Thursday, September 25, 2008

I See White People

A few months ago I went through another phase where I was sick of white people.  This might shock you, dear readers, but being a black gay girl in a state where black folks are less than 2% of the population (But wait! That's a whopping 6% in Portland!) isn't all it's cracked up to be.

This latest funk was precipitated by what I've taken to calling, the R______ incident.  Much like when you buy something and then see it everywhere, this incident focused my attention on just how many clueless white people are out there--and, as if I'd suddenly become a CWP magnet, I started noticing them everywhere.  It really made me want to stay home.

But I'm a social creature at heart, so against my better judgement, I headed out one summer evening to a backyard fete given by a well known Portland bike transportation geek for the attendees of the Car-free conference going on that week.

All was going well, until I wandered over to the fruit trays, where I struck up conversation with Christopher Larsen, a local judge who created the Share the Road diversion class that you can now opt for instead of paying a hefty fine if you get a ticket on your bike (or in your car).  At first I confused him with Christopher Heaps, a lawyer who's done a lot of work with citizen initiated citations for drivers who hit cyclists ('cause the cops sure won't hand out any consequences--oh yeah, unless the cyclist you hit is a cop too).

Surprisingly, Judge Chris hadn't heard about lawyer Chris, so I started to fill him in on the drama that was the first time lawyer Chris tried to use the citizen citation process--and he completely shut me down.  Oh it wasn't outright rudeness per se--just polite, flat out denial that anything I was saying might be remotely possible because, as he said, "the process is really quite simple--it's all in Ray Thomas's legal guide for cyclists.  Red tape in the legal system? Crazy talk!  He held his misguided ground, despite my insistence that lawyer Chris wrote a whole article on Bikeportland on how fubar it was just to get the paperwork accepted. 

Sadly, there was no computer handy so I could Google the article.   After a brief second wondering if I was in fact, crazy, I started silently fuming.  I realized that what we had here was a textbook example of White Male Privilege at work.  I marveled at how he could completely invalidate everything I was saying without even blinking.  I'm sure he thought nothing of it, and I'd be astonished if he bothered to google lawyer Chris's article as I suggested.  In any case, there was nothing to do at that point but remove myself from the conversation before I said something rude.

It's incidents like these that add up to making me crazy, sometimes for months on end.  I called an emergency meeting of the WBP, so I could vent about that and other stupid crap, like the funny looks I got from kids on our bike camping trip to Champoeg Park--as if they'd never seen a black person before (and, if they're from a small community in Oregon, it's quite likely that they hadn't).

The likelihood that I will ever move away from Oregon is pretty darn slim, so I learn to get through these periods of rage--and read lots of Tim Wise articles, because he gives me hope for the human race.

Even Clueless White People.

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