This lil guy:
He has lenticular eyes that go from 'closed with eyelashes' to 'open round circles'. At first glance, he's kind of ugly. He's also pretty un-pc to have in this day and age, being black, plastic and naked. But wait, there's more:
I found this one on an auction site, and it wasn't till I saw this that I remembered that our lil guy used to be dressed as a 'pearl diver' too - complete with flippers, big earrings, necklace and grass skirt. Which, these days is enough to make your average good citizen gasp and, well.. clutch their pearls. Can we say 'cultural appropriation?' Or 'homogenisation?' or any one of a number of big words to describe the way in which this doll is somewhat of a statement of an attitude of the times (60s/early 70s) that we're still working to get rid of. After all, how is this different from any of the Indian, or Maori, or Eskimo dolls that reduce an entire culture or group of cultures to a caricature?
Anyway, that leads to the dilemma. My parents were both divers - they had divers on their wedding cake instead of little bride and groom figurines - and Dad, at least, not only dived for pearls, but also for octopus, sunken treasure and research. While I don't know the history for sure, I'm pretty sure this lil guy was given to Mum and Dad when they decided to move to New Zealand as a kind of good luck gag gift - after all, people in New Zealand wear grass skirts and dive for pearls, right? *cough*
My brother and I used to play with him when we were kids. We didn't think of what he represented, we just thought it was cool that he had flippers and winky eyes, and weird that his legs crossed over so much that all he could do was sit. Somewhere along the way all of his accessories have disappeared, leaving what you see above. I found him like this the other day and at first thought I'd throw him out because he's old, ugly and kind of.. dodgy to have. But for some reason I didn't. And he's growing on me. Now, I think he's kind of cute - and if you're into energy or vibes, he emanates good ones. And for some reason, despite his dilapidated, denuded and dirty state, my parents have kept him for 40 years.
So I'm going to keep him too, even though he's representative of an attitude I disagree with. Bite me.
And what does this have to do with nearly-ranting?
Well, this morning I read this - a point-of-view piece about southern plantations. It's a good piece, short, easy to read, and creates food for thought, especially for folks who live on the other side of the world and have no real idea of southern culture outside the movies.
So far, so good. Thing is, it was linked in a community I read, and at the bottom the poster (as is the norm in this community) added their comment: "So spot on. Also, more fodder for me to snark on white women." Now, I agree with the first sentence even though I don't really know. But the second? It raises some issues for me.
The other day I was walking down the street and I noticed a woman coming towards me. The first thing I noticed was that she had beautiful hair. The second thing I noticed was that she was obese. The third thing was that I was probably staring at her. In my mind, I felt stink because I realised that for obese people, being stared at is often a negative experience and related to their obesity, and that she was probably thinking I was looking at her because she was obese. So I stopped looking and walked away, feeling like an insensitive git.
Meanwhile, a couple of years ago I had this experience, in which a woman at a party took it upon herself to school me about my supposed eating disorder because I weighed ~54kg. Hilarity ensued.
So what am I getting at with this and what does it have to do with that article and the comment at the bottom of it? Well, I'm a white woman. I'm the person that the commentor is gathering fodder to snark at. It doesn't matter whether I've ever romanticised slavery or not, I'm part of the group that's being snarked.
And before you tell me, I know there's no such thing as 'reverse racism' and I also understand my privilege and I'm not going "Oh noes what about the white people" either. That's not what this is about, although that comment did make me go "Ow". What it's about is the difference between the feeling of entitlement to comment.
You see, as a thin person, I'm in a privileged group. I don't have ad campaigns on TV aimed at telling me my body is wrong. I don't get discriminated against in job interviews, most clothes shops carry clothes in my size and no health professional is about to concern-troll me. What does happen is that people feel ok about commenting on my weight as an individual. I am not systemically discriminated against by any means. But that seems to somehow make it ok for other individuals to tell me my body is wrong - almost as if my 'thin privilege' is some sort of shield against the consequences of other folks' comments. Yes yes, butthurt isn't discrimination, I know that too.
However, why is it that when I find myself entranced by an obese person's hair, I feel bad for staring because I may have hurt their feelings, yet other folks feel entitled to comment on my body because I'm privileged, and therefore somehow fair game? I have lost track of how many times I've been called a bitch because I'm thin. (oh waa waa poor me! - it's just an example of what I'm getting at folks, don't get your panties in a bunch). I don't hang out with such people any more, thankfully - but yeah.
So when I read that comment this morning, I thought to myself "Is this another example of that sort of thing?" I know that I cannot even conceive of the idea of gathering fodder to snark black women - not only is it something I don't want to do, if I did it'd be SO WRONG and people would tell me so. But because white women are a privileged group, we are fair game for such comments. And yeah, they do hurt. And there is absolutely no comeback for it because of the privilege. Not even "Please don't say things like that" - because then the accusations of butthurt will start to fly and it'll devolve into flaming, and I'll once again end up feeling like shit for not wanting to be insulted.
What I conclude from this is that bigotry is not the same as institutional ***ism. Duh. And that somehow being less privileged seems to make bigotry more ok. I'm not sure I like this. I know that as a woman, I'm on the other side of that in the sexism debate, and I try very very hard not to homogenise men, or insult them as a group or individuals, when I talk about gender issues. I'm not sure how successful I am at that, but I'm sure some of my readers would tell me if I messed up.
So, internets, if you got through all this, tell me - am I just being butthurt, or do I have a point? So far I've just been swallowing all this stuff because I understand the a) futility b) potential for derailment and c) that in the oppression olympics, I'm never gonna win the gold medal therefore I should just lie back in my bed of privilege and take it (possibly thinking of England). And that probably won't change. But I'm afraid I'm missing something obvious here that would make me go "OH, NOW I GET IT" and understand.
So if I am, and you know what it is, please tell me.
Meanwhile, last night I looked through my Grandmother's old postcard collection. They are OLD - like, over 100 years old. I'm a postcard collector too, but mine are all NEW! And MODERN! And SHINY! These are.. something else. They are beautiful, and have writing on the back that tells stories of her life and friends.
Treasure. I has it.