As I’ve read Caucasia, a novel for a literature class I’m taking, I’ve been struck by how artificially constructed race (or gender) is, and how race is simply a culture-ized idea with no “biological definition” as Micheal Omi puts it. (Racial Formations, Michael Omi) I can see the primitive survival aspect of evolution which required “different” to trigger an instinctive wake-up call to possible danger, but now that we as a society have moved past the caves, spears, clothes made from the skins of animals (sort of) and cave paintings, maybe we as writers can help deconstruct some of this latent fear-of-different, power trip that leads to social and political marginalization, where the dominant culture/race is the only lens or even the primary lens the world is seen through.
As an artist who is a half-Chinese, half-European woman of a certain age, I am aware that “male-white-American” is a limited perspective, one where I seem to come up short, one I bumped up against just yesterday.
So I stopped by for tea, with two, white, male, fifty-something scientists, one a chemist, the other a geologist. They were in the middle of writing up a proposal for a soil remediation project in a Russian sounding place near the Arctic Circle. They welcomed my fresh energy and the chemist, a shaved head, bespectacled guy who peered at me over the top of his glasses, seemed eternally wearing an “oh really” mask, while he simultaneously swaggered, sitting in his rolling office chair, while he plucked away at the laptop’s keyboard.
The chemist shook his head knowingly when I recited the name of my Women’s Studies Lit/Writing class, “Writing Women’s Lives: Strategies for Representation and Histories of Domination” which to be sure is a mouthful. He shook his head, smiling smugly, like he really had the skinny on life, then he made an attempt to be fair minded, saying we’re all different, but followed his platitude with the assessment of women as complicated and meandering, and men as direct.
I made light of this, acknowledging that women are indoctrinated to be subtle and pleasant. I smiled and described an interaction with my partner, where I initially resisted being direct and had to practice just telling my truth, in the mirror no less! Two days later I managed distill my vague, apologetic abstractions down to two concrete requests. Voila! Success! As I spoke to the chemist I began to wonder how much of gender or race is culturally constructed. This guy seemed to see these things as concrete: Men are this way. Women are that way. I am white. You are the other. He was efficient, intelligent, powerful, the one getting things done—to him, what was of true value. I wondered if his position would be different if he were say Black or Chinese? Maybe. He’s still male, which seemed the trump card.
As I sat at the café-style table with my blue-eyed, white-haired geologist friend I was regaled with the Fibonacci sequence, capillary flow, ambient waves and ways scientists protect their formulas and procedures, sometimes with the low tech addition of something like food coloring! It was fascinating, even when the chemist chimed in to our conversation, “I actually get what he’s saying.” Was he insinuating I did not? No, he could not be that blatantly cliche or droll…(put on my elongated-vowel/flat-lipped English accent here). I must have misunderstood.
I found tea with the two, white, male scientists stimulating and thought provoking, on many levels. They are bright, geeky and laugh easily–to me the surest sign of intelligence, and fun. Yet, the whole white-male superiority is so much the bedrock of our culture, for those who live within it, are it–it is invisible. Undeniable. Simply is. To me, as one who lives at its periphery, it seems odd and contrived–a thin as air, wispy idea of power, and likely fabricated by some guy in a religious robe (dress)–or possibly a lab coat.
As a writer, I strive to remain aware of these biases, and explore social, political and cultural nuances, (and maybe even my own defensiveness) which will color my work with either cultural cliche, OR if I spend a little more time, possibly a deeper understanding of the diversity of the human experience, and what shapes it.
Not you typical Love and Lettuce post, lovelies, but one I’m pondering. I think deconstructing our biases on any level can help us evolve and achieve deeper health, whether it be physically, spiritually, emotionally or culturally-politically.
Love and Lettuce,