In 1972, Lt. Robert Dobrow, USMC, told me that I think like a man and feel like a woman. It was the year Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-NY) ran for president.
“Chisholm’s campaign slogan, ‘unbought and unbossed,’ was more than a motto. She alienated many with her radical vision of a more just society–but she also befriended infamous segregationist George Wallace while he was in the hospital. She was completely committed to her core values, and didn’t care who she ticked off in the process.” (Wikipedia)
In 2013, I now find my hospital bed too often surrounded by rich white guys trying to teach me manners. Their manners.
I reject the premise that their manners are more righteous than mine, particularly in view of the fact that their manners are based in a culture of wealth. In recent years, as I have lived more intimately with poor black women, I have asked myself what makes white folks think their culture is intrinsically better than the black culture. Why should white cultural standards be used as the baseline for respectable behavior?
A friend brought me to clarity about the fact that Syracuse’s Southside is not just racially different; it is culturally different. The cultural difference grew out of a difference in skin color but the current friction between black and white is not because of skin color; it is because of a culture that was the result of discrimination based on color.
For example, black people who grew up on the south side tend to live in the streets. A car will suddenly come to a screeching halt, some people will gather around it, and a social get-together will take place. People walk, talk and carry on business in the street. On one occasion I saw a man getting a haircut while sitting in the street.
On the wealthy white eastside, people don’t do that. My parents moved into a house across the street from a partner in a major law firm. When my mother commented to the lawyer’s wife about the absence of sidewalks, she replied, “We like our privacy.”
Privacy costs money. Space costs money. Land costs money. Manhattan is probably the only place where rich people live crammed together. Consider the mansions along the coast of Florida. Think about gated communities. Reflect on the suburbs. Contemplate the eastside of the city. Ponder the inner city. The greater the wealth the larger the property. Poor people live in the streets because they can’t afford big houses and big yards.
African-Americans were denied equal education, therefore equal employment, therefore equal income, therefore equal space, so they learned to live differently with each other. I grew up in a 14-room house wherein we all had our own bedrooms, consequently instead of learning to resolve conflict, we learned to withdraw to our own (private) rooms. Black people learned different ways of resolving conflict, which also was influenced by the different response times by police when called to a white neighborhood versus a black neighborhood.
But white people think their behavior should be the standard for all “good” behavior. For example, saying “fuck” is not nice. Well, for rich white people, that’s true. For poor black people, it’s not. So who says that rich white guys get to set the standard for how people are to talk to each other?
And it’s more than just talk. It’s behavior. For example, a white nurse was at my bedside to do a finger-stick. I stuck out my hand, indicating one finger. She took ahold of a different finger. I jerked it away, and the nurse went off on me about how I didn’t need to jerk like that. A black nurse wouldn’t even have noticed, and certainly wouldn’t have felt the need to be offended.
Fact is, white girls tend to be a bunch of sissies. And their men protect their presumed right to be sissies. They claim you are being “disrespectful” if you upset their women. My question is what is wrong with these women that they can’t adjust to harsh reality?
You go to a white church and you find a bunch of people who all think they have the right to be happy, and are terribly, deeply troubled at the discovery that life is hard. You go to a black church and you find a bunch of people who know life is hard and that the only way you’re going to make it through is by the grace of God.
I just for Pete’s sake wish white girls would man-up. And I wish rich white guys would stop telling me to use white manners. By and large, black life is about dealing straightforwardly with the nitty-gritty and white life is about pretending that reality isn’t what it is. White folks have an awful lot of illusions and pretensions and get quite upset when these are challenged.
If I recall correctly, being a proper white person involves an awful lot of pretending that you don’t feel what you do feel. Of course, all that money also provides insulation from reality. Consider the difference between driving a car and taking a bus. Rich people drive cars; poor people take buses.
So the bottom line here is that rich white guys are instructing me to pretend I am not who I am. They are telling me that being myself is bad and I must learn pretty manners like them. I don’t think that’s going to happen, and I reject the notion that I am unacceptable as I am.
I am an activist. See also https://annecwoodlen.wordpress.com/2013/02/06/resume-of-an-activist/ I create change by challenging the rich white guys who are providing substandard services to poor people. You do not accomplish what I have accomplished by saying please and thank you, and I am pretty ticked off at the men who have been making me feel bad about myself because I don’t play by their rules.
Shirley Chisholm “was completely committed to her core values, and didn’t care who she ticked off in the process.”