I used a cloth diaper service for both my breast-fed children. I prefer Macs and stick shifts. I recycle; I vote for the most socially progressive candidates, which almost always means Democrats, even though it’s the choice of the stupid over the mean. Hell, not only do I vote, but I understand the political process. I have a doctorate in the liberal arts. I can’t keep track of who of my friends fits into what sub-category because there are just too many of them. I shop at the local farmers’ market. But . . .
NPR makes me twitch. They make me feel non-white. There’s just no other way to put it. I have a friend (white, by the way) who works at home, and she once found herself under the mild delusion that NPR was trying to make her commit suicide. I knew exactly what she meant.
Even though I myself happen to have that very same FM dj’s voice (the smooth mezzo, the ability to talk in complete and punctuated paragraphs) they make me want to scream. As another friend phrases it, they have never met a point they couldn’t belabor. Their self-precious bleatings sound like the voice of doom itself–except, of course, during A Prairie Home Companion, which isn’t fair to Garrison Keillor, because he doesn’t work for them. (I love Sven and Ole jokes. I was born and went to college in the Midwest. But listening to A Prairie Home Companion gives me the creeps. I’ve been waist-deep in live Scandahoovia, and I have never ever felt quite that non-white.)
The people of NPR live in a miserable world, but they don’t care about it. Theirs is a lugubrious intellectual detachment. Listening to them gives insight into FOX News’ distressing popularity: Highly colored and biased reporting it may be, but by God at least they are real breathing human people with nerve endings. Who probably have non-soy-derived milk in their refrigerators given by cows fenced in by electrical wire, pumped full of crack, and forced to wear Donna Karan 12-inch pumps.
I’m genetically multiracial, and so I’ve always chafed at society’s attempts to shove me into one box or another. It seems particularly odd in medical areas. So I asked some savvy public health people about it, and they said, quite reasonably, that it was really a cultural thing: foods you eat, patterns of dealing with stress, a whole bunch of different little things. And when adding all these factors up of all the things that make up my personal culture, by golly I’m just your basic Amurrican girl-i.e., white. I’d always suspected it. At 50%, it’s my largest genetic group, and as I grew up, I was called an Oreo every time I passed a glass of that alien-probed and radioactive milk.
However. Understand that I have medium dark skin, curly hair, and sort of generically-pretty-exotic features. I’ve “passed” as everything from Italian to Navajo–to others of those groups. By and large, I’m a generic minority, and quite comfortable about it. When people ask me The Question, this is my answer:
Some of my ancestors ran out of mammoths.
Some of them ran out of land.
Some of them ran out of potatoes.
Some didn’t run fast enough.
And some ran away from us.
What this boils down to is that I’m an American; and like it or not, the color I am is the ones that don’t run.
But NPR makes me feel non-white.
In many ways (see above) I’m in a close demographic with their target audience: professional class, socially progressive politics (although a tad too conservative in some ways), well-educated. But . . . I’m not. I feel alienated and highly uncomfortable. I am at a party, and I am The Other.
I decided to blog about this precisely because this is so hard to put into words, but here’s an example of what I mean:
One day, I was on the train here in Boston, and a (big white) prep/yuppie leaned over and said, grinning in approval, “I’m glad to see you wearing your beads! So many people hide them!”
(wtf?????) I was absolutely baffled. I couldn’t hear what he was saying to his wife and kid, but he was pleased as punch with me. Then I realized that he thought I practiced Santeria.
I like beads. I started stringing them just for the hell of it years ago and it’s sort of a hobby. I almost always wear 15-20 strands of multi-colored/patterned seed beads. I’m just into it. They’re both visual and tactile. They get admired a lot, but . . . although some of them indeed have orisha colors, they’re . . . just beads.
So I spent the next two or three minutes wondering how to tactfully tell this guy that I’m Episcopalian. That I’m not Latina or Yoruba in any way, shape, or form. And that there are tons of Santeria folks running around with their beads in plain view; he probably just doesn’t hang in their neighborhoods.
And that he had just sort of made me into an ethnocultural exhibit for his family.
I would bet TONS that this man listens to NPR every day. It was the vibe. He was just so liberal and hip! And culturally aware of diversity! So I figured that if I said something, maybe he would be less hip and aware of diversity (in the least sarcastic of senses), so I just left it be. But I was really enraged.
It was one of the most racist things that has ever happened to me.
And that last sentence is a piece of the world a lot of NPR’s audience just won’t get.
You see, there’s a big difference between being included and excluded. I’m still friends with the nice Italian boy I got fixed up with who was told I was Sicilian. I treasure the memory of that convenience store on the res where Grandpa tottered up to me with his cane, cute as a biscuit, and told me something funny as hell in Navajo, and poked me, and I laughed back, because it was funny as hell, by golly! Being taken as a fellow sabra by the Israeli woman in the clearance section of Bloomie’s got a little embarrassing when it turned out that I didn’t know that it was Purim, but hey. (It took me a while to realize that she hadn’t even thought I was goyische. New York can be like that.) I am happy to give anybody the wrong directions in bad Spanish. And I can pass for being black most of the time, although that one’s problematic because of the woeful class assumptions made by people who frequently want to dunk me in that glass of milk mixed with Antarctic ice cap pureed with high-fructose corn syrup derived from the blood of small dairy farmers.
But although tons of my friends are white, and I don’t feel excluded at all (they’re my friends, duh) . . . NPR . . . they stick up for all of these oppressed people, and valorize them, and moan about them–but none of them, of it, is real. They go home, like most of us, to the people who are just like them, and listen to A Prairie Home Companion. Although they feel guilty for laughing at Sven and Ole, because it’s a class thing dere for dem, doncha know.
But hey, the boys dere are fair targets, because ya know vhat dey make up dere in Visconsin.
Anybody got a cookie?