Monday, April 27, 2015

A well mannered dilemma

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I know I am a white girl.  I know that to others and to society I have a lot more privilege than I really have.  And I know that this is not my call, or my fault or anything I had anything to do with.  I know all of this.  And because I know this, I work really hard to disseminate my privilege whenever and wherever possible, appropriately, and sometimes even inappropriately.  I am not Lady Bountiful.  I am just a blue-eyed Southern chick who grew up in two really great small towns, poorer than some, not as much as others.
So when friends of mine who are of a different background (and there are a lot of those), say something weird, (and it happens a lot), I simply accept their cultural differences as they accept mine.  Mostly these are just quirks and we all have those. (I introduce everybody to everybody, more than once, just in case, and I have been known to call people a coon dog).
Sometimes, though, what they say about their own social group shocks me.  My friends who are Jewish will make jokes about the Holocaust.  My Hispanic friends make a bean joke, and so on.  They see it as being at ease with their heritage.  I often walk away feeling run over.  I call it getting Chappelle’d.
What Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and even Jeff Foxworthy don’t seem to understand is that when you make a racist joke, it is still a racist joke even when you are a member of the group being made fun of.  But when you are not, it is a double whammy.  Especially when you come from a culture or a family, like mine, whose core cultural values is to make other people comfortable, as often as possible.   And when you are in my home, doubly so.
Here is the dissonance for me:  If I laugh at the joke, and they are often very funny, then I am a racist, because I am NOT a member of that racial or social group.  And if I do not laugh, then I am rude.  To a guest.  In my home.
This is, to me, JUST as horrible.
I have plenty of friends from many different cultures who have a similar cultural value.  To make a guest welcome is above all, the height of graciousness.  I have seen this in my Armenian friends, my Indian friends, my Latino friends and so, so many others.  Thus, I cannot for one minute imagine that these friend were raised to go into another person’s house and do or say something that makes the host feel uncomfortable, or place them in dissonance.
And yet it happens all the time, this phenomenon.  Maybe I am just too sensitive.  I hate it when people suffer.  I hate the casual reference to catastrophic suffering. I know that often humor defangs the severity of a situation, and maybe I should just lighten up.
I have thought about this a lot.  Even when Chris Rock or Dave Chappelle are on television, I still can’t bring myself to laugh wholeheartedly no matter how funny the joke is. Maybe it is just a privileged guilt that I feel, the white girls burden.  I cannot find a way to disseminate the argument except to politely pull people aside and explain that hate is hate, even when it is self-hatred disguised as humor.  And this is SO self-righteous and goody goody, and often provokes a defensive discomfort that I do not want in the other person, so many times I don’t.
I have wrestled with this since I entered college and discovered the idea of privilege.  I cannot find a solution and wonder if it just my White Girl cross to bear.  I am opening it up.  What do you think?