Maybe Racism Won’t Kill Me After all

In recent weeks, I had to spend time in a New England city. I was looking for an apartment. During the search, I reached out to a number of people I hardly knew. One was a middle-aged man I’d had a brief flirtation with–brief because he was married. I didn’t know his wife, or anything about her. He was very helpful, my acquaintance; he told me where to eat, and where to live. We met up for dinner one night; his wife came along. She was much younger than her husband (who is white) and not white. We went off to dinner, and during the course of the meal, she told me about her mother, an immigrant whose first home in America was in a predominately black city. This woman’s mother tried to prove she wasn’t racist by talking about her understanding and compassion all the time. Of course, my friend’s wife was happy to reveal just how racist her mother was by recounting several instances that proved just that. At a certain point, I said to my female dinner companion: “It’s weird that your mother is racist, considering your family’s not white.” From the first it was clear to me that by marrying what she considered up–that is, by marrying a white man–this woman thought she’d passed into a hierarchical world where her association with white maleness kept her scarily, excitingly, in the “passing”  zone, whereas my black queerness was another story altogether. And she wanted her husband to know that. (Her straight white male was the only audience that mattered to her. And she thought he should matter to me, too.)  After relieving myself of this tiresome company, I reveled in my ability to say anything to that woman at the time, given that racism generally leaves one silent, stunned: it takes a long time to unchoke from the condescending bile that people vomit into one’s mouth. Also, there is the memory of what generally follows a racial slur: physical violence. I’ve been lynched and burned over and over again. My friend’s wife frightened me more than any white man could, because she came at her hatred and fear sideways; it was something she’d thought about. Perhaps I got over my reluctance to say anything to this woman because her gender wasn’t my first consideration. (I was raised to never hit a lady). But what’s a poor queer to do in a world where social bashing, and racism, isn’t restricted to white men anymore? The racism I’ve experienced in recent years has been generated, for the most part, by women. Is this the new passing? The outcome of our post feminist world, where, in trying to make it in male dominated universe, it’s cool to identify with the oppressor by behaving just as badly, unthinkingly, as he has, and does? While I have always loved my sisters in the struggle, I keep an eye out now for the various forms the will to power can take, too, and without letting any of it break my heart.