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Monday, July 13, 2015

Admitting The Problem...Half the Battle

We have a belief within the recovery community that admitting we have a problem is half the battle.  We say this because that admission can be one of the toughest to make.  It essentially states to the world, and to ourselves, that there is something about us we cannot change no matter how hard we try.  It can be humiliating.  It can hurt more than you imagine.  However, the admission that we have a problem with alcohol or drugs or gambling or food or sexual gratification or pornography is like ripping a scab off of an infected wound.  The pain is awful, but once the problem is exposed the infection can be cleaned out and the wound can begin to heal.

The same analogy can, I suppose, be applied to admission that institutional racism exists in the United States of America.  It may hurt to say it out loud, especially for those of us who are both White and who try very hard to judge people by their character rather than the color of their skin.  It can be humiliating to admit that the government and country we love and support, through our taxes, through our prayers, through our participation in military service or community work, is riddled with this unreasonable belief that a person's worth is determined by whether or not their skin is lighter than anothers, or whether or not they speak English as their first language.  

We also run the risk, when we do not admit that Institutional Racism exists, of not being able to address  what is a serious problem in our country.  It is impossible, for instance, to properly address the problem of illegal immigration if bringing up the issue at all labels one as either a bleeding heart liberal communist Marxist bastard or a right-wing, poor person hating, hard hearted capitalist out to exploit the masses for material gain.

On July 6, John Metta wrote a piece entitled I,Racist that addresses the hurt feelings of his Caucasian Aunt when another member of his family made a statement about the inherent dishonesty of Northerners in regards to racism.  It is an extremely interesting bit of writing, and I found myself agreeing with much of what the gentleman stated.  As a woman of European descent, you have to dig  a little before you can find something about me to fire up your racism.  You have to ask a few questions before you find out my family are Italian Immigrants, that we are predominately Catholic or that my father's family would be considered 'poor whites from the South'.  In other words, you cannot find something about me to just hate right off the bat simply by my appearance, unless you have something about black eyes and dark brown hair.

I read the article by Mr. Metta and it made me think. 

I can absolutely accept his premise; that being that I, as a Caucasian woman, do not understand the effects of institutional racism simply because I have never been a victim of it.  I have never been dismissed or targeted based on the way I look by an owner of a store or a government official.

However, I wondered if Mr. Metta has ever given any thought to how a woman in the world must live every day. 

You see, what most people do not want to admit is this: women are targets.  We are targets of physical and sexual violence, of being dismissed because we are women, of being regarded as part of a problem simply because of our sexual organs.  Whether we are covered up in a burkha in the name of 'protection' or told we are distracting in a science lab, our mere presence in any situation puts us in danger.

Every woman knows this and we make appropriate concessions to life based on our sexual organs. If we are practical women we watch how we dress, how we speak and how we present ourselves to the world.  We know, for instance, that men are visual creatures and if we want to minimize the stares at our breasts or buttocks we do not wear clothing that reveals too much cleavage.  We are told that is modest and I happen to agree - but the implication is always going to be that if we do not dress in an appropriate manner we are somehow to blame for those same stares. 

Rape is used throughout the world as a way for men to proclaim their dominion over it.  It is used so often in some areas that it is now considered a kind of war crime. In fact, the 1970's Feminist declaration that all men are, at heart, rapists is not that far off the mark and yet I wonder if Mr. Metta would feel the same way about that statement as his White Auntie felt about being told that the racists in the North are less honest than the racists of the South because the Northerners deny their racism.  Mr. Metta would, I suspect, deny his Inner Rapist.

We see over an over again what happens when 'good young men' are thrown into situation that involve alcohol, drugs and a semi-conscious woman.  We see them stand before a judge and try to explain their actions.  We see them sitting before Dr. Phil in tears, trying to tell him that they are not that way, that is not indicative of their true character and then become speechless when presented with evidence that shows they rubbed their penis over the face of an unconscious college student, took a picture of it and then posted it on Snapchat.

I have no problem admitting my faults in terms of race.  I have no problem admitting my faults in terms of sexism.  My faults in terms of sexism express themselves this way:  If I pull up to a store and there is a group of men standing around, my heart beats a little faster.  It does not matter that I am an older woman, hardly attractive by today's standards and that I am dressed in the appropriate manner for a woman of grace and dignity.  In the back of my mind is the thought, "What do I have to watch out for here?".  There is an inherent threat for a woman when confronted with two or more men gathered together.  We have to be careful.  We don't know what might make them snap and decide to make an nasty remark when we walk by, or try and touch our body or worse, decide that the way we wore our hair that day indicates we want to have sex with a huge group of men.

I do not want to go overboard here. After all, Camile Paglia has done a much better job of ranting about this kind of stuff than I ever can.  What I want us to think about as we discuss the problems of racism in this country is this: we may have a problem that transcends racism.  We may have a problem of Power.  We may have a problem that manifests itself in the physical, mental and emotional abuse of those we deem less powerful than ourselves and whether we are beating up the dog or being nasty to the customer service representative on the phone we all suffer from this tendency to try and make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel worse.

I do not absolve our country of Institutional Racism by declaring that the problem of Power exists in all of us.  Rather, what I hope to do is start a deeper conversation about how we, as individuals, find it necessary to impose our will on those around us no matter what.  In some areas it is necessary to do so, such as the necessity to not allow a toddler to run into the street, but in other areas we have to ask the question, "Am I just demanding my own way because doing so makes me important?".

I wonder if we can start to solve the problem of racism by embracing the idea of civility.  Perhaps, and I don't know if this is true or not, by starting with good manners we can start to reclaim the notion that each person has an inherent dignity simply be reason of being a creature of God.  If we can begin to treat each other with civil tones to our voices, to our language and to our deeds perhaps we will begin to see each person in our lives as someone deserving of positive treatment.

Perhaps we will begin to lose our need to be in charge.

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