Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Parables - Oppression - I Can't See (Fully) Inside

Yesterday I wrote about - Wrong Place, Wrong Time, John Rich's fascinating book. (Now I'd like to say a little more related to what I read in this book.)

A. Parable One:

Roy Martin, as John Rich described him, is an admirable man who has struggled and moved from the inner city world of his youth to successfully working to help youths growing up as he grew up. He has moved, with serious struggle, to a middle class world, though it hasn't been and isn't easy for him.

At one time Roy Martin was just completing a period as an intern at Senator Kerry's Office when he totally disappeared from Senator Kerry's Staff and John Rich. While Rich could not reach Martin, he heard that he was "ok" but needed to take care of some things before he could be reachable and in contact again.

After being unreachable for close to a year, Rich was able to contact Martin and was together with him briefly. Martin was clearly stressed and scared. He disclosed little as to what was going on but indicated that he was doing what he needed to do and would be in touch when things were worked out.

Close to a year later Martin reappeared and began working for Senator Kerry again. John Rich then learned that Martin had been getting his hair cut when a young man from his past came into the barber shop, clearly being about to physically attack him.

Martin escaped and realized that he'd not gotten free of his past, He felt that he needed to resolve things (privately) before he could move forward in his life. He did not want to face a situation where he might be attacked while working for Senator Kerry or being with John Rich. He did not want to have his violent past thrust into the lives of his new mentors and supporters in his middle class, predominantly White worlds.

Rich evidently never learned details as to how Martin made peace with those who wanted to attack him. He was only clear that he'd not attacked or killed others in achieving what he had sought.

While I can understand the words and appreciate much here this is a totally foreign type of life experience in my White World.

B. Interlude:

I've lived mostly in a "safe White world". As a child I had no fears of "criminals" attacking me, burglars or robbers invading our home or other things that might have been more common in poorer, often minority, often urban communities.

As an adult my life has similarly been mostly "safe" and isolated from the complexities of worlds of murders, serious drug problems, and other such issues. I have had moments of drama such as the two times I was held up at gunpoint in Chicago (1970's) and Oakland (1990's), not living in isolation.

As a child there were, of course, things that happened. My father died of stomach cancer when I was 13 and my brother was 11. A boy I knew (part of the Jewish community of our town) died at a junior high school football practice after choking on his own vomit. Others faced serious obstacles in their lives.

Two stories I've recounted previously stick in my mind relating to oppressions:

1. During my men's anti-rape organizing period in the mid-1980's - I remember the quoted story (in a video I think) of a woman who was the majority leader of one of the legislative branches of the Wisconsin State Government at the time. She indicated that despite the power that she wielded at the state capitol, when she stepped into the nearby parking garage at night, she was just another woman trying to be careful that she not sexually assaulted by a man who might be hidden from her sight.

2. At a men's retreat I attended in California a little later in the 1980's I remember a man I talked with (who was Black). He'd co-hosted a major session on racism with a White ally/friend earlier. In that session he'd encountered much resistance to his statements regarding racism and oppression. Other men had talked of how he shouldn't talk at them in the tone/style he used, because they'd faced oppressions themselves - related to abuse and homophobia. Talking privately he confided to me that he'd chosen Not to respond to their words speaking of how he'd been physically attacked and similarly oppressed as a boy, on top of the racism that he'd faced.

C. Parable Two:

Someone I care about has just learned that she will soon have a new supervisor at work who will be between her and her boss. Previously, she was seemingly "number two" at her agency.

She was and is extremely upset that she's "not good enough" to be the one formally taking over the leadership position that is being created. She had previously suggested that the leadership logically could either involve a single deputy director as is seemingly happening now (hoping that it would be her), or involve two such leaders; herself and a new director.

The only answers which come forth all relate to her being assertive and "making others uncomfortable", including her boss. Being Non-White and assertive and "not like us" is threatening.

It doesn't matter what she says or does. "The Good Ole (White) Boy's Network" has morphed into a "Safe White Women's Network".

Racism - is Racism - is Racism.

Respect and cooperation and support is often in the eyes of the beholder! Competency and performance and other factors don't seemingly matter here.

I'm sad. I'm touched. While I can understand the words and appreciate much here this is a totally foreign type of life experience in my White World.


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