Look out folks, it's about to get REAL up in here! The thoughts that will come pouring forth have been preying on my mind since that day in kindergarten when my teacher asked each of us what we wanted to be when we grew up. The little White girl next to me poked me in the ribs and hissed in my ear, "say a n-----, Anita, say a n-----"! I didn't say that - I said I wanted to be an astronaut. The entire class laughed at me, and the vibes that came off the teacher could have sent a boiling kettle into instantaneous deep freeze - obviously, I'd said the wrong thing!
I've been saying and thinking the wrong things all of my life, so why stop now, eh? Yes, I know I'm supposed to be proud of who I am, but that is exceedingly difficult when most of society is against me.
Let's face it - I'm at the bottom of the barrel. As a Black, disabled, unemployed lesbian staring down the barrel at age 50, I'm only a couple of notches above dirt. Now, before any of you jump to the conclusion that this is a "poor me" piece, stop right there, because it isn't. I am simply telling MY lived experience. Trust me, when the average person sees me walking or wheeling down the street with my jeans and t-shirt and knee-length dreadlocks, the thoughts swirling in his or her head will NOT be, "look at that nice lady!"
Bearing up under multiple minority groups, with the added intersection of poverty is exquisitely...painful. Let's start with being Black. You can lump all people of color into one big monolithic group all you want, but hear me when I say that being Black is far different than being Asian or Latina or Native American. We get treated differently than other folks of color and less is expected of us. Many Black folks my age remember the old quote, "If you're White, you're all right, if you're Brown, stick around, if you're Black, get back!" Nobody would willingly change their skin color to be black, at least, not permanently. When we go out, we are representing our entire race, whether it's in the classroom, on the job or on the street. If one of us does or says something wrong, we are all wrong, yet, if one of us excels at something like reading, math or science, then, we're smart...for one of you people! If you don't believe me, check out this essay by Peggy McIntosh, who happens to be White. That's another rub - our lived experiences aren't believed unless they're validated by someone from the dominant culture. Oh, and please don't start with the whole post racial thing because we have a Black president. The racial backlash that has happened since he took office has been utterly breathtaking, to say the least! Finally, to those who say that race is a social construct - it is a construct designed to benefit the dominant culture because the outcomes for you and I are vastly different!
Now, let's talk about disability. Generally, we're seen as useless eaters and burdens to society - to be disabled is a fate worse than death. To say that the deck is stacked against us is a vast understatement. The unemployment rate in our community is upwards of 70%, even though poll after poll shows that overwhelmingly, we want to work. 24 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are still fighting to go where everyone else has gone before. 15 years after the Olmstead Supreme Court decision, folks with disabilities are still being unnecessarily warehoused in nursing homes against our will, for the crime of being disabled. Like Black folks, we are presumed to be intellectually inferior, so that when we show that we have two brain cells to rub together, well, we're smart...for one of you people. If we manage to succeed despite the odds - even doing normal stuff like riding the bus, going shopping or just chilling out, why - we're SO brave and SO inspirational - gag!
We women have been laboring under patriarchy since the beginning of time. We have all the babies, but very little power. Men make the laws that govern our bodies. In the 21st century, we still, on average, make less than a man doing the same job and the same level of experience. Double standards are par for the course in our lives - an enthusiastic, hard-charging man at work is a go-getter; that same woman is an emasculating bitch. A man can parade around half naked in the street, but if a woman does that, she is slut-shamed and seen as inviting rape. We are seen as weak, inferior, stupid and paradoxically - dangerous.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender folks are only just beginning to attain some civil and human rights in this country, but there are still some places in the world where we can not only go to jail for who we love, we could be put to death, as well! Even in this country, when a gay man or transgender woman is murdered, the killer is often acquitted, or at the very least, the defense will try to justify the murder with excuses of gay scare, or being tricked by the woman.
Being poor in this country is seen almost as a criminal act, a stigma, a blot on one's character and morals. We are blamed for our poverty and most of the programs designed to help us only serve to keep us mired in poverty.
You see, folks, it's all about privilege, and other than the fact that I'm cisgender, I have no privilege. What is privilege, you ask? The best way that I can describe it is a special advantage that is automatically conferred on one group to the exclusion of others. For example, Straight privilege means not having to work on your pride. You don't have to be ashamed that you're straight or come out as straight. White privilege is knowing automatically that 99% of the history taught in schools in this country will be your history; the people depicted in it will look like you. Able-bodied privilege is knowing that when you go to the movies or a sports arena, you can sit wherever you want, not in some designated area.
So, why am I going on about this? Because frankly, the weight of all this is making me angry. I'm tired of working five times as hard to be just as good as the average White, straight, nondisabled, middle class male. Not a day goes by that I don't hear about one of the groups that I belong to either doing something horrible or having something horrible done to us. I treasure every story about ordinary Black folks doing good things because trust me, you rarely hear of it. Still, I'm not supposed to feel down or get angry. I'm supposed to be happy, satisfied, proud and grateful being two notches above dirt - so reviled that other folks of color feel privileged not to be me. Yet, I cannot afford to give up or let this weigh me down. I have to continue to fight against injustice, continue to prove my worth and continue to hang on to my sometimes, tenuous pride. If I don't, who's gonna do it for me...you?