The other day I wrote a post about how I am the only female student in my graduate program. It frightened me a bit at the time, but now I’m feeling a bit better. Obviously I do not think other guys in the classroom are responsible for my triggers, but it was meant to shed a bit of light on how the negative messages I was fed as a teen (“you can’t compete against guys. They are just smarter than you”) play in my mind now as an adult.
A guy called me a sexist over in the comment section; in my opinion, he completely missed the point. That’s okay. I’m sure the person has not read my other posts to know my background. So it’s not his fault.
But I did want to talk about how people of privilege should respond when others are actually rude (say a girl is a sexist) because of their hurts. I’ll tell a story, and then ask for your feedback.
I went to college in a small college town with three colleges/universities. One college was a trade school/community college with a lot of working class students. The other was a predominately black school (about 90%), and my university was predominately white, about 90% too.
My university was built on an old plantation in the once richest county in the state (in the slavery days). Today it is extremely poor with little middle class jobs outside the colleges. In the old days, the roads did not connect between the white and black part of town. Today some of those roads still have not been torn down.
It so happened that one of the African-American workers at our university actually couldn’t stand the white students, which was a huge problem since 90% of the students were white. She and a few other gals worked on the campus Chickfilla. The sandwiches and fries seemed to always be cold, and the workers liked it this way. Usually we’d find them watching TV in the afternoon, and they’d roll their eyes if we asked them to make fresh fries instead of the two-hour-old ones.
Unless a black friend came with us. Then the response was different.
Once I had a bunch of books in my hand, and dropped my student ID down on the counter while I waited for the lady to finish scanning the ID of the student in front of me. (We had lunch money on our cards.)
The lady then yelled at me and said I was treating her like a dog.
I didn’t “throw” an ID at her. I was juggling a stack of books, a drink, food and an ID – it was an innocent mistake. Yet she perceived it as a threat.
Even though I had nothing to do with this lady’s past, I came to realize that I had a responsiblity to show her love because she had been hurt by white people. The whole town is a testimony to it. On the plantation is a white university (and that college once sewed the clothes of the Ku Klux Kan), but the neighborhood around the university is a poor black community, almost a ghetto.
One can only watch the privileged life so much.
Knowing the town, I’m quite confident the lady has been discriminated against in the past. (I’m sure she also has other hurts, but she clearly was triggered by white people in general.)
This is not to excuse the lady for being so rude to us. The university got rid of all the staff there because they continued to be a problem.
But I did learn a lesson that year. Rather than call her a racist (even if there was truth to that), I needed to first look into my own heart and see how I can make the lives of the African-American people better. In other words, until I listened to her pain, her story, her life (even if ‘listening’ meant not being rude back), then I was part of the stereotypical problem in which she was reacting against.
That’s why listening is important. Listening empowers us not only to make changes in how we vote or help people, but it also gives us a heart to understand where other people come from.
How do you think we should handle these kinds of situations?