I've seen a lot of talk about race these days, between the Democratic Primary and the controversy around the feminist blogosphere. In going through the various posts rightfully calling attention to some serious bullshit, I stumbled onto Angry Black Woman's call for a Carnival of Allies. Here's my thought.
I firmly believe that widespread, systemic racism is one of the biggest hurdles global culture has to overcome in order to develop into any kind of just and fair society. I believe that even as much as my poor white trash hiney doesn't always see how I benefit from being white (and there are times I don't think of myself as white because I have long-standing class-related issues with the stereotype of "white people"), I nonetheless DO. Much as it breaks my heart, because I have busted my ass to claw myself up from my roots to get anything I have (and because half the time in my life, earning something wasn't enough to get it), I have no doubts that being white has landed me plenty of freebies. Which is bullshit, because goddammit, I want a level playing field so that everyone (including me!) gets full credit for their merits.
But, in trying to think of ways I can see this widespread systemic racism in my own experiences as a white girl, I have often struggled to find a clear, convincing argument for people I know who are disinclined to buy statistics like the racial skewing in jail populations and overall convictions, the ratio of white to non-white people holding executive positions, income disparities and educational access. Even in Chicago, where there are obvious differences in the condition of CTA service based purely on neighborhood - and where segregation by neighborhood is rampant - people still don't think race has anything to do with it.
Last night, though, I thought of something pretty damn compelling, from my own experience.
I love geography. Love it. I love maps, I love knowing what countries are where, and I like having a sense of how the cultures tied to the locations on maps have evolved and shifted over the course of history. I'm kind of a smartypants, too, and so my geography is pretty damn solid. I know the Americas and Europe solidly....I know Asia relatively well....and Africa...well, Africa I sort of know. I can do most of northern Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and I can usually pick out a few countries further south, like, well, South Africa, and um....hm.
See the pattern there?
I was talking to some girlfriends last night, and stumbled onto this. I know the countries where white people live totally by heart. I can even ramble off the states of the former Yugoslavia, and tell you a little bit about the conflict between ethnic groups there and who's living where and what drove the fighting to begin with. I have a fairly good grasp not only of the political boundaries, but also the topography and cultural background of the people living there.
But Africa? Even Asia, to a certain extent? I am much less well-versed, and the countries I do know are much more likely to have been "colonized" by white people. For example, I know lots about Egypt, ancient and modern; of course, it was colonized by both the British and the Romans. Nubian culture, which I think was probably as extensive as ancient Egyptian and I think existed at around the same time frame....I got nothing. I don't even know what I don't know!
Unlike the Yugoslavian situation, I have no idea what drives the violence in Somalia or Darfur. I vaguely know there are some tribal warlords, and I think some of them are Muslim - but I just don't have the cultural landscape locked in my memory the way I do for Europe. I don't have a good sense of the political boundaries or the cultural variety or the history or the religious evolutions or any other aspect of the myriad countries that make up the African continent.
(Which is another thing - I find myself referring to Africa all the time as if it was monolithic....when I know it is not! I know there are at least as many different cultural groups in Africa as in Europe....but I have very little idea what they might be!)
It makes me very sad that an entire continent is so absent from my knowledge base. It makes me sad that - even though I love geography and have gone out of my way over the years to keep my geographical education ongoing - I have not made space for Africa and her peoples. It drives me crazy that, when I was in school as a young person, there was a huge blank I didn't even know about. What utter bullshit.
All of this is what I call undeniable evidence of widespread systemic racism.
And now I have to go start to re-educate myself.
Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.