of girls differently, grounded in God and with a bit less of a lecturing, teacher tone and had not reacted negatively to the one girl's horrible behavior and response, I would never have been targeted. Then again, I would not have learned this lesson.

Even though I have been a victim of a gang of kids mugging me in this city in the next neighborhood over, in spite of the anti-gay and anti-white stuff that I've experienced and heard, I know that I come from a place of privilege as a white guy. Even if I was poor and white and not in Baltimore City, I might be preferred to a poor black guy when applying for the same job. My race, though not necessarily in this city, gives me an advantage. No one looks at me twice when I'm wandering through a store just browsing, but they do look at my black friends, and I've watched them follow my students around on field trips. I don't have to say anything to these clerks, though I have. Usually it's along the lines of "you don't have to worry about these kids, they're really good kids." It does the trick without making accusations.

I refuse to become one of those zealot white people who run around pointing out the sins of all white people and calling them to repentance. Perhaps some of those people are called to be prophets, but many are just people who are like me when I found Quakerism; nothing short of zealots with good intentions and had a lot more listening to do before they started carrying the message forth. I'm not going to join committees and go to conferences on ending racism. I'm not called to it. However, I am open about my fears, justified or not. I'm willing to state my assumptions and prejudices. I'm increasingly able to hear where my beliefs, however based on experience or reliable literature, can be incorrect or partially accurate and hurtful if not harmful. I know that God wants me to be honest, confess my sins to my neighbor, and try to make up for it however possible. He wants me to be in community. And when I see it, or become aware of it, to do my part to challenge networkS of institutional structures, policies, practices and behaviors, which intentionally or unintentionally create advantages and benefits for any one race; and discrimination, exclusion, oppression, and disadvantages for people from targeted racial groups.

So, there you go, y'all. I have a lot of growth to do. So respond away. Correct me. Just be gentle. =)

Pax,

KD

4 comments:

  1. You know, it wasn't until about a year ago that I really started to realize that any prejudiced feelings I had toward anyone were really more class based than anything else, and as a society I think our main problems are between the haves and the have nots. I don't know how to fix that, though. I honestly have no idea.

    I was so sheltered though that I didn't understand exactly how "rich" I was until about three years ago. I thought I was basically middle class. Not even upper middle class. That was just relative to all the people I grew up around who were REALLY RICH. I didn't know any better. Days like yesterday when I'm almost in tears b/c we can't go buy a boat, I try and remember that there are people within a mile of me that likely aren't eating dinner. Its hard, but every time I feel a bratty fit coming on I try that mental exercise.

    I would also say that it may be different up there (I noticed VERY different racial dynamics when I lived in DC), but around here I wouldn't be as scared of a group of white "punk" kids trying to start shit with me on the street. But I do get nervous ans start looking for the best escape route when I'm pumping gas in a bad neighborhood and a "thuggish" black guy pulls up behind me. I think you have an interesting perspective being gay, and also frequently discriminated against. But as a small, white, blond haired blue-eyed girl raised in the South, there are other things we are taught to automatically assume. Whereas you fear jocks...we're taught to fear the black man. Where my husband might just fear being robbed or shot, I fear being raped.

    Each person carries with them their own issues that lead to different prejudicial outcomes. I've really tried to be more aware, but since I retreated to a mostly white suburban neighborhood in the south I don't have many opportunities. I can't tell if I prefer it that way yet or not.

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  2. I'm glad that I resisted my urge to cry foul and read all the way to the end, and I appreciate your candor in telling this story. I really appreciated this paragraph:

    Wait, ok. Here it is: all of this anti-white or anti-black behavior has little to do with race. It's deeper than that. It has to do with education and economic oppression. It has to do with the trying to find identity and a sense of power (unfortunately power OVER someone else). It has to do with education and experience. It has to do with not coming from a place of love for self and others. It has nothing to do, really, no, not REALLY, with being black. Poor white people sometimes need someone to be under them, and it can't be rich white people who are their targets. And in countries where differences aren't white and black, the same problems occur.

    This is so true. And not having grown up in Baltimore, despite my being black, I have similar issues. The culture of my formation does not mirror totally the culture of Black Baltimoreans. And being gay doesn't help in a predominantly homophobic culture, irrespective of skincolor.

    Were I faced with the same situation you recount here, I'm not sure I would have responded with as much grace as you have shown. I admire you for that.

    Peace to you as well, my friend.

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  3. Hi Kevin-Douglas,

    I think it is actually helpful to lay it out, in all its ugly and complicated and honest elements, and not be so afraid. A couple of years ago, I wrote a similar post, with my own issues.

    The Minefield of Talking About Race in the US

    I was also grateful that the comments were relatively gentle.

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  4. I really enjoy your blog, especially this post. I love the thorough explication of class-based bias and the ultimate solution found in unity with the Spirit.

    My name is Ruben and I am a gay American living in Southern Africa, where I am constantly confronted with socio-economic based assumptions from those around me. I had a lengthy response typed out but felt compelled to erase it and ask if I might write you an email instead.

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