Tuesday, July 1, 2008

It's All About Where You're Sitting

Life is about vantage points.

Where you sit, where you stand, how you can see things affects what this world means to you. I was reminded of that simple fact this weekend.

A homeboy of mine came by the crib and we chopped it up about basketball, women, video games and life. This cat is a couple years younger than me, and while we share some of the same interests, our lives have been very different. He never attended college, still lives with his folks, and has not seen or learned much about the world.

He's an intelligent cat, very intelligent, but he never developed that intelligence in an academic sense. More importantly, his world is just small.

For example, when we talked this weekend he'd just watched some roundtable discussion on BET and discovered something shocking about the world. He'd learned that sexism is a real problem and that women face discrimination similar to what black people face. Apparently, he had no idea this was going on.

I told y'all his world was small.

It was his comment, along with another comment he made about never having read a single novel that influenced his worldview like music, that inspired me to write about vantage points. See, he and I can agree on many issues, particularly basketball, but on other things we're worlds apart. And the weird thing is that distance is due to our vantage points.

I wrote a while back that I wanted to control the impulse to be bitter and angry in perpetuity. It's little reminders like this that can both encourage me on that path, and convince me that my attempts are ultimately pointless.

Accepting viewpoints that seem offensive or insensitive can be a little easier if I'm convinced that folks just don't see things my way because they've never walked in my shoes or had a chance to experience my life. Yet, because there is no way I can ever really put them in my shoes the possibility that meaningful change can ever occur is bleak. That depresses me because I am worried that my son will have to fight the same battles I've fought instead of breaking new ground.

I think I want to devote myself to activities that expand people's vantage points, that force them to consider things outside of their typical sphere of influence. Blogging does some of that, but most of y'all agree with me on issues of race, which is the largest area where change needs to occur. Consequently, I've decided that I have to be more friendly and more patient with people if I want to create lasting change. Anybody with some more suggestions is welcome to comment on the blog.

I've got to get up out of my regular seat.


OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Big Man, I think your ephinany is great. I learned a long time ago I have changed more people being "nice" and "friendly". I think it was a few years ago when my white director/manager, we were also work family. I supported her when she lost her mother, cried with her when she tried to have children unsuccessful and just talked about our lives in general. On morning she came by my desk and said, they were talking about reparations on the radio this morning what do you think and can you explain why they are so important to everyone. Had I been the "typical" black woman I have run into at work, the I'm here to do my job not make friends she never would have felt comfortable to ask me that question, she probably would have let her views on reparations be painted by right wing talks show hacks and their callers, but since she KNEW me and felt comfortable with me not going off on her, she asked me. And she asked me not as a spokesperson but as black friend who had a view. I took the chance to explain all the viewpoints out there and then my viewpoint and problems with reparations etc. We and all the women in my department (which looked like the view we had white, black korean, indian) always talked about issues honestly and as a friend and I grew and they grew. Just from being exposed to someone who's life was different than ours.

I was never the black girl who got mad in college at her roommates when I was asked about my hair and why I washed it weekly and not daily. I realized the questions was because whites don't have to know about our world like we do. It wasn't about being a science experiment it was about understanding how others lived. I also never got mad when I run into blacks who are ignorant of our history and how great we are, I took it as an opportunity to open the world.

I dedicated myself to exposure a while back as my world grew exponentially to those in my family, you know I think it is the MOST powerful thing in the world. I think being exposed to new ideas and thoughts is the most powerful thing a human being can experience. I view my exposure as a legacy for my family. The things I'm doing and places I am seeing are far beyond anything my mother and father ever did. While here in Boston I have made sure she will be able to visit me (her first trip up north) and my niece and little cousins before I go. Actually when I return my little cousin is suppose to live a summer with me because I want her to know there is world beyond her mother's house which is highly dysfunctional. I want her to know there are many options in her life beyond what she sees before her. I think that you can start by just talking to people and taking younger relatives or friends to things they normally wouldn't be exposed to. Challenging people to think with out confrontation, that has been my biggest lesson, learning how to challenge thinking with little to no confrontation, you know basically asking people to explain why they think the way they do and then realizing they really don't know.

You seem to be doing a lot of growing and stretching beyond your comfort zone these days. I applaud it! As you know I think mental and emotional growth are some of God's most phenomenal gifts to man. Good luck with it, I think whatever plan you work out will be fine and do your son fine.


WNG said...

Sometimes I get tired of my roll as 'teacher' and 'the black friend' but most of the time I feel, as OG does, that you can reach people one at a time and you can give them a glimpse into another world. No, they will never be able to walk in your shoes and truly understand but you can't walk in their's either.
I think that in any relationship it is the person or group with less power (real or percieved) that will understand the other party more. It is survival. White people have never needed to understand us, while we have always needed to understand them.
While they will not be able to walk in our shoes some can be made to better understand where we are coming from.
It isn't easy. I sometimes feel like a human footbridge stretched between two worlds and daily bruised by one side or another, but I think that if more of us reached out the load might get lighter.
Thus spake Pollyanna...

Big Man said...

Neither one of y'all is Pollyanna. I'm trying to get to the point where y'all are.

I'm working on it.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

your folk and u sound like my folk, just throw in some hegel, palentology and barbq

Ben Atkinson said...

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

Marcus Aurelius (Roman emperor, AD 121-180)

Many of us tend to see things from our perspective as the truth. However we have acquired this "truth" through our own unique life experiences, and we bring with it our own biases. It is hard to see the World from the eyes of others when we think we know the truth.

the uppity negro said...

glad to see you widen your own worldview...

the uppity negro said...

glad to see you widen your own worldview...

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

OMG I'm not a Pollyanna? *lol*


Raving Black Lunatic