Part 5: Acknowledgement of Privilege
The dis-Advantage of Being Colorblind
I look at these pictures of my paternal grandparents with a new sort of lens. Their presenting lives - though by no means without those most subtly painful and mystifying aspects of human existence - are nevertheless marked by a freedom that so many before and after them were never afforded. I am the direct beneficiary of their freedoms.
Therapists are encouraged to pay special attention to the role of privilege in their lives, define as the advantages one holds as result of membership in a dominant group. This extra attention is important, because privilege tends to limit a person’s knowledge of and experience with nonprivileged groups, even when a person belongs to a minority group in one cultural domain and a dominant group in another. (Hays 2008)
Both sides of my family had hired help in their households up until the late seventies, early eighties. My paternal grandmother Dee, pictured above, was an only child and her father was the chief of police who worked for J. Edgar Hoover. They had the kind of wealth during the late 30s and 40s despite the depression and World War II which was profound for the area of Arkansas they were located in. Their household had black hired help who cooked, cleaned, drove the cars, and even someone who came just to shine the silver.
Dee recalled going to her housemaid's church on Sunday and watching people being baptized in the river and celebrating in charismatic ways her stuffy Episcopalian church never mirrored. That housemaid stayed with Dee's mother till she died in the early eighties. When she asked for more work from Dee at the time, she was given money for a ticket to go live with family in California. This part of the story almost sounded as if Dee had to get her out of the family's hair. Sadly, it seems that the housekeeper had very little options upon which to move forward. Most of her life had been spent with our family. Dee told me the housekeeper reached out once for some funds after moving to California, but Dee chose not to reply. It was the end of that era in her eyes. Still, a person who had raised her was left with no life to cling to after the help was no longer a societal norm.
When the movie The Help came out, Dee was a bit indignant about it. She said in a rare, strong tone, "We didn't treat our help like that." I believe her, at least, I believe that no wrong doing or cruelty was perpetrated against those individuals. The systemic racist nature of Dee's reality with hired help who rode her around in a horse drawn carriage as a kid - whom she saw as extended family members for most of her life - was nevertheless subconsciously and consciously perpetrated by an entire society made up of individuals perpetuating cycles. At the same time, economics and societal norms were in place and the racial class system a reality still plaguing western society today.
My maternal side of the family also had help. They were far more racist in their viewpoints than my paternal family. My great-grandmother, my great uncle her son, both used the "N" word regularly. They represent a far deeper sort of systemic abuse of black people, as I spoke about in previous posts.
It has only been in the last year that I have been able to make full peace with my families systemic racist roles and my direct inheritance of it in my own way. I went to school with only a few black students. My life in Little Rock was very isolated from the black culture on the "south side" of town. While I have always been a loving and open person, I was born into the privileged of seeing myself as color-blind. I saw to the soul of a person. It is only in the past few months of going to graduate school that I've realized that that in of it's self is a privileged mindset to hold. I have never had to think of my color as affecting my life at all. This learning curve has humbled me and I am now dedicated to understanding how my life has been affected by my racial positionality so that I may better hold space for others in their journey of race, positionality, and identity.
a free form poem dedicated to my Great-Great Aunt Anne
Aunt Anne you were beauty
you were the baby.
Eight siblings, one you.
I was an only too.
Aunt Anne you were engaged
to a boy who died overseas.
One man, one you.
I've been engaged like you.
At least, the story goes
Or sometimes the story goes
I remember there were no more boys in your story.
I remember your Christmas gifts of ten dollars in the mail each year.
I remember you whispering "I love you, you're beautiful" in my ear.
I remember you.
Aunt Anne you had a love
her name is Peggy.
She's alive out there still,
at least I hope that she is.
I was too young when you passed.
to say to their faces "let them alone,
Peggy just lost her love."
But in my heart,
You lived your life with her for years and years and years,
years before Lin Manuel penned "love is love is love is love is love..."
You were too old, baby.
I wish we had been the best of friends.
I wish you could have simply been.
I wish you were...
Aunt Anne you were my friend
and I feel you near sometimes
Believing in and
I'll tell your story today
no longer as one of those rushed over,
because the others are still
afraid of what you were...
I never was afraid
Just lost underneath a haze.
Thank God, I got out.
Now I love who I love who I love...
You helped drive out the fear
even if you didn't know it
You shouldn't have had to do it
but you loved who you loved
and it wasn't supposed to be that way
yet it was.
Thank you for being brave.
I'll tell your story today.
Anne loved Peggy
and you two were,
and still are,
and will be,
and shall be,
Anne Clayton was a high school gym teacher in Natches, Mississippi for years. She lived with Peggy for most of her adult life. She died in 2004 in her late 80s. Her partner Peggy may still be alive, though our family has kept no contact with her. I was 17 at the time. After years of repressing this part of my family's story, I am going to try and seek out if Peggy is still alive and make contact with her in some way. I have no idea if that will be possible at this point, but I know I must try. I want her to know that I love and support her. I hope it is not too late.
Part of my awakening to my privileges in this life has been to acknowledge that I have have been naively safe due to my socially un-thwarted binary standards as a heterosexual female for many years. I am now engaged to the love of my life, a heterosexual male, but since my mid twenties have grown increasingly awareness of my sexual fluidity. I now know that I am bisexual on a spectrum that leans me mostly towards masculine identifying individuals, of any gender. We have a beautifully open relationship where sexuality can be explored and nurtured both inside and outside the relationship. We also have a Dominant/Submissive sexual dynamic that we play in our sexual life, and thus resonate and are in support with the Kink culture.
As a therapist, I want to help others create and safeguard their identities and the exploration of love and relationship in this still extremely polarizing western world. Particularly where religious ideologies have held individuals back in oppression, repression, and hatred, I want to be an ambassador of acceptance, social justice, and free love for all.