It’s Not Always About Me

| June 25, 2015

In 2013, a university professor posted an article to Facebook: “The politics of being friends with white people.”  The author of the article, a black woman, was laying out her experience with interracial friendships. She takes the reader through her childhood, when her best friend was a white girl, and into adulthood, where her friends are all black.

There is a reason that I remember this particular article, and it isn’t just for the elucidating content.

But first, the content. As I read the woman’s post, I was able to relate to why she and her friend drifted away in adolescence: “We couldn’t giggle about the same kinds of boys since our tastes fell along racial lines, couldn’t trade makeup or hair products, or move through each other’s social circles with ease any longer…”

I distinctly recalled when that transition took place for me and a camp friend, a black girl who was my closest friend at that summer camp. We hit it off our first summer bunking together, then for the two years following—during which we remained penpals—we scheduled coinciding camp sessions. But we drifted apart right at the time that we went from the intermediate bunks to the older girl cabins. This makes sense to me for all the reasons the author wrote.

However, as I read about the author’s adult experience, I took instant offense to “At 30 or 35, the fact that your white friends now vote Republican alongside their parents strikes you as a choice that detrimentally impacts your material existence.” My immediate reaction was, “We’re not all Republicans! We don’t all follow in our parents’ footsteps!”

I commented on the facebook post, both acknowledging that this was an enlightening article, and defending my political stance. My comment was not rude or inflammatory, but it was certainly unnecessary.

One of the professor’s students replied to my comment saying, basically, this is someone’s personal experience, it’s about the people in her life and not universals. That student was right. This wasn’t a debate piece or some kind of personal attack—it was someone else’s personal experience, which she was sharing with the world. She was shedding a little more light on a topic worth exploring.

And what did that have to do with me or my political orientation? Nothing.

Online, you see these unnecessary comments all the time—unfortunately, often in heated, hateful tones. Comments that debate someone’s experience. Comments that achieve nothing, but preserve something: ignorance and hate.

It’s hard not to take things personally. It’s hard to step back and, instead of defending yourself against an attack that perhaps hasn’t even taken place, just accept a person’s experience as truth. Believe me, I’m guilty as sin. My husband could come home and say, “Man, I had a long day,” and it would not be out of the realm of possibility for my response to sound like this: “What, like I didn’t?”

Now, what kind of conversation is that? And is that a conversation we should be having as a society?

When you read someone’s article or blog post about their experiences, guess what? It’s not about you.  There is a lot of content out there right now about race and racism, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, and other topics that we desperately need to discuss as a society.  Some people only get to hear experiences told by people who are different from them, through social media.

How someone personally experiences discrimination is not direct commentary on your own behavior. And if you really feel like it is, then maybe some further introspection is due.  Still, their personal experience is not about you. It’s out there to add to the conversation. Read it.  Think about it.  If you have something to add to the conversation, contribute positively. Don’t add to the crapstorm.

 

 

 

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Category: In Germany A Broad blog, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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