Monday, August 8, 2011

Why I'm Scared Of White People

So my reading -- you know about my reading, right? Here's what Joe Clifford, the guy running the thing, says:

It's a brutally honest piece about violence, ignorance, and racism, a dangerous topic, and Sean doesn't shy from illumining his own prejudice and weakness, his own part in the play--but just as importantly, he does not apologize (as so many writers in his spot might do) for the same in others. In short, it's a gritty, real, and raw story about American, urban living in the modern age. I am proud to have him read at Lip Service West. (And you should come, because he's right: he fails to bring 10 people, I take the thumbs. Them's the rules. He knows that going in.)

Lip Service West
Friday, August 12
5512 San Pablo Ave. Oakland, CA
7 p.m.

There will be wine and cheese and hot dogs and such things as well as a solid line-up of writers performing edgy autobiography -- this actually is an enjoyable event.

Anyway. Speaking of race and violence, I just put things together, and I realized one of the reasons white people scare me. Aside from Goldman-Sachs. Yes, I am white, but I'm fucked-up white -- my mom was raised by an ama, spoke Tagalog before English, and had the physical habits and mannerisms of a Phillipino. Since I have fetal alcohol syndrome, I have epicanthic folds in my eyes, and have been mistaken for Asian more then once. I grew up in a community that was primarily African- and Mexican-American, and a lot of my speech patterns and mannerisms come from there. I get called everything from 'rice boy' to 'mister man' to 'funky nigger' when I step out of my door.

In other words, yeah, I'm white, but I am under no fucking obligation to be a goddamned example of whiteness, okay?

Anyway, white people creep me out. It's true, and I need to get over it, but there are reasons.

Good reasons. Don't-go-in-the-attic-reasons.

The subject of UPC codes on books came up in one of my email discussion groups, and I just got a full and massive white person flashback. Everything fell into place and I understood why I don't just think of white people as people who tend to be pink-to-buff, but as a group.

A conspiracy.

It started when I was a kid. In my school, whites were very much in the minority, and there was a filthy little trick the administration played in order to increase racial tension enough to mandate regular beatings for the vulnerable.

There was a series of classes, one for each grade, that was designated as being for 'bright' or 'advanced' children. Which meant any white kids who weren't regarded as actively defective, and any non-white kids who actually were bright.

Yes, I was known to be bright. Bright the wrong way. They did not want to encourage that shit.So the only white kids in my classes? The other losers. That's what made them stand out. And I was the biggest loser of them all -- or, rather, the skinniest and weirdest.

I saw the kids in the advanced classes, and they seemed as though they were all together, a unit, and somehow even the other white kids in my class were part of it. I was white, but I wasn't one of the White People.

Events occurred, and junior high, high school, and all along I still feel as though I'm outside of this thing -- but I also know that I'm the kind of person who's prone to feeling this way. How could there actually be a White Thing?

In high school, this white guy named Marty sits in front of me in math, and tells me just the craziest shit I've ever heard a human being say out loud and expect to be taken seriously. There are lasers burning invisible UPC codes into people's foreheads (Marty ruined zebra labels for me), and that lets the government control their minds, and everyone's history is on file with a computer called The Beast, see, like the Beast in Revelations, and...

I mean, he went ON. He did not stop. And every word was crazier than the last, and he insisted that he'd learned this science fiction shit in church. Which I knew was bullshit, because come on. There is no way you'd go to church and hear stuff that was, well. Obviously, transparently false. Nutty.

At that time I was working at the Point Richmond Child Development center, and one of the instructors there invited me to attend her fiancee's baptism. It's always a little hard when someone targets you for conversion -- it's a compliment, but a terrible, stupid, embarrassing compliment that's impossible to receive gracefully.

When I show up for the baptism, I'm first taken aside to attend Sunday School, and that's where I get a shock. All the biggest assholes --

Okay. Black dudes? Generally, one fight. A lot of the time, they'd even act as though they were friends with me afterward, which confused the living fuck out of me. The bad ones?

Black girls and white boys. Black girls would actually hurt you, cut you, do tricks with bobby pins that left blood blisters, and they'd look right at you while they did it, faces cold and mean. It was important to them that you know they didn't like you and they wanted to hurt you.

White boys were just too fucking dumb to live. Stupid, mean, and looking for another white boy they could safely pick on. And every bad-news white boy I knew was in that Sunday school classroom. These were the shitheads who had beat on me for years, just pounded on me until I got scary and they stopped, and here they were talking about the Prince of fucking Peace, and the Love of Christ, and you know?


They were so glad to see me. Real warmth. Whether I got a beating or a cookie depended entirely on how these thuggish sluggish meatloaves related me to their favorite fairy tales. This is a human trait that always inspires me with genuine revulsion.

Anyway, that guy Marty from my math class was there. And he had not been shitting me. All of them were spouting off about how the Wankel engine had been predicted by the Elders of Zion and so on, all of them just radioactive with mutually-reinforced self-approval. So pleased with their lunatic beliefs that they just glowed.

Anyway, after spending an hour listening to these poorly-crafted hominids congratulating themselves on being compassionate, humane, and altogether Christlike, we adjourned to the...

Fuck it. You had to call it a theater. It had theater seating, and a huge glass tank behind red curtains on a stage, and it was dark except for the stage. The preacher came out and began an extensive sermon, one dealing specifically with the yawning mouth of Hell and the torments awaiting the unbeliever.

He was preaching to me.

He had clearly been informed that I was coming, and he addressed himself directly at me, going so far as to point at me in order to punctuate such words as 'sinner.'

How very nice, I thought to myself. As my eyes grew accustomed to the lighting, I was able to look around me and see...

... them. The White People. All the pale folks I seen in school, the ones who had nice clothes and nice lunches, who played together. The ones who had hit me, kicked me, threw stones at me, called me faggot. The girls I had crushes on. The ones on the inside of the White Conspiracy.

All of them, looking at me, smiling hopefully, faces shining in the dark.


Novysan said...

Try being fat, and I mean FAT, as a child if you want to see an example of all races, creeds, and colors coming together to make someone's life a living hell. Still the last acceptable bigotry. Also I can't count the times I've been mistaken for Asian. Or Native American. Or just asked flat out, "What ARE you?" As if that were an acceptable thing to ask a complete stranger. You're experience isn't that foreign though. I was forced into the church, and then forced to visit other churches, and was keenly aware of the belief system inbreeding, situational charity, and willful, self induced hypocrisy. You are not alone.

Sean Craven said...

Churches are like watches or dictionaries. If you want to have faith, you should only refer to one. The minute you start double-checking, things look fishy.

Fat is a hard one. I don't envy you. Nothing like having a problem that others regard as a sin.

And I've taken a few steps down the faux Native American path. Of course, when I found out that my putative ancestor was supposed to have been a 'Cherokee Princess,' I had to give it up. The idea that some Native Americans took me for one of their own because my mom was a drunk is a stone headfuck.

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