Waking Up White: Chapter 21

Chapter 21: Straddling Two Worlds

The Reading

So I’d spend time with my family, luxuriating in the old familiar jokes and ribbing, the status and security, and the deep love I felt. Then I’d go to dinner at the country club and get a sick feeling as I realized that many of my friends would never be accepted as members, nor would they feel comfortable even sitting in the room.

So I lived with a foot in each world, needing both, never mixing the two, and…feeling like a hypocrite.

Because she realized what us “inner city kids” already know – the two worlds don’t mix, and they only co-exist by building huge walls between them.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to other cultures, as evidenced by my early Native American fantasies.

She fails to recognize that she is drawn to them as a tourist, a looky-loo.

I, too, have always found myself drawn to different cultures, mostly from a sense of looking for one in which I could belong.  Funny – when I lived in Europe, I felt greater acceptance and “belonging” than I ever have in the US.  There, my “differences” were just written off as being due to the fact that I was an American. Instead of marking me as an outsider they were just ‘quirks’ of someone who ‘didn’t grow up here.’

For me, family life meant being nice and polite so everyone could get along. For [her husband], getting to the heart of the matter, no matter how messy it got along the way. When a conversation for tense, Bruce would dig deeper. My training told me tension was my cue to change topics.

This was a revelation to me.  Having never been good at or valued for anything but my intellect, I learned to rely on scientific method. Fail at something? Examine it more closely, take it apart, and figure out why.  Like Bruce, I “dig deeper.” I never understood that people were conditioned to retreat from that.  I just figured they were being hypocritical, talking about wanting to understand or solve something while really being unwilling to do the work, or risk being uncomfortable to get to the bottom of it. I had no idea why simply examining a situation was seen as such a confrontational act.

The Study Question

Think of different groups of people in your life – your family, your friends, your coworkers, and so on. For each of these groups or contexts, think about whether you feel like an insider or outsider and how that status affects your desire to spend time with the group.

We have a group of friends – three couples, including my husband and me – that get together every weekend or every other weekend to play games and hang out. In that group, I feel accepted, and more or less like an insider.

I have a small group of writers that I am connected with on Facebook. Most of us haven’t met in person, but we interact regularly, read each other’s works-in-progress – it’s a much more “intimate” relationship than people realize, to share the early versions of a book or story. I can’t say I feel like an “insider” there, and there are a couple of members I have blocked. But I do feel accepted and a full “member” of the group, so more “insider” than “outsider.” Kind of the same way I feel with my siblings – not really sure I “belong” – but confident that they will treat me as if I do, regardless.

Can’t really think of anyplace else that I feel “comfortable” or like an “insider.”

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Stephen’s Chapter 21 post

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One thought on “Waking Up White: Chapter 21

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  1. “I never understood that people were conditioned to retreat from that.”

    Interesting point. There is a social conditioning for white people in general that keeps us from digging into the hard things about social constructs. And you point that out as hypocrisy, which it is.

    My own thoughts right now are that it is exposed as the reluctance to talk about issues with any freedom, and the anxiety and dread when we do.

What do you think?

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