Wednesday, March 10, 2010

White (trans)Boy

by malic

He sits complacent on the bus to the red line—headphones blaring some NPR podcast, back bent beneath a swelling of books. He stretches his legs and taps the CTA card in his back pocket—the one he bought with Christmas money from mom and dad, a reward for scoring A’s last semester.

“White Boy.”

Each word hits him like a pebble spat sideways.

“Yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, White Boy. Look at me when I talk to you. Are you a racist or something?”

When he was White Girl, this never happened. The occasional “dyke” slipped out and tripped him up once in a while, enough to scare him into passing as a Boy when he can. Hood up, head down. He hides his hips beneath a heavy belt, but he can’t hide his whiteness.

When he was White Girl, his whiteness was visible, but never verbally acknowledged. Dead weight in a bus seat—he couldn’t hurt a fly. But White Boy is a threat. White Boy is an oppressor.

I swear I don’t live here, he wants to say. But the bus is just a few blocks from home, smack-dab in the middle of Gentrification Station. He doesn’t like to say he goes to school here, a school that most people in his neighborhood could never afford to attend. He’s embarrassed.

“I said, are you a racist, White Boy?”

He chest gets tight beneath the fabric that binds it down. He wants to whip out his Oppression Card, scream, Look at me! I’m a tranny! I’m not what you think I am. But he knows that’s Fucked Up and it’s too late to backtrack. Perceived as White Boy, the Ultimate Oppressor, he’s stuck.

“Are you a racist?”

If he says yes, he’ll be an asshole. If he says no he’d be lying. Socialized in white America, middle class suburban boy—of course he has some privilege to examine. And how ironic that he’s using academia to unlearn it all. He sits in classrooms and tackles the Race, Class, and Gender triad, teaching himself the fundamentals of Being A Good Person. Someday people won’t have to do this—they’ll just know it. That’s his biggest hope.

“Are you a racist?”

He doesn’t answer, drops his head. The bus pulls up to the red line and he stands. His shoulders ache beneath the weight of his headphones, his backpack, the accidental privilege he never thought he’d carry.

Editor's note: In the original post, the line, "When he was White Girl, his whiteness was visible, but never verbally acknowledged" was "When he was White girl, his whiteness was mostly ignored." I changed the poor wording of this sentence because I believe that whiteness is never ignored, regardless of whether or not a person is perceived as male or female. However, I wanted to acknowledge that my skin privilege was rarely "publicly called out" until I began passing as male.

5 comments:

  1. I have to admit, I find this post troubling. The use of "racist" to mean "benefiting from privilege" is pretty much exclusive to the academic study of social injustice. Outside of academia, "racist" usually means "flat-out bigoted." It seems pretty clear to me that what this guy was asking was "Are you ignoring me because you have a problem with black people?", not "Do you have some privilege to examine?" He probably took your silence to mean "Yes, I do have a problem with black people, so leave me alone" -- not at all the message you wanted to communicate! I have a lot of friends in the humanities/social sciences, and I've seen this kind of miscommunication happen before. It worries me that a field of study geared toward analyzing oppression in order to fight so often winds up making communication between people with access to higher education and people without that privilege harder, rather than easier.

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  2. Zoe--

    Your comment perfectly illustrates the problem that this blog post was meant to address--the problematic nature of viewing race and privilege through an academic lens.

    This blog also identifies relationships to different marginalized groups as another obstacle of communication. The person of color who spoke to me saw me as a threat because he perceived me as white. I perceived him as a cisgender person. I was concerned about speaking in this situation not only because higher education has given me a particular (and in this case, problematic) definition of racism, but also because my voice would surely reveal that I was not a "boy," but rather, a female-bodied person. Being perceived as gender variant, particularly on public transportation, often puts transgender people in dangerous situations. Thus, our different experiences with marginalization and our different perceptions of each others' privilege created an unfortunate rift in communication.

    Malic

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  3. I hear you. This stuff is a mess, isn't it?

    -Z.

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  4. I'd really, really like to re-post this on our blog?

    Was this a guest blog, or is this a post by the person who owns this blog? Either way, I'd like to work something out because this opens up a great dialog!

    Check us out at http://speakequal.com

    E-mail me at brooke.murphy@speakequal.com

    ReplyDelete

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