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Barnacle Bill

Dear Older White Guy,

I was having such a lovely weekend. Truly. Granted it was the first time in ages that I’d been around that many white people for several days in a row. Sure, it was heteronormative, as far as I could tell, but at least “not hostile” to queer folk.  Well-meaning and good-hearted, as far as I could tell.

You were a real gem. Kind, vulnerable. Funny, willing to put yourself out there and be teased. Respectful, as far as I could tell.

Then, in the final few hours of the event, you had to go and make that racist joke, for no reason, out of the blue.

I felt my heart stop and my face freeze. Really … did I just hear that?

I did. You didn’t get the reaction you were looking for from the people around you and you went further.  I took some comfort that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t laugh and conversation picked up elsewhere.

There is a moment in Marilyn French’s book, The Women’s Room, in which Mira’s “perfect” male partner, Ben, simply assumes that Mira will drop her career and the rest of her life because he has been asked to move to Africa as part of a job advancement. After months of “seeing” Mira as a whole person, his male privilege – so ingrained – simply erases her as an individual and she becomes his appendage. With one sentence.

You “Ben’d” me. You bend me. You bent me.

Heaven knows, I’m not perfect. I’m not proud of the amount of white-classist-racist-privileged-gendered-homophobic crap that has come out of my mouth over the years.  I’m trying to pay attention and I know I’ve done a lot of work. But you … you had no idea what had gone wrong in our budding friendship.

I failed in my personal mission of calling people directly on their crap.  In that moment, I didn’t want to be the strident judgey person who polices everyone’s remarks. It was such a nice weekend, after all. Strident is a word we only use for women, so I should say I didn’t want to be that strident bitch who polices conversation. So I police myself.  I withdrew and stopped investing in connecting with you.  I made a choice to not ruin the overwhelmingly positive energy of  the weekend. For you and for others, that is. Your remark had already slapped a barnacle on it for me. I spent the next several hours trying to picture how to draw you aside and explain what had happened without making the weekend’s good vibes completely dissipate. I’m supposedly good at communicating but I couldn’t figure this one out. And it is still bothering me.

I’m glad you had a great, amazing weekend with no barnacles. I had a really good weekend with some really amazing parts and a serious barnacle that won’t let go.

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One comment to “Barnacle Bill”

  1. Great reflective post. I’ve certainly had those frozen moments where all connection has just evaporated in a flash freeze. It’s hard work but so important to be present to that.

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