December 9, 2016

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Part 1: Dreams of Diaspora, an Introduction

December 9, 2016

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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