With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
“It’s great that African-Americans have their club and get together and feel good about being black, and they should… but what about white people, why isn’t there a club for white people, like myself, who are proud to be white?”
“Sadly, there already is.”
There was so much to take in those few seconds my fellow classmate asked the question and our professor responded.
The white girl (I say white and not Caucasian. I received an education several years ago in the term Caucasian and its racist origins.)
The white girl innocently, ignorantly asked the question, after being slowly frustrated about the professor speaking on diversity and ethnicities, and unable to find an association for herself.
At the time, her predicament reminded me of HBO’s Oz (this happens a lot) and its groups within how the prison system. The white prisoners not affiliated with the Irish, Italians, Christians and Homosexuals were placed in a catch-all group known simply as Other, including the elderly and handicapped. Even Augustus Hill, the black narrator of the show, was placed with the Other because he was confined to a wheelchair.
This girl truly felt excluded, though I sensed a feeling of unfairness coming through as well.
Needless to say, when the professor (a black man) issued his soft retort, the classroom mostly responded in defiance . The girl realized what he was implying and verbally bristled at the racist implication.
The professor proceeded in giving her and the class (white female majority) a history lesson in exclusion.
This was 2003, during my Human Behavior and Social Development class at Rutgers for my Masters in Social Work.
So many thoughts still rattle around with me.
The confidence of the white girl to speak up. Or was it entitlement?
The curiosity of the budding social worker, full of good intentions though lacking in life experience.
The girl’s desire to belong to a group at all, not individuate but collaborate.
The professor’s race, gender and response and how both are closely linked. Including what I considered an unprofessional response also rooted in his less than august tenure at the university.
How a white professor may have answered her question.
Or a female.
After all, the elephant in the room is the classroom comprised of all females except myself.
The subtle way he rebuked her struck me as a scolding, not necessarily as a professor and student but as a black man and a white woman (yes, girl and woman are often interposed by me. It is one of my many faults.)
Throughout the course, the professor’s gender was a constant irritant. Several nights turned into shouting matches when he was judged not sensitive enough to his students’ concerns. In my opinion, he was often glib and condescending, and this evening’s encounter was such an example.
Race has a played a big role in my life and my thoughts.
I am constantly examining and re-examining my Anglo-Saxon privilege especially in my everyday life serving a diverse, disenfranchised, underserved population.
When I was younger I wanted to be accepted to a group, the cool kids who did bad things, but the best I got was the kid who did bad things so the cool kids would notice him but instead got ridiculed and beaten up by the cool kids.
My elementary through high school experiences turned me off from wanting to join a group in college.
And that was my privilege. I could continue to thrive as an individual without fear of repercussions or persecution. I became an intellectual…um… hermit.
I didn’t thrive as an individual, in actuality, but that was my choice.
I have the luxury of being accepted in this country simply by how I look and speak. I don’t need to belong to anything and I don’t need to speak any language other than English.
There is guilt. Of course there’s guilt.
Maybe that’s why I try to find the individual in each client/patient that comes my way.
Maybe that’s why “meeting the client where they are” soundly resonates with me.
Maybe that’s why being empathic is important to me.
And although I have associated with many ethnicities, have had unforgettable experiences with many diverse groups, and appreciate certain aspects of different cultures, if I ever do go to prison, I will undoubtedly be placed with the Other.