Yeah, the one that alternatively means ‘Uh, you have GOT to be joking that you are walking up in here thinking you can be a part of this; or: ‘You’ve lost your way little lady, let me help you because clearly you are confused about where you are.’
One, overtly hostile, and one tacitly hostile, but both essentially meaning the same thing: Nope. Not Even.
It’s the same look I got when I was working my way through college cleaning pools and fixing filters. Except that time it was the look AND the words. They would look at me suspiciously when I came to their backyard, and start to speak to me in broken Spanish, trying to explain what they needed done. I would let them finish, and in my best English say: “I’m sorry. I just graduated with an English degree. I am taking the MCATs to get into medical school, and if you want to speak in Spanish we can, but it’ll take me a lot longer to get your pool filter fixed.”
I want to offer that this ‘look’ can come from a place of class as well. Besides the ever present obvious nature of our skin color, I would be remiss to not point out that this can also manifest because of privilege (read: class).
There isn’t a day that goes by when I clearly know that the sight of a gal like me rolling up in my Mercedes with brown skin and long hair just sends folks round the bend. Their eyes get as big as saucers. Even envious….and I track it all…and yes, I see it all. Did I do it on purpose? Maybe in some small part it’s a leap past my love of German engineering, way over to ‘Take THAT’ to the ‘man’. What man? Well for me, it’s the white priest that says ‘that little Indian girl is never going to amount to anything.’ It’s a kiss off to the white guys who think “Whoa, SHE can get THAT? That is part of OUR club.’
I won’t take ‘Nope’, or ‘Not even’. In fact I will fly so far up your nose on that one that your olfactory system will be forever rerouted.
What annoys the daylights out of me is that white people have such a hard time ponying up to their end of this. And I am tired of interpreting.
Here, let me jump in here and help you out on this one and maybe it will ease your mind: Let’s remove the word ‘racist’ and replace it with ‘biased’. And here, I am going to throw you another one: I am biased. We ALL are biased in some form or another. It comes from our upbringing. It’s all in the context of our experience. See…now that wasn’t so hard was it? Recognizing it, identifying it, embracing it, taking responsibility in some small part, and trying to change ourselves; that is our job down here on earth.
So get to it already and stop fighting the truth that we all, in our own way, are biased. Stop saying ‘Well I don’t even SEE the color of your skin’, or (my personal favorite) ‘What does the color of your skin have anything to do with this?’
It has EVERYTHING to do with it. Look at Trayvon Martin. Look at Leonard Peltier. It’s all a set of experiences, whether historical in nature such as my native community has faced, or what the African American experience is, it all contextual. And once we admit that, we can embrace it, dissect it, understand it, move past it and grow.
Not one of has come away from this system unscathed. I’m pretty sure of that. The pervasive systemic racism only dies when it is completely understood by us. The colonial past built on land stolen from the natives, and the labor of the African Americans cannot be dismissed.
And, if we keep being divided, then we have given up our power to actually join together to effect a change. And really, who here doesn’t know that this all needs to change.
It’s really about understanding the things that make us different, that make our experiences, our contextual world view, and yes, our biases different. And then demand that this chapter be over, starting within us and moving outward.
No one is entitled enough to look past this. Not one of us.
Mary Owen is one of a kind. How many Native Americans from Arizona do you know that love ice hockey? While she’s had a successful career in high tech as a senior technical writer and program manager; Mary is also a top ranked ice hockey referee including reffing for the NCAA Division I women’s hockey and also a stint at the Winter Olympics in 2002. Mary visits the Navajo Nation yearly and volunteers for many activities in the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program. The Program supports the traditional Elders who live in the cultural and spiritual traditions of The ‘Dine’ (Navajo) People. Mary resides in San Francisco with her animal children Mimi, Taki and Pony.