Sunday, October 16, 2005

A Vest-Pocket Rebellion

Every so often the local government school teachers get a mind to better themselves and their instruction by highballing down the freeway to the closest major Art Museum for one of their educator events. The latest excursion looked to be a fine one, all about art and self-image, with the museum offering fancy little cracker snacks and free tours of the latest exhibit. So I signed on the dotted line and hopped into the van with another teacher, looking forward to the event. Big Sam doesn't mind my leaving him at home for these things because he's never been the one for art museums or the snooty people who tend to gather there, and no one ever said a fancy cracker snack was a full meal, at least not to him.

Racing down the freeway and dodging all the semis and overpowered little Hondas with spoilers left me glad to put my feet on solid ground when we got to the museum. Well, I might have thought twice or thrice the minute I stepped up to the museum door and realized that the exhibit advertised as being about self-image in art was really all about race, and not just celebrating our differences. No, sir.! But I smiled and walked right on in, heading for the cracker snacks table. If I was going to be offended, by gum, I was at least not going to be offended on an empty stomach.

At the cracker snack table I looked around and noticed that most of the other teachers there had, like me, skin the color of the driven snow, not counting the silver and gray hairs that spread through their formerly luxuriant tresses, now a little thinning from age and lack of hormones. The only "people of color" there were the museum's education director, who was the color most common in Asian countries and her associate, whose skin and accent echoed the tones of the Hindu Kush. To a person, the teachers were white, and probably for the most part would have classified themselves as liberal...well, at least that's what I believed because I know teachers, having been around them for what seems like way more than a century.

The exhibit was organized along tiresome and predictable lines, and the two lovely little teenagers (both very much white) who lead our tour were completely in earnest. Lynching = bad. (well, no duh, when was the last time you met anyone, even a kinist like me, who said that lynching was a good idea?) White man with weapon = the (d)evolution of mankind. What can you expect of a white guy with a weapon? (I dunno? A protected family?) An image here, an image there, all lined up to prove that white folks were richer than everybody else and dadgummit if everyone else wasn't oppressed as all getout, especially those Chicano laborers in the fields. Wasn't that obvious from the Caesar's Palace billboard over their stooped backs in the picture?

Well, the little group in my tour was looking pretty glum and uncomfortable at this point. They shuffled from foot to foot as if gauging how many steps to the exit, when one wild-maned woman with deep, wise crinkles around her eyes piped up and said, "Why don't any of the pictures show those Mexicans' children, who speak English and are doing fine in school?" (Now you and I might have some issues about how well those children really are doing in school, but that's another topic!) Well, you might have asked those two girls to swallow a horse, they looked so choked up and confused. At seventeen any deviation from the script is cause for dismay and panic.

The blonde finally got her poise back and said, "Well, every curator has a point of view, and this is the point of view of the curator of this exhibit." She slipped back beneath the frozen surface of her professional lie, back where it was safe and everything was scripted and O.K.

Wild-maned lady piped up again. "Maybe it's time for another view," and stomped off. Our group began murmuring about having "seen this all before and maybe it WAS time for a change," drifting away from the point of conflict to allow the children time to exit the situation without too much loss of face.

The children expressed blank-faced thanks for us having taken the tour, and they hoped that we would schedule fieldtrips for our students to see the current exhibit. White heads topped with grey hair nodded absently and sidled off to look at different pieces in the show.

Well, my eyesight might not be too good, but no one has ever accused me of being hard of hearing. So I wandered through the exhibit with my friend, staying within hearing distance of the others who'd shared the tour with us. And I was astonished at what I heard. There were rumblings of dissatisfaction with being blamed for everything, after having done so much for so many for so long. Not exactly the outspoken frankness of wild-maned lady, but drops and growing rivulets of discontent, of whiteness acknowledging whiteness and the things that had been done that were intended for the good, whatever the outcome. Even my friend spoke, quietly acknowledging the truth swimming beneath the frozen surface of her professional lie.

It wasn't much, really. A vest-pocket rebellion, a tempest in a teapot, a whirlpool in a water bucket.

But it was a start.

7 comments:

Barn Cat said...

Ah, there's hope that the Butterfly Effect might actually work!

Laurel1861 said...

Well, Barn Cat, you can look at it as if it's just the fluttering of the wings of a butterfly creating a hurricane on the other side of the earth, or you can look on it as I did, as the first little rivulets announcing the upwelling of a great underground river.

Either way, there's something there that is rising up and moving toward action.

Let's pray for more folks who are willing to speak out.

Laurel

Barn Cat said...

I'm with ya, Sister!

Mrs. Blessed said...

Wow, this is fantastic! If little old white lady school teachers are grumbling, you can bet that we are close to a tipping point. My goodness, what great news!

Randall Gerard said...

Laurel,

I'm greatly encouraged by your story. I had a similar experience at CHURCH, of all places. In the aftermath of Katrina, I heard several people say out-loud at a fellowship meal, that they were sure glad they didn't live among urban blacks. The amazing thing to me was all the knods of agreement! And nobody, not even the Pastor, 'corrected' this opinion! I tell you, there is hope for our people yet!

Anonymous said...

Hello :)
I read off and on here, linking from Little Geneva. I am tidying up my language in addition to other things that I find taking away from being white. Some of the no no's on my list are words such as: "Sister", "Girl", and "Girlfriend" used in the slang context of today. My dress has also come under scrutiny these days. I detest any type of leopard clothing or accessories, but have been seriously reconsidering my pierced ears. Clip on's are available and unless I'm not remembering correctly, piercings came from Africa. One thing I HAVE done already is to avoid cheap looking dangles. I now wear a pair of small diamond-looking ones. It looks much more classic. I also don't tan. I remember reading years ago where Coco Chanel was the one who started this craze for women after showing back up in the states from a vacation tanned. There are a lot of things that can be very subtle and very detrimental to you if you are not watching and listening.

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