Sunday, September 6, 2009

Dialogues on race in 8 minutes

I’m a single, white woman in my thirties. For me this means I regularly take part in various forms of social/dating rituals: blind dates, internet connections, meet up groups, and most recently…speed dating.

In the last several years, as my voice on white identity and racism has strengthened, I’ve come to terms with the fact that any first date will involve a discussion on race. There are usually two ways this goes. Either the discussion resolves well, and a second date becomes possible (at least on my end). Or, it does not go well, and I downshift into becoming my best educator self for the remainder of the date.

I learned something about myself last week. It is this: No, I cannot share substantially with someone for even 8 minutes without talking about race. No, I will not submit to surface level chatter to avoid it. And, no, I am not afraid of what that might bring.

So, enter Bachelor number 4. Our 8 minutes together started with so much promise.

Me: So, what are you passionate about?

Him: Justice. (Very nice start!)

More questions, more answers…all of which made him increasingly attractive.

Him: So, what are you passionate about?

Me: Racial justice

Him: What do you mean?

Me: I’m invested in helping people see how our history of racism continues to impact people today and how the structures of our society still operate largely in ways that support inequity.

Him: So, you support affirmative action?

Me: I see it as an important step in our movement forward.

I could have said more…a lot more. Had we been sharing a meal he would have gotten an ear full. However, we had two minutes to wrap up and he felt it important to let me know how na├»ve I am and how he used to be liberal until he moved to LA.

There’s more to the story…and more to him. I’m sure it’s hard when you find that your business struggles in part due to policies that do not put you at the front of the line. I’m also sure that whatever I might have said, it likely would not have altered his perspective.

I’m sure of that mostly because of what occurred in the last 2 minutes. He received a call. (Yes, on an 8 minute date he felt the need to take a call.) Why? Because he had parked his fancy car in the loading zone of a high-priced hotel with a note on it saying that he was working inside the hotel. And…shockingly, he was actually receiving a call telling him that it was time to move his car. No tow truck for the fancy car, apparently.

Privilege oozed from him, and I had to laugh in order to cope with the situation.

I kept chuckling to myself, shaking my head, until the bell rang and the men were asked to switch seats. Bachelor number 4 raced from the room to rescue his car. I proceeded to talk about what happened to both the Latina woman seated next to me as well as the African American man who sat down next in front of me. We all laughed and shook our heads, sadly witnessing Privilege with a capital P, with a heavy dose of Denial to support it.

And, 8 minutes later, another white man sat before me, another white man with whom I could try to talk about race. Let the games begin! This last guy seemed to get it, thank goodness. And we actually had quite a nice conversation, one that lasted longer than 8 minutes since he was last in the lineup for the night.

And thus, the night ended with a tie, a score of 1 to 1 for the white men. And hope exists (floats up as they say) even amidst sad displays of entitlement.