Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Recovering Racist

I've been rereading a book of mine, called White Girl. It's by Sylvia Olsen. In this book, a girl named Josie is living with her single mother. Both are white, and like many white people, don't think much about race. Then Josie's mother falls in love with Martin, an Indian (as he calls himself) from the nearby reservation. They get married and Josie and her mother move in with Martin. Josie, as the only white kid on the reservation, comes to understand a lot about race that she'd never thought about before.
One scene made me think. In this scene, Josie's Mom is talking to Josie's grandmother Mavis about her plans to marry Martin.

Mom had argued with Mavis about Indians on the phone, two weeks before the wedding. Mavis obviously had told Mom you couldn't mix oil and water. I imagined her voice: "It'll never work. And furthermore, you should think about Josie. The Indian reserve is no place for her."
"You're prejudiced," hollored Mom.
Of course Mavis must have denied it.
"What do you think?" Mom said in a controlled voice. "You think Indians are slinking around the corners of the reserve waiting to pounce on a little white girl?" (How was that for irony?)
I didn't hear Mavis's response, but it was what Mom said next that made me understand the trouble she was in now.
"Anyway, Mom," she had said, "Martin isn't wild and stupid and drunk like all the other Indians. He's different."

(The irony was that when Josie's new friend Rose asked Josie's Mom if they could go for a walk around the reserve, Josie's Mom was afraid of the same thing she accused Mavis of fearing.)
I thought about the irony of a racist calling another racist prejudiced. I realized that it's far more common for people to point out other people's prejudice than their own. Partly it may be that it's modeled more. It also may be that people simply don't realize they have a certain prejudiced view until they stop having it, that looking at your own prejudices makes them collapse.
I was thinking it would be good if people talked more about how to recognize when you are being discriminatory and change your own viewpoint and behavior. I once read about a group called Recovering Racists, who wear buttons announcing that they are Recovering Racists. Apparently this tends to get a lot of comments from non-white people.
Thinking about them, I decided to examine if I've been discriminatory towards disabled people recently. An example popped into my mind.
I volunteer with an activity program for disabled kids. It just ended for Christmas, but I'm planning to sign up again when it starts in spring. One boy in the program has severe CP, and can't sit up without help. He can't talk, but moans sometimes. I have repeatedly underestimated how much he understands, automatically slipping into viewing him as a 'vegetable'. I was surprised in the summer program when I overheard his mother saying he woke up really early on the first day because he knew this program was starting and was so excited, since I hadn't realized he enjoyed the program since he seemed unable to participate much. Just recently, on the last day of the fall program, he was moaning and the program coordinater commented that he was sad that it was ending. All the other kids were having fun, not thinking ahead to the fact that this was the last day, but this boy anticipated that he wouldn't be coming there next week and was upset. I need to learn to recognize that just because someone can't move much or talk doesn't mean they aren't aware.

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Blogger abfh said...

The world would be a lot better off if more people acknowledged that they are recovering racists, instead of trying to pretend otherwise. (Does this group have 12-step meetings too?)

2:52 PM  
Blogger Ettina said...

I found a website about the Recovering Racists:
It does look like they have 12-step type stuff.

11:50 AM  
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