Power changes. That is, who has the power to be heard is an evolution.
I know that I feel like some of the groups that have appeared in the last few years have come out of nowhere. Black Lives Matter. Me too. These are the big ones, the two that have been changing the landscape of this country, and elsewhere.
It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that the problems behind these groups are not new. Women have been subjugated to second class citizens for all written history. Black has been a measure of one’s lack of worth, a weird arithmetic where the value of black skin is an inverse relationship in time to their perceived worth as humans as it stopped being the mark of a commodity and slowly becomes just another facet of humanity.
These aren’t new problems, then. So why are they now so public, so newsworthy?
I think it’s because we (all of us) are seeing groups who are finally achieving enough social standing for their concerns to be taken seriously. After all this time, a black man can finally say that the life they have to live is unfair, and we, the public, that is everyone who isn’t black, those who are black, and largely those of us who have been living the privilege of being white, we realize that they are telling the truth. That we owe it to them to listen to them.
This is the same thing that has finally allowed “Me Too” to become real. How sad a story is that? After how many minutes we’ve existed together, women finally have enough social cachet in the Western World to say that they are tired of being paid less and being subjected to rape and molestation. There really isn’t any one thing that led to that realization. It isn’t as if Weinstein is the first famous, powerful man to treat women as toys. He’s just the piece of dust that started the snowstorm.
Talking with a friend we mused about why “Me Too” would be having an easier time, spreading farther and being taken more seriously in the press, the media, and in the actions of companies than “Black Lives Matter”.
On one hand, it’s difficult to play the game of which wrong is worse. On the other hand, there seem to be some obvious reasons. Everyone knows a hundred women. Mothers, sisters, aunts, spouses, partners. Roughly half the people we all know are women, and while the women might be surprised at being finally heard, the men are equally surprised at hearing these stories. Not that they haven’t heard them before, but that it’s not just from the one or two women, but from their mothers and sisters and daughters.
That’s a revelation.
“Black Lives Matter” has a bigger hurdle. We still separate out after school. How many white people are still friends with their high school and grade school friends who had different skin tones? Does that friendship last until college? Graduation? The first job? When do those people fade away?
One thing I’ve heard is that people go to their culture, go to where is comfortable, so we just drift apart.
The more I think about that, the more it seems facile. It’s not necessarily intentional, it’s just what happens, right? Sure- but it’s what happens because we are all affected by the cultural prejudices.
Take me: I didn’t go to “my culture”, I went to where is easy. I want to say that I’m a special case. I didn’t grow up in the same America as most. I know what it’s like to be profiled because of my name, to be profiled because of my clothes. I know what it’s like to have someone say that they didn’t expect me to be… American, White, etc. But that’s not really different- it just means that they didn’t expect to respect me.
I went where it was easy. I could go to Alaska and work on fishing boats. I could sleep on the streets in NYC. I could stay at Sarah Lawrence College and walk around campus without attracting attention. So, no- I didn’t have it really different; I experienced privileges that I didn’t earn.
That’s the same sort of benefit I got in construction. I could open a business because it was easy. No one asked if I knew what I was doing, they didn’t test me beyond practical jokes or crass attitudes. I didn’t have to worry about what I was wearing beyond whether my tools were too new or my boots were too clean. My skin was not seen. At least, not after the first glance.
Being taken seriously is a matter of many little things, little actions.
I didn’t go to any school long enough to have friends for more than a couple of years. There were problems with that- I learned just how little people care about those who aren’t seen as part of their community. I learned how different the curriculum is from one district to another. I learned that education is a small and secondary element of the education system here.
Most of the kids I met were long term residents of wherever. They lived in a couple houses, went to a couple schools. They could name their 3rd grade teacher in 10th grade. They had friends who were multi-year friends. Kids they met in grade school and still knew in high school.
None of those kids said they didn’t want a friend to go to the same college as them. It’s just that they didn’t get to.
They didn’t ask why their friend didn’t get into the same AP class they did, or why they weren’t ushered in to meet the college counsellor in the same year. I remember hearing that kids had counsellors at school, advisors who helped them with applications and talked to them about college and what they would do after school. I never had one of those, never met with one, and was never offered one. I know there were others like me- not seen as part of the community, not valuable enough to spend effort on.
This is part of the little differences, the little things that aren’t done for many here.
It’s not that people go to their culture, they just aren’t invited on to the next part of the game. In the same way that women are subtly directed to social careers, not invited to the more “serious” industries, black students aren’t invited to college, except as some stereotype. Their parents may push the idea, but the schools don’t go out of their way to get them there.
No one person says “you aren’t going to do this”, it’s just not put on the menu.
Then we end up here, where one of the questions should be if the friends you have now look like the friends you had when you were young. If they aren’t, why not? Is it really just the natural progression, or is it what happens when the place we live isn’t questioned. When we do what’s easy, with an eye to what works best for us. We aren’t taught to look around to see if the other people we cared about are staying with us, or why they aren’t still there.
Fortunately, things get better.
Today the women in America are heard more than ever before. Black people in America are taken more seriously than ever before. Both of those overlapping, intertwined groups are today doing better than ever before. And it’s pretty sad to realize that doing better is what exists now. When we hear “Black Lives Matter” or “Me Too” in public, it’s not that they just arrived, but that this culture has evolved enough for all these people to have this much of a say. The culture doesn’t mean everyone, and there’s always some backlash to change. This isn’t the end of change, just another step in the evolution of society as it heads toward the (hopeful) goal of recognizing everyone here as having value. Hell, maybe that’s part of the problem, that there can even be a question of whether “value” has a place in that statement.