Link to previous Holidays, Schmolidays post for background and cast of characters.
Over the past four or five days, BF has been subtly applying slight pressure for me to join him on Christmas. As explained previously, he requires almost constant socializing; I don't.
The holiday gathering has been moved from Molly and Joe's house to Fran's, but the same participants will be present. I have politely declined; life is stressful enough that I don't need any more.
A couple of nights ago, BF asked if I remembered exactly how last year's fireworks started, and I said yes, I did; and in explaining it to him, I also remembered that he hadn't been present at the beginning.
Allow me to indulge (aka bore) you the way I did BF --
Joe, our host, is uncle and in many ways surrogate father to Kyle, the would-be fantasy novelist. Kyle is at least somewhat well read in that genre, if not in anything else. Joe had been encouraged to read more, so that he and Kyle would have something in common. To that end, Molly had given Joe a dictionary for Christmas, so he would have a resource for learning all the words he encountered that he had never seen before. I don't know exactly which specific dictionary it was, but something on the order of what we had in our junior high classrooms in the early 1960s.
Molly had asked me if I thought it was a "good" dictionary. Not really knowing for sure what level Joe was reading at -- that is, intellectual level, not grade level -- I replied that it looked like a good basic reference and should be more than adequate for him.
I did not, of course, hint that Joe would have been intimidated or even terrified by something like this:
And of course I rarely use the big dictionary any more simply because I have the Internet.
Anyway, Joe had his new dictionary.
At some point in the late afternoon or early evening, Joe and Les came into the kitchen where I was chatting with Fran. Joe grabbed his new book and plopped it down on the table, then angrily demanded of Les the spelling of a word he was going to look up. Everything about Joe's tone of voice and body language screamed rage.
Remember, this was Christmas last year, December 2016.
The word was "kakistocracy," which had been floating around some of the news media.
Les had tried to find the word online using his phone, but couldn't spell it quickly enough while trying to punch in the letters on the tiny keyboard. Joe kept interrupting even while he was furiously turning pages of the dictionary. Molly appeared from somewhere, curious as to what was going on. I felt nervous. I knew very little about Molly and Joe's politics. Thanks to an earlier conversation, I knew Kyle was a right-leaning and painfully ignorant misogynist and suspected pretty much the same was true of Joe, but for the most part political talk had not been common at any of these gatherings. But the use of the word "kakistocracy" and Joe's obvious anger had me on alert.
And when Les couldn't come up with the spelling, they all turned to me. I gave it to them.
It wasn't in Joe's junior high dictionary; he immediately shouted that it must not be a real word, that it was something Les had made up or gotten from left wing media.
Like an absolute idiot, I began to quietly argue that it was a perfectly good word, that Joe's dictionary was just not complete. I explained that the derivation was from the Greek, with the first part coming from "kakos" meaning "bad" and the second part from the same root as "democracy," a form of ruling or government. Thus, it meant basically a government made up of bad or incompetent people.
Now please understand that I only took one semester of classical Greek in college and that was 50 years ago, so my explanation was not 100% accurate. But I came pretty close. At any rate, it was close enough to send Joe into a fury. Within half a minute or so, Les had found the full definition online via his phone, and that was even worse, of course.
During the shouting match that followed -- 90% of which was Joe simply screaming -- Molly somehow asked me if I wasn't a Republican, and I gave an honest answer: No, I told her, I'm a socialist. Her response was a horrified but slightly puzzled look on her face; Joe's response was that people like me should all be taken out and shot as traitors.
That's when I gathered up my possessions and left the house.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, Molly came outside and asked me to come back in. I refused, politely but steadfastly. Though she did not apologize, she admitted neither she nor Joe had any idea what a socialist was and would I please come explain it to them. Again, I refused. I had already been made to feel threatened and I was not going back. I considered telling her she and Joe could look it up in the dictionary, but I didn't even want to get into that much of a conversation with her.
When I had finished recounting to BF what had happened last year and why I still refuse to join those people for the sole purpose of making them feel they did nothing wrong and that I've forgiven them -- or worse, that it was my fault after all! -- I couldn't get the whole thing out of my mind. I've had almost no sleep the past couple of nights, a situation that hasn't been helped by external conditions.
This morning I finally managed to sleep in enough to make some sort of recovery. My brain feels reasonably rested and clear. And I remembered a review I had posted here not too long ago, of Susan J. Douglas's Where the Girls Are.
In my review, I noted that while Douglas and I had much in common, I had never been a cheerleader. In fact, I had never been popular, never had many friends, never had any friends close enough that our friendship last much past high school. I have none now. The only difference is that now, today, as I have passed the 69th birthday and can comfortably call myself an Old White Lady, I know why.
I also don't care.
It was in that pivotal year of 1964 that one of my teachers found out I was (however tangentially and however non-practicing) a Jew. He systematically denied me certain advantages? rights? privileges? to which I would otherwise have been entitled, and thus restricted my access to other advantages that might have made my ultimate academic trajectory very different from what it was. I didn't even learn of this until it was way too late to do anything about it; the damage had been done.
The point is not to claim some kind of special victimhood status, but to point out that as similar as any of our experiences might be, as similar as mine might be to Susan J. Douglas's or to that of any other woman born in the U.S. in the early part of the post-war baby boom, "similar" does not mean "identical." I am not Susan J. Douglas; she is not I. Hillary Diane Rodham lived for a while not far from where I lived in Park Ridge, Illinois. We are of that same boomer generation. But we are not the same person.
Last Christmas, I literally feared for my life because of the anger of a man who didn't even really know what a socialist is. Over the past year or so, I've been blamed -- as a white woman over 55 living in Arizona -- for the voting pattern of white women over 55 in Florida and Alabama. Increasingly over the past few weeks, I've seen my entire generation of boomers, those of us born between 1946 and 1964, blamed for the rise of the current crop of isolationist kleptocrats and the implementation of their policies.
As a sociologist, I understand maybe a little better than some other people, how these notions of group identity and group responsibility form. But also as a sociologist, I feel a responsibility not to encourage or support or enable them. To put all individuals with a common trait into a monolithic bloc is an extreme form of othering and it's a tool of autocrats. On one hand, it serves to set up the group as a threat because of its otherness; and it's easy to dismiss that kind of threat with "That's not what I meant at all!"
But on the other hand, such identifying by group makes cooperation between groups difficult if not impossible. Blaming all immigrants for the crimes committed by a few individuals instills fear and distrust and can make even allies nervous and less eager to help. Blaming all Muslims for the acts committed by one sect or even one individual promotes division and more fear and more distrust. This kind of blaming is bad enough when it's focused on things people have actually done. It is far worse when it's leveled at characteristics of what people are, characteristics over which they have no control and cannot change.
Refugees, people fleeing war and famine and threats of death, have no control over where they were born. Whether they are Syrians escaping the destruction of their homes or DACA youngsters who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents, their circumstances are not of their own making. They are still individuals who should be seen as individuals, treated as individuals, treated as human beings. Prejudice and bigotry that direct hatred and fear at entire groups should be condemned by all thinking people, and some of us take it for granted that they are.
But they aren't.
No matter who I voted for or how much money I gave or how hard I campaigned, I can't erase the stigma of being a white woman who didn't vote often enough or give enough or campaign enough. I can't change that I was born in 1948 and some members of my generation turned out to be jerks and schmucks and worse; I have to take responsibility for all their mistakes simply because we share the age in which we were born.
Nothing, nothing, nothing I can do will change that. If I dare to say "Not all white women," I'm immediately and instantly condemned and told to shut the fuck up. If I dare to say, "Not all boomers," the same thing happens.
And people wonder why I'm angry?
I do not and cannot know what it's like to be a person of color. Can I read about it? Of course. But I can never know what it's really like. I only know what it's like to be white, and to be aware that people of color are still people just like me who have a different experience, a different point of view. I don't know what it's like to be wealthy, either, or tall or athletic. I have no musical talent. If I have any talent or skill at all, it's intellectual, and more often than not, it just gets me into trouble. Sometimes I have wished I could turn it off, but how do you not be smart?
The point being, I will not shut up when it comes to defending myself as an individual rather than being shoved either fairly or unfairly into a group that someone else has defined for the purpose of hurting or dividing or disempowering all members of that group based on what they are rather than what they have done. So blame the people in power for the policies they have put in place, the legislation they have passed, and even the cultural shifts they have engineered, but do not blame the others whose only crime was to be born the same year or decade. Otherwise, you are as much a threat to me as Joe, or perhaps even more so, because at least he hates me for something I have the power to change. If you hate me or blame me for something I had no choice in or have no power to change, then you have declared me guilty by association, guilty without trial, guilty without possibility of redemption.
It's not enough to say, "Oh, well, you're different. You're one of the good ones." That's hardly different from saying there are some good Jews or some good Muslims or some good n***ers (or that you have a Jew lawyer or a Black friend).
Do all men benefit from patriarchal norms and even from rape culture even if they are feminists and not rapists? Yes, they do, because that's what the culture does. The culture grants them privilege, but it's up to them to acknowledge it and either work to change it or crassly take advantage of it.
Do all white people benefit from white privilege? Yes, we do, but that does not make all of us manifest enemies; it's something we, too, have to live with and understand and either try to change to make our whole world better, or, well, you know what the opposite is.
Did all boomers set up the present situation? No, of course not. Boomers were also the hippies of the 60s and 70s who tried desperately to change things, only to be often beaten down and culturally destroyed by powers far stronger than they. Some of them tried to shift the direction of their action into academia or the arts or politics. And yes, some of them sold out. Some of them sold out without ever having looked for alternatives.
But here's a difference: Not all boomers benefit from the privilege of being born between 1946 and 1964/65/66.
We were the generation who died in Vietnam, who lost our brothers and husbands and friends in a war that didn't have to be. A war that was brought into our living rooms by news media that our parents never dealt with in the previous war. It was a war that shaped much of our youth and young adulthood, and that echoes to this day in popular culture.
We were the generation who watched the rise of the civil rights and gay rights and women's rights and environmental rights movements and raised our children to believe that we had changed all the bad shit only to have the remnants of an earlier generation snatch it away from us as the millennium changed. We watched as what we thought were dreams fulfilled were instead turned to the dust of nightmares with the destruction of our financial security. Did some of us make out okay? Did some of us see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Sure, just as there are Gen Xers and Gen Yers and Millennials who will make out like shrkelis.
I'm old. I remember the election of 1960 and the accusations that dead people voted in Chicago to put John Kennedy in the White House. And I remember very clearly that November afternoon in 1963 when the school public address system announced JFK had been shot, and then later when we were told he had been killed. I remember MLK's assassination, and Bobby Kennedy's. I remember seeing friends go off to Vietnam. (My brother-in-law went, too, though my husband didn't.)
I'm old enough to have grown children and grandchildren who are almost as old as I was in 1963 when I started my spiral notebook diary. I'm old enough to know that Social Security and Medicare aren't free handouts from "the government."
I'm old enough to be afraid.
I'm not so old I'm ready to surrender.