Saturday, July 16, 2011

Privilege

I've been thinking a lot about privilege since reading this blog and I think I hit on part of it this morning.  I was talking to someone recently and I was trying to explain the pressure of meeting new people and how it is better or worse depending on how much they will matter in the long-run.  Meeting Noah's friends is stressful because I will have to deal with them for years... I'd better not fuck up.  Which means I inevitably will feel like I did no matter how I actually behave.  In the course of this conversation I said that I can't handle the pressure to be "nice" when I meet someone.  She seemed shocked, aren't I nice whenever I meet new people?  I actually laughed out loud.  Of course not.  I walk into every new association wondering if I am going to feel disliked because I am bad.  Whether this person will be "big enough" to overlook how fucked up I am and give me a chance anyway!  (This is said in a cheerleader voice.)

That shit gets old.  Privilege is feeling like you deserve to be breathing the same air as everyone else.  Privilege is growing up in a place that is safe and secure enough that you never freeze up in blind panic when your husband raises his voice the tiniest bit because surely this will be the time he makes you leave.  I believe there is no way that people could love me unless I change myself to meet their needs.  I believe that who I am, at a basic level, is wrong and I deserve to suffer for being wrong.  Because I cannot just "be nice" when I meet someone new.  I can't do that.  In order to just be nice to other people I would have to first stop expecting them to be vicious to me so that I can stop feeling defensive.  Given what did happen to me I'm really glad that I was good and vicious in response.  It was literally a survival mechanism.

But how do you just stop feeling defensive and vicious?  It's not as simple as anger management.  It's not as simple as just meditating and staying in the here and now.  Not for me.  Because the point of all those techniques is to let you relax into the assumed basic training of being a polite person.  I have never had that.  No, that's hyperbole.  That is not what I had as a child.  That is not my default at rest position.  I can actually get to a place where I feel calm and relaxed.  Sort of.  Briefly.  I can suppress my feelings with the best of them!  But then I am always paying in some way.  I'm hypersexual or asexual.  I'm binge eating or starving myself.  Privilege is thinking that "stopping my anger" will solve my problems.  No, it just moves the focal point of my current problem area.  I am broken and I have to figure out how to fix it.  Being quiet doesn't work.  Being quiet means passing on broken patterns on to my children even if they are never abused.

Denise's drug addiction would go in spurts.  She used intensely for a while then she blew up her life and was clean for a long period, or she used so minimally as to be functional.  My anxiety goes in hormonal spurts like that.  I can tell that I'm having totally irrational emotions.  If I can tell that they are totally irrational I can often talk myself through them.  When I suppress my memories and I refuse to work through them as they come up I am left sitting on a powder keg.  I don't think it is actually reasonable to ask me to deal with as many triggers as I have by just meditating.  Give me a break.  That might work for someone else, fine.  It doesn't work for me.  I just can't.

I feel like white trash because as I move through the world something about my physical presentation makes people wince.  Not all the time, I can control it with enough effort, but often.  It's something about my tone of voice, my looks, my word choice... I don't even know exactly.  Even when I am not cursing. Even when I am "trying to be nice" people still jolt at me.  I don't think I am actively yelling all the time. But people react visibly to me.  And it is common for people to comment on the fact that I have a lot of class markers of being poor.  It's excellent.

That is my basic self image moving through the world.  Then I read news articles about finance talking about how Noah is in the top 5% of the country financially.  I feel this simultaneous shock and horror.  How in the hell can that be me?  I feel like now that I am in this different class I should suddenly know how to behave as if I am of this class.  But I don't.  I feel awkward and uncomfortable.  I feel fake and deceitful.  How dare I come among good people when I'm obviously common trash.  As a result I am usually rude when I meet people because I have it so deeply ingrained in me that I am bad.  I don't know how to be anything else.

These are the things I think about when I think about privilege.  Because I have the unimaginable privilege to sit here at my computer whining about my pain when at this point in my life I have it easier than the vast majority of people ever in the history of the world.  That's perspective.  My problems are so small and so petty.  Why do I act like I'm important?  Because I have to.  Because everyone has to be concerned with themselves first and foremost or they have nothing to give.

Why aren't I "nice" when I meet people?  Because I am white trash and I don't know how.  No one ever taught me.

4 comments:

  1. I know I just commented this on your previous post, but now I want to clarify more.
    "She seemed shocked, aren't I nice whenever I meet new people?"

    That's not what I said, or what I meant. What I meant (and thought I said) was that I thought you were *expected by the people you were meeting* to be nice to them.
    I *have* been paying attention to this blog and the things you've been saying about yourself. I know that you don't expect that of yourself.

    That's a problem with online chatting. Sometimes you don't get your point across, even when you think you have.
    :(

    ---

    "Why do I act like I'm important? Because I have to. Because everyone has to be concerned with themselves first and foremost or they have nothing to give."

    How would the alternative, i.e. acting like you are not important, help out those people who have it worse than you do? (I realize I'm asking a rational question to an irrational feeling, but I still have the question)

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  2. I apologize for misunderstanding, text is hard. I don't actually know if everyone I meet expects me to be nice to them. It's not part of my world view. Most everyone in my family expects new people to be assholes. That's our experience of the world. Except when they aren't. And that has very little to do with me an awful lot of the time. Maybe most of the time.

    I know you are reading. :) Thank you.

    Err, acting like I'm not important won't help anyone. Because if I'm not important then I have nothing important to give. Right? Even if right now all I am is a milk factory (not entirely true) I still have to act like that is important and I have to behave in ways that make the milk factory run to optimal capacity. Even if I am just some bitch in the store who isn't important and there are people who are suffering more than me who need help more... I still have to be checked out in my place in line or the system doesn't work. I'm still important for taking up the space I take up.

    Even in a larger sense. I have to act like I am important because then I have things to give. If I am not important then I obviously have nothing of worth to give so I shouldn't work so hard to support other people. You know?

    If I am not important I sit at home and I have no value to anything or anyone in the world. Not very useful.

    I know my tone sucks often in text and I hope I don't sound like I am angry or frustrated with you. I'm not. Our conversations sometimes fit neatly into tapes I already have in my head so it sounds like I'm ranting about you, but this is an old whinge. :-\

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  3. And I think you are partially mis-understanding me. Even if every single person on the planet *expects* me to be nice to them, it only matters when they are somehow important to my world. Noah's friends matter because I like my husband and I want him to have friends and even if I don't want to socialize with his friends all the time, I should make sure it's not awful to see them. That's being all civilized to my husband. I try to do that. It's about the larger net of obligation. I believe I have to be nice to people who are nice to Noah. That creates a much heavier than normal weight of pressure.

    Normally I go about my life meeting people and don't worry about their expectations of me. Well... mostly. :) I worry about people disliking me and me having to be around them anyway. That is awful. :( And the more I want people to like me (like Noah's friends) the more pressure and the more likely I am to be an asshat. Which goes above and beyond just trying to be neutral/civil to being unpleasant.

    I am not worried so much about *you* thinking I should be nice when I meet people. And I'm not worried about *Noah* thinking I should be nice to people. I am freaked out by the generic "them" who think I should be nice, only I'm not therefore I am a terrible, bad person.

    Some day I'd like to be rational.

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  4. Now that you say so, I realize you're right that not everyone expects people to be nice to them. My own father seems to always expect people to try to swindle him. I wasn't thinking about that. I do think that the majority of people expect it, but maybe that's my happy little sheltered world-view talking. I don't know.

    I know you're not angry at me in particular. I've been trying to figure out why that misunderstanding bothered me so much. I think it's because if I had said something to that effect (that you expected yourself to always be nice to people), it would mean that I hadn't grasped anything you've been saying in this blog. And if you thought that about me, you probably would be pretty unimpressed with me. And I didn't want that. (If I do screw things up with you, it should at least be over something I meant, rather than a misunderstanding).

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