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22 March 2004

There's an article in the New York Times about Emmett Till. It seems that hardly a month goes by without a reference to that terrible event crossing my path. I always feel a CLUNK in my stomach, then I think about the strength of his mother -- the kind of strength no one should need to have. Once at school a child asked me in all honesty, merely looking for an explanation of what to her was obvious, "Why don't white people like black people?" I said I didn't know, but that it wasn't all "white" people. However, it does seem to be a rather large number. So -- what IS the answer to that question?

What Do I Mean?
I started to write something a while ago, then stopped as I couldn't put it into clear words. It has to do with that, though. It begins with groups that are ways we identify ourselves. I am an artist, a single woman, over 50, and so on. There is a weight that varies from one attachment to another. I believe that we ally ourselves with our chosen group in an exclusionary way. That is, I think that if you aren't an artist you are not as desirable as a person as an artist. It would be better to feel that artists are my group, but other groups may have different skills and talents but are equally interesting. Because the "artist" attachment carries the strongest weight to me of all my attachments, I have a dificult time understanding that another person might see my group attachments differently. In fact, seen from an imaginary outside viewpoint, the artist attachment isn't visible at all -- other group attachments are obvious and the tendency is to think that the obviousness of those visible groupings signals homogeneity within each group. So that's a clever trick designed by the Universe to confuse us. Or... um, not. I still can't clarify what I almost-feel, but now I've given up.

But I suppose I mean that the little girl's question could be answered: "Immature people can only identify themselves as part of a group by rejecting other groups. They also jump to the conclusion that the visible group one belongs to sums up one's life -- presumably because they lack the necessary amounts of subtlety and empathy."

Subtlety! Empathy! Yes, I have written about them before. I encourage my students to be subtle. Always. And empathy is the quality friends raised their children to have, as they believed it to be something you learn. Dictators and cold-blooded murderers, etc., cannot have empathy.

If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands!
Clap! Clap!
If You're Not Part of the Dominant Culture and You Know It, Clap Your Hands!
Clap! Clap!

I would like to have a dollar for each time someone has said to me (in various places), "This is the BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD." I always agree, because I think everywhere is the best place in the world. And because it isn't worth arguing about. Usually if I question the person it turns out that he's never been anywhere else. Well, duh -- why go anywhere else if you are already in THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. I think if someone said, "This is the best place in the world for me, " he might be right. Part of the result of being dragged all over the place and not living where I come from is that I never feel at home in the dominant American society. I think it's no accident that my older sister chose to be part of African-American culture while I have been happy within Native American culture. If you are part of a smaller group, I think the duality of your position within the larger societal group makes it impossible to think in terms of one answer, or even, in some circumstances, undivided loyalties. If one is part of a smaller group, but outwardly appears to be part of the main group, one may either be a mole inside the main group (of...but not REALLY of), or ally oneself with a more obvious subset, which is a relief in many ways. All of which adds up to this: it's past 1pm and I need to stop wasting time.

posted by - 12:16 PM


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