Sunday, January 27, 2008

Thank you, Sharon

I just got back from Meeting. Second hour was lead by a women who recently began occasionally attending when she is in town visiting her daughter. She spoke about the overt and systematic racism that she has experienced in a Quaker Yearly Meeting. Her story is painful and dumbfounding, especially within the context of a Friends Meeting. She is hurt and angry and I perceived her as coming across, at first, as rather aggressive. Once she began talking and I began to hear her story, I began to understand and empathise.

Up until not too long ago, I didn't really understand how my life was affected by racism until someone I met in an on-line forum likened it to sexism. Lightbulb! Of course. I see sexism all the time. Now that I am aware and see racism in many, many things that are "normal" in our society.

One way I can understand this is through my experience of having studied the history of the medicalization of childbirth. Up until very recently (and even still in some drug trials), the male body was the norm for physical health which meant that the female body was pathological in that it differed from the norm. Childbirth, which never happens to men, was seen as an inherent emergency. Actually, any part of a woman's reproductive system was pathological because it deviated from the norm of the male body. So, male=normal and female=abnormal.

As it is in our society in regards to race. White=normal and black/brown/tan=abnormal. The white experience is taken for granted as being the norm. White is a race but when we talk about "race issues" we're never talking about our own problems, biases, or viewpoint, we're always talking about the pathological "other". We never look at how we are able to take for granted that we are a part of the dominant culture because we simply do not see that we are, in the same way that we don't often think about air as we breath.

I'm very sorry that this Friend had the experience that she did with her Yearly Meeting. I'm sorry, too, for those who have been so wrong in that YM. I appreciate that she was able to share her experience with us. I think what she said has opened us to begin discussing how we may be complicit in the racism in our lives even by unquestioningly accepting the benefits of being white in our society.

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