"Love is a harsh and dreadful thing to ask of us, but it is the only answer."--Dorothy Day

2.04.2006

The Thing I Don't Talk About.

Those of you who know me (really all of you, since like three people read this thing) know that there are few things that I will not talk about. I speak out about most anything that I feel is important and that I feel needs to be addressed. I am mostly polite and mostly thoughtful, but when the gloves come off...watch out. But today, I discovered the one thing I am uncomfortable talking about. Racism. I am actually uncomfortable about this whole post, but here it goes.

I feel at this moment like I have 20 or so generations of injustice resting squarely on my shoulders. You see, my family came over on the Mayflower. We lived up North and were well to-do. Then we went out West during the Westward Expansion. I know that my family had slaves. I know that my family drove Native Americans from their land. And in the less distant past, I have heard disparaging remarks made about people of color by probably 90% of my family. And this, more than anything in my family history, disturbs me.

Today I went to a conference at NYU about health disparities resulting from the African Diaspora. There were talks on diabetes, heart disease, asthma and breast cancer, and three very empassioned speakers who are all loud voices at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. These people are why I came to the conference. As I've been working with people living with AIDS for several years now, I am interested in any information I can get about what is available to my patients in this community. But I got a bit more than I bargained for. I got a frank discussion on racism, on the terrible injustices that have been and are being put upon the African American community, on the things that my people have done to these people, that have contributed to the AIDS epidemic. And I don't know that I have ever been so ill-at-ease. I was one of very few Caucasian people there and I was surround by people who obviously agreed with everything the speakers were saying. I agree with them too, but am saddened to be a part of the "them" that has hurt so many.

I struggle with this alot. I am the only white person in my department at work. I am constantly hearing the reasons why African American patients are hesitant to be tested for HIV and to participate in the clinic trials that are used to test new medications. I try to believe that all of the bad things are over and done with, and that because I am who I am and have tried so hard to move away from my roots and to speak against the inequities that I grew up surrounded by, that I am not one of "them." But in the end I am.

I went to elementary school, junior high and high school in a relatively affluent area and was thus given the opportunity to pursue my education further. I daily deny that I was privileged, because my family was working class, but by the color of my skin, the European origin of my last name, my religion, and the longevity of my family's presence in this country, I am privileged. There's no way to erase that.

2 comments:

JTB said...

Boy do I know what you mean.

Just walking around Princeton makes me feel ashamed of myself.

Really, it seems like the only option is to know it and get out and do anyway. Which, being in academia, I can't really say I'm even doing yet. But you certainly are. I bet there are some people at that conference and your work who see you there and see it as a testimony to the decency of all people, even white people. Thanks for being out there.

Kaley said...

Casey,

It has been unfortunately obvious to me that racism does still exist - even in places and from people where you would never believe it. But, I also believe that by talking about it and by being willing to get out of our comfort zone (by hanging out only w/people of our own culture), we can help make a difference. I know that you are making a difference - more than most of us.

I love reading your thoughts by the way - I enjoyed "catching up" on the blog tonight.

Kaley