My Experience Is Not Everyone’s Experience (a.k.a How -isms shape our lives) Part 1

Just had a conversation with someone I care about, who also happens to be white and male.  It was regarding white privilege and what needs to happen for people of color (PoC) to prosper to the same degree as most White people. The argument this person made was that he knows many PoC that have sufficient enough money to get themselves into a better situation. I tried to explain that money plays some role, but it is not the end-all when it comes to opportunities for PoC and women, when we live in a society where the “-isms” (ex. Sexism, racism, ageism, etc) and other biases rule.

I’ve had this type of conversation with many people; some White, some PoC, some with an American cultural background, some with a Latino cultural background. The end result is always the same: you cannot convince anyone of anything, unless they have experienced it for themselves. Now, I’ve had plenty of experiences, both good and bad, that I can recount, that have led me to see the “-isms” and the white privilege that exists in our society. Unfortunately, there have been more bad experiences than good, which might explain why I feel the way I do.

Firstly, I want to explain that I don’t want to “convince” anyone of anything. Convince, according to Webster’s dictionary: to cause (someone) to believe that something is true. To me, this implies that the thing you are trying to explain may not actually be true, but you want this other person to believe it. There need be no convincing. The fact of the matter is that racism, sexism, ageism, etc. exist in our society today, and these “-isms” have a profound affect on the decisions people make and whether those people are offered opportunities to live successful, fulfilling lives.

Secondly, the conversation I had and this posting, are my opinion. My opinion based on my experiences which are rooted in fact. As the saying goes “Opinions are like assholes – everyone has one”. This is not to say that the fact of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. does not exist, but rather that, my experiences are situations that occurred due to these “-isms” and they have shaped how I see my world. It does not mean that everyone who feels as I do have had the same experiences, nor that anyone who cannot see my point of view have not had similar experiences. It means that my view of what occurred, my opinion of what happened, can only be explained through the lens of these “-isms”.

Let me tell you one of my experiences:

I moved to Florida when I was 19 years old. At the time, I was still religious and was looking for a church to attend. I went to one close by to where I was living at the time. I believe it was an Episcopalian church. Regardless of the denomination, I felt the need, at the time, to find a place for worship, as that was present in my upbringing and, at that time, I felt it was the “right thing to do”. I walked into this little church, and there was an older man walking along the pews, placing hymnals on the seats. Here’s where the story gets interesting. Those of you that know me, know that I am fairly articulate. I do not speak with an accent (and even so, why would I? Although I am Cuban-American, I was born and raised in the Midwest and mostly around White people) and although I am “mixed”, my skin is olive-toned and I maintain my hair in a more straightened state. Here’s a pic for you to note:

Snapshot_20152221408

February 22, 2015 2:09pm

I didn’t look much different back then…maybe a little less wrinkly, but I think you get the idea. Point is, I walked into that church and asked the gentleman “What time are services?” To which the gentleman responded with “We have the English speaking service at 9 am, however, we have an excellent Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.” I remember that I took a moment to digest what he had just said. After thinking I may have misunderstood him, I asked the question again, “Excuse me, you said that services begin at 9 am?” To which he replied, quite kindly, “Yes, our English speaking services are at 9 am, however, we have a very lovely Spanish speaking service at 1 pm.”

I am fairly certain I left with my mouth hanging open. I thanked him and left. But, needless to say, I never attended that church. I even began my quest to become an atheist from that moment on. I had already struggled with religious hypocrisy, but that moment was the pinnacle for my journey on another path, away from religion. That, however, is another story for another day.

This would be my first real experience that I can tie, definitely, to an “-ism”. His response was socially unacceptable, given that nothing I said, asked, or presented, gave any indication that I was anything other than an English speaking woman. Now, does that offend me? Yes, it does. Although, to his credit, he did answer my question, however, his response was meant to direct me to the Spanish speaking service, as opposed to the English speaking service. Why would you think he would want to do that? Given the implicit biases that we all are faced with each day, my only conclusion is that he saw my olive-toned skin and black hair, and immediately assumed I would want the Spanish speaking service. If I had been a blonde Latina with no accent, my assumption can only be that he would have answered my question straight forwardly, rather than with an addendum.

Comment below if you have a story similar to this where you felt as though you were being misdirected or judged for how you looked, versus what you were looking for. And stick around, there are more of these lovely experiences to come.

They are all part of Digame’s Diary – a true story!

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

Read Part 2 here.

 

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My Experience Is Not Everyone’s Experience (a.k.a How -isms shape our lives) Part 2

Another story for you of my experience with “-isms” (ex. racism, sexism, ageism, etc).

When I moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2006, I was sitting pretty on a large sum of cash. Growing up, as I was a girl (and a Latina girl, no less), my role was always defined as “the nurturer”. Back then, even though it is not that long ago, I was implicitly being groomed to be the homemaker, caretaker, wife, cook, maid; all the things that my mother was and that I was supposed to be because, as my father always told me, “you are a girl”.

Yes, I am a girl

Yes, I am a girl

 

However, watching my mother and her submission to my father and her reliance on him, sparked a fierce independence in me. Even to this day, I struggle with the desire to be close to others (males) and yet retain my independence. My mother, at 76 years old, has her driver’s license, but has not driven a car in over 20 years. She knows and can utilize cash money, but does not know how to pay a bill with a credit/charge/debit card or checkbook. She has never had to improve her English speaking skills, because my father can speak English quite well. The big issue for her, however, is that my father is 9 years her senior and beginning to fall to the ravages of time. My fear is that she will not be able to manage things herself once he is gone. I, on the other hand, have no issues paying my own bills, searching for assistance and information in this new technological age, driving a car, etc.

InTheKitchen2008

In the Kitchen (Where I belong?)_2008

 

This is the backlash to the way I was raised. This has helped me in many ways, yet hindered me in others.

Back to my story….I had packed up my girls and moved back “home” to Kalamazoo. As I stated, I was sitting pretty and had a full time job on top of the money I had. So, going to the store was not an issue. Purchasing those things I wanted and needed was not a problem, as I had plenty of money to do so. So, I did. I wanted my children to have the full benefit of this money, as we had always struggled before. Now, that is not to say that I went hog wild and spent money on fashion items, but it was not uncommon for me to go to Target or Sam’s Club and drop a few hundred dollars on necessities and desires.

One afternoon, my girls and I went to Sam’s Club to purchase some groceries and small appliances. I ended up spending a good $600 on this trip. But, that is not the shocking part of this story.

To understand this experience, you need to understand how I raised my daughters and how they were when we would go out in public.

 

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Jaime bday pic 080507 Tomara, Adriana, and Jaime 2006

My girls were always clean, well groomed, and wearing gold jewelry (this largely in part because of a metal allergy, which did not allow them to wear costume, or fake, jewelry). So, on this particular day, my daughters were nicely dressed, wearing their gold jewelry, and sporting the Ipod’s I had purchased them. See, going to the grocery store with Mom was not as exciting an adventure as it used to be when they were toddlers.

We make our purchases and head out the store. If you have ever shopped in a big box store, you know that they typically have a greeter at the door, who will also inspect your receipt and the contents of your cart, as you exit. This day, there was an older lady, with a short red bob (what I jokingly call “the Midwestern Mom haircut”) standing at the door. I roll my cart towards her and reach out to hand her my receipt. My girls are standing around me, joking and laughing and bobbing their heads to whatever music they are listening to. This lady grabs my receipt with a nervous smile, and looks at it. She then proceeds to look at my children. She sizes them up, her eyes traveling up and down the length of them, inspecting their clothing, jewelry, and Ipod’s in their hands. She then looks back at the receipt. Her eyes travel back to me and she says “that’s very pretty jewelry your daughters are wearing”. I smile and say “thank you”.

Do you see what was wrong with this exchange, no matter how polite it all seemed? She never ONCE looked in my cart to verify that the items on the receipt were in the cart. She only looked at me and my children. Now, why do you think that is?

Yeah, it was racism...

Yeah, it was racism…

I have my assumptions about the manner, which I fully addressed with the manager of this Sam’s Club. You see, I understand that there are people who feel compelled to steal things from stores. Ironically enough, I also am intelligent enough to know, based on empirical fact, that the majority of theft occurs in the White population.

According to the FBI, in 2009, there were a total of 1,056,473 reported thefts (larceny). Of those, 68.1% were committed by White people, 29.0% by Black people, 1.4% by American Indian or Alaskan natives, and 1.4% by Asian or Pacific Islanders (https://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_43.html). Now, I’m not saying that people other than White people do not steal, however, the White people leaving that store before and after me were not attended to with such scrutiny as my daughters and I were.

I understand the desire for someone to do a good job at what they do, and considering what this woman’s job was, I’m sure she didn’t want anyone stealing anything under her watch. I do not understand, however, her scrutiny of my children (who were all minors at the time). She did not perform her specified job, which, I’m assuming, was to verify that the receipt matched the contents of my cart. She didn’t do her job. She, instead, took it upon herself to immediately judge myself and my children, and made her biased presumptions solely on…what? Skin color, perhaps? That is the only assumption I can make at this point, as I did not have time to speak to her, but only to her manager. I took my cart full of items to my car, fuming the entire time, and then I returned to the store to see if I could confront her. I did not want to make a scene, but I was damned sure not going to hold my tongue.

I was offended. Not so much by her scrutiny, but by the fact that she was sending a message to me and my children by her behavior. The fact that a woman with three brown children could not purchase those items, or had the need to steal what the children were wearing, is the very distressing message that she was conveying.

My discussion with my White, male friend included this concept. That it is not the tangible, explicit things PoC deal with on a daily basis, but rather those covert, or hidden,  “-isms” that pervade our society. Quite possibly this woman thought she was not doing anything untoward, however, in my eyes, she was. She was saying “you aren’t the right color/type/culture/gender/what-have-you to be able to shop and spend money in this store.”

True Story!

Comment below on whether you’ve ever been faced with a situation where someone conveyed this type of message to you, without the exact words even being spoken. Or any other story you have of racism, sexism, ageism, etc. that you would like to share.

Thanks for reading!

Lisa

 

Read Part 1 here.