I actually campaigned and caucused for Hillary Clinton back in 2008. I knew we were going to have a Dem president and I thought she was a better candidate than President Obama. I’ll never forget caucus day, I was on crutches, trying to assist a black woman with a walker. The blind leading the blind, limping in to join our friends and family, to do our civic duty.
Suddenly we were the enemy. It was so tense, the hostility so palpable, I was actually scared to write my address down. Than came the speeches, the ideology, the shaming, “are you a racist or do you support President Obama?” So we were huddled in the corner, a dozen or so of us Hillary supporters, pretty effectively silenced. There was a group of young white guys, bold, blustery, who came up to the only black woman in the room and got in her face, proceeded to lecture her about white privilege and civil rights. They told her she should be ashamed of herself.
Think about that irony, think about the juxtaposition of a tiny, elderly black woman, seated at a table looking up, while these white guys circled her, towered over her, doing everything they could to intimidate her. Oh, they didn’t cross any real lines, but the message was received loud and clear.
A woman I once baked an apple pie for, a woman I wanted so badly to be friends with, stood up at the microphone looked over at us and said just dripping with contempt, you disgust me.
I was so confused. It was my first introduction to ideology, to propaganda, to public shaming. I know politics can get heated, but up until that day I never really understood what it was like to be totally shut out, silenced, disenfranchised. Intimidated.
That night someone smashed my car window, stole my Hillary sign, and vandalized my flower bed. Probably completely unrelated, probably just symptomatic of the neighborhood I live in. Petty vandalism is not uncommon, but for the first time ever I began to look at people with suspicion, to ask myself, do you hate me like that?
That day I realized that anti-racism tactics had now been weaponized, that it was no longer about making the world a better place or creating justice or fighting for equality, it was now about using labels to silence and control people, to disenfranchise them, to dehumanize them and lock them out of the conversation. Such an effective tool, do you agree with us or are you a racist? Do you tow the party line or are you a racist? Are you going to cooperate or do we tell everyone you’re a racist?
Does your employer know you’re a racist?
The last few days the news, social media, has brought all of that flooding back to the front, as I hear the words, rural, racist, uneducated, over and over again, and the accusations being flung about, why do you hate the poor, the disabled, gays? Why do you facilitate rape? Why do you kill puppies?
You deplorable, despicable woman. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” says a young girl on social media, one I once taught how to use a potty. Think about that my bright, young friend. I was doing politics back when you were just learning how not to wet your pants. There’s a slight possibility I have the eyes to see the world in ways you cannot.
And another calls me a white supremacist, a gal who probably never met an actual white supremacist. I have. Many of them. If she had too, she would not be so foolish as to confuse me with one.
So another woman who is so good at shaming, at shutting down the conversation, at silencing people, lectures me about white privilege, accuses me of avoiding the issue. I’m not avoiding anything, I just trash canned the entire notion of white privilege long ago, being a woman who has never had much access to any sort of privilege at all. I also have the eyes to see how bizarre that is, what a declaration of epidermal superiority every time we say it, every time we speak such rubbish into existence.
Can you not see the irony of reminding people over and over again that their skin tone itself denotes an underprivileged status and that there is nothing they can ever do to escape that?
How can one little woman standing in line at the food bank actually oppress the leader of the free world flying overhead in his private jet? Or the lesbian in her Jaguar who moved here, got the highest paying job available, and bought a multimillion dollar house? And the homeless vet, the one with one leg that now begs for money, is he really the recipient of all this alleged white privilege? It’s a ludicrous concept, one that assigns worth and value to people based on a scoring system of superficial values that have nothing to do with the truth and reality of people’s lives.
It is not that I don’t understand the intersectionality of the oppression olympics, it is that I do, and I totally reject the entire notion. Try to contain your suprise, us “uneducated, ignorant, rural people” are not incapable of critical thought.
So you’re a racist… is an accusation, a concept I had to confront 8 years ago, a label being unfairly placed on me that I had to either embrace or reject. It took a lot of soul searcing, a lot of asking God to search my heart. Am I, Lord? Am I a hater? Am I ignorant? Uneducated? Stupid? Rural? Are the things they say about me true? Am I worthy of all this shame and contempt? Do I have nothing of value to add to the conversation?
The very fact that I even questioned it, that I searched my soul, that I doubted and wallowed in angst, should be enough evidence that I do care. I do care about the well being of people and the quality of their lives. Why would anyone look at me and doubt that?
In the end I came to understand not only the nature of racism, of what it actually feels like to be silenced, to be disenfranchised, to be forced to swallow bitter day after day, to be falsely judged and labeled based on nothing more than assumptions and stereotypes, but I also came to understand that I do have something to say, something to contribute to the culture, something important and vital and necessary.
Power is not oppression, power is not necessarily something you lord over others, power can be what lurks within, what allows you to reach down and lift others up. You don’t build a culture of success by tearing down those you perceive as “hogging all the privilege.” That’s a scarcity mentality, one that fails to bring about the abundance of opportunity that we we all want to see in the world.
I am not ashamed. I am optimistic, hopeful,and looking forward to the future.