First blog

I’m not sure this post has anything to do with the elections, but I thought I’d lead off with this paragraph/query anyway:

A friend of mine recently had a gathering for women of color to talk abut the democratic presidential candidates and how we, as women of color, are in this whole experience — what is coming up for us and how we are processing it.  Obama and Clinton are competing in this game of “Oppression Olympics” — a kind of “Sexism is way worse than racism …” and a “Racism is way worse than sexism …” kind of game, while some of us are smack dab in the middle of it. What is worse, racism or sexism? In some ways for me as a Black woman, they are so inextricably linked, it’s hardly worth asking the question.  It depends on the moment, I suppose.

So that’s the lead in …

Is it an indicator that I need to move on from the board of directors that I’m on that after every conference call we have I feel pissed off? It’s not just one person — it’s how different individuals enable one another and then how I find myself enabling the enabling. There’s how race plays out time in and time out with white liberal people who have enough awareness about race to call one another racist and to act like they are authorities about it. I’m honestly wondering how much I want to continue being involved in the game with these people — how much I want to be the person of color in those conversations which are starting to feel like they actually perpetuate an insidious supremacist dynamic.

Right now, though, what’s really eating me is the whole male privilege and sexism thing. The men on the board are so called “enlightened,” but their sexism is so apparent in so many different ways. Their gross power relationships with their staff (and who knows who else …) is just one small example. I can’t stand getting emails from peoples’ assistants to set up phone calls with them — these are people who are not only colleagues, but personal friends. Can not a personal friend schedule his own damned calls??

Today on the conference call, our board chair (who is actually a good friend of mine) gave me an assignment for our next board meeting. No big deal, right? I wouldn’t normally think so — I’m a team player, a hard worker, and contribute a lot to the board. Which is why I’ve already produced a hefty synthesis of the reflections on our last two meetings for the rest of the board to consider. It took me a good half a day of unpaid work to do the summary, which I had no problem with because I’m a team player, a hard worker, and blah blah blah.

Given that I had already done a fair bit of unpaid work for the next meeting I was quite surprised when the chair said, “For the next meeting you’ll do a summary of the evaluation report recently done.” He actually said it twice at two different points in the call and it was only the second time that I understood that the “you” was me, or at least I thought it was, which is why I said, “Are you asking me to do a summary?” I hadn’t meant to be flip or hostile — I honestly wanted the clarity, was he addressing me? I couldn’t really believe it. There were three other people on the call, one of whom was a woman (a woman of color, I might add) and she was organizing a whole other piece of the meeting and two other white men. To be fair, the chair had given himself a number of tasks, but he didn’t ask either of the two other white men to do anything.

Of course, because I confronted the chair’s demand/request with my question I immediately became the angry, uncooperative, oversensitive, Black woman. The energy on the call shifted, the response from the chair was laced in defensiveness, there was silence, there was clearing of throats. I let the silence sit for a couple of seconds, but succumbed and said, “That’s fine, I’ll do it, I just wanted to get clear on who you were asking and what you were asking for …”

More collusion, perpetuation, and enabling …

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~ by evansmousike on April 27, 2008.

One Response to “First blog”

  1. The “For the next meeting you’ll do a summary of the evaluation report” reminds me of a seated meal I had our first year in boarding school. Seated meal is probably one of those traditions that goes back 100 years at this school, literally. Just like going to chapel before class and every student being assigned to a boat house. I think I only found out my senior year that I was a Halcyon. I remember watching the alumni parade with people from the class of 1920 marching slowly in their blue or red boathouse blazers and straw boaters. It was surreal that in some small way I was linked to that.

    So, besides mandatory chapel, we had mandatory seated meal on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. We had to dress for dinner, go to the dining room where tables were set, wait for the bell announcing dinner and the go to sit down to eat with an assigned group of students and a teacher who was the “head” of the table. My very first seated meal I was nervous and scared about everything – having to sit with a group of students I didn’t know, having to dress up, and at that point I carried a deep emptiness in the pit of stomach where my family and my mom’s good food had always been.

    I ended up sitting at the end of the table, as far from the “head” as I could get, across from a new student from Germany. The student waiters brought us tough looking lamb chops, peas and potatoes and I ended up with a lamb chop and some peas on my plate as I tried to coordinate making polite conversation and sawing my way through a resilient lamb chop – shifting my attention from “head” to lamb chop and back again. All of a sudden I broke through and the little lamb went flying of the plate taking most of my peas with it. The “head” didn’t seem to notice, but the German boy giggled, which made me giggle as I tried to sneak my peas back on to the plate.

    But the seated meal that reminds me of “For the next meeting you’ll….” was one where our “head” was absent, which meant that the oldest student at the table got to be “head.” That meant a boy whose name I can’t remember – a fifth former with white blond hair and a pudgy face – was our “head.” I don’t remember much about the meal, but at the end, he turned to me and said ” You can clear the table” and I dutifully got up and cleared the table. Whatever reaction I had was so deeply buried that I felt nothing about it – I mean nothing – a deep, meaningful nothing. When I read “For the next meeing you’ll…” I hear his voice. These are things I could never imagine saying to another person – adult or child – and so it is astonishing to me whenever someone does. I always find myself caught of guard and the feeling of nothingness washes over me which I now understand is fury.

    I don’t know how to be in relation with this kind of presumption which I think is a big reason I have never been back to our boarding school. In general I avoid it as much as possible and am insulated from it by a big loving community here. But I’m thinking that maybe to simply ask “do I want to do this?” and if you/I don’t than to say “I’m sorry I’m really booked right now, I just don’t have the time to clear your table. Does anyone else have time?”

    As for politics – I wonder how Clinton or Obama would respond – Clinton’s famous for the “I’m not going to stay home a bake cookies” response – Obama’s, I’m not sure – I’m guessing he has many. I think given who these two people are it is much easier for me to find my experiences and beliefs and hopes in Obama, but as a woman of color racism and sexism are inextricable, and they’re politicians, and in the end what is my response?

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