Friday, March 8, 2013

Race, Gender, and Being a White Dude

Image from:  quinet of Flickr
(Totally forgot about today being International Women's Day, so this is a happy accident.)

I want to talk about race and gender for a moment. Not necessarily in a deep way, just a few things on my mind lately.

Lately, I've been immersed in a serious amount of self reflection. I don’t exactly know how it happened, but over the past two years, I've been educating myself about race and gender in media. I think perhaps the journey started getting kicked off with some of Scalzi's essays. I mean, they weren't things that I didn't already agree with. I wasn't some bigot. I just thought he was very articulate, and his articles on gender and race were very creative and clever. I wanted to be creative and clever, too, and have interesting things to say on the subject.

As I read the comments, I was exposed to little windows of people’s worlds. They shared their stories with him, and (to an extent) with me. They argued the finer points of things, and even the idiots and the bigots gave me something to think about. I followed links, I read blog posts, I started looking into and eventually following authors on Twitter that looked at things in a different way than I did. I started following N.K. Jemisin and Saladin Ahmed. I started following Gail Simone, renowned for her depiction of women, the disabled, and other people that are underrepresented in media.

And I started thinking. In that thinking, I've found a lot of media I used to like, I can no longer enjoy. I enjoy potty humor and stupid, immature jokes as much as the next person, but I've become much more sensitive to representation and diversity. Things I would have never noticed before--like the surprising diversity, but then disappointing eventual elimination of that diversity in the new Red Dawn--became more sharply in focus. The movie Ace Ventura, a childhood favorite of mine, has been tainted. I didn't just outgrow the humor (that's true, too), but I now realize the villain of the movie is a transwoman, which is a cliched and problematic depiction of transpeople.

Let me just get this out of the way: I’m a white, straight, cis-gendered, mostly able-bodied dude. The only discrimination I’ve ever faced has been that I was a bit pudgy in school, and that was almost certainly in a large part due to social awkwardness than any tubbiness I had going on. I’ve had a few struggles--depression, weight, anxiety, being poor--but I can go out at night and wander around without fear of getting raped or harassed for being who I am.

My school was basically 99% white. I can count on one hand the number of Hispanic students that attended it, and I only went to school with two black students, and they didn't begin attending school until I was a junior or senior in high school.  When we had actual black people move to town, it was gossip throughout the town for days, weeks.

The last two years has been a breakdown of everything I thought I knew, and reconstructing it, shifting my understanding.  It's why I've been working on reading more female and PoC writers.  I did not realize what being a woman entails, what being a person of color entails, what a huge umbrella of privilege I'd been living under.

All of this new information has me often completely blown away.  I now constantly study the way women and PoC are portrayed in media--movie, TV shows, books, you name it, I'm always thinking a little bit.  Taking all of that information into account has me terrified to write people of color, women, transfolk, etc. All of this has me scared to death of doing it wrong, of hurting people. But the desire to tell these people’s stories--partially because they’re under represented, and partially because I want to know these people--is incredibly intoxicating.

I’ll definitely screw up--it’s pretty much a given. I’m still learning. I’ll probably never stop. But I’m so grateful that over the past two years I've learned to shut up and listen, and I’m very grateful to the women, trans, and PoC bloggers out there that work so hard to educate lunkheads like me.