|Feb. 17th, 2009 @ 08:00 pm Today at the gym ...|
... the attendant/coach-person recounted an angry phone call she'd just received. The husband of one of the gym members didn't want his wife to come to the gym anymore. He said that she was becoming Americanized and didn't want to cover her face anymore (and either blamed the gym for this, or considered it a contributing factor - it wasn't clear). He demanded to cancel his wife's gym membership, and the coach informed him that only the owner of the membership could do so (it involves a contract).
Now, the coach recounted this story calmly, expressing frustration over the fact that a) the man was taking his anger out on her/the gym, b) he started asking for information about employees of the gym, and, of course, c) he was acting on his disagreement with his wife by attempting a very controlling, inappropriate action. The coach was justifiably upset. I was uncomfortable, but not because of my coach's words, exactly - rather, because of the fact that we were discussing an "other" form of sexism - as in, one that is foreign to middle-class White culture, and thus easy to demonize as the only/worst form of sexism. The result is that White sexism gets a free pass (or at least minimized) and the non-White culture gets othered as "those backwards foreigners."
However, none of this was stated explicitly. It may have been an underlying attitude - that's usually the case in "polite" conversation - but the coach, for her part, was speaking pretty intelligently and without judgment.
Then one of the gym members spoke up.
Now, this gym member was an older White woman who had been chatting in a friendly manner with other gym members when I arrived. To all outward appearances, she seemed like a nice woman. I'm sure that those who know her would describe her as nice - maybe even sweet - and would say things like, "But she's so nice, she could never be racist!"*
But then "nice White lady" opened up with, "Oh, she must be Muslim."
Uh-oh, I thought.
"I feel sorry for people in that religion."
You DO, do you? Well, I feel sorry for your ignorant cracker ass, but what can you do?
"It's very strict."
Unlike any other religions, of course. Why, I hear that Catholicism is just a skip through the park!
"But there are different kinds."
So nice of you to acknowledge that we're not all an indistinguishable mass of brown people.
"Who would want to cover their face, anyway? It's crazy."
(At this point, I was giving my arms the workout of their life on the pec machine.)
"I bet she saw all the women here being free, and wanted to do that too."
Oh, you mean like women who wear skirts because they want to celebrate their body, but who risk having their pleasure in themselves poisoned by dehumanizing sexual harassment or slut-shaming disapproval? But of course that's better than those weird Muslim men.
"If you're going to move to America, you should adopt all the customs."
SHUT UP SHUT UP YOU STUPID FUCKWIT. LET ME DO MY GODDAMN WORKOUT IN PEACE.
One of my professors once talked about how she had to don her armor every morning, to protect herself against the racism she met on a daily basis. It's times like this, when the White privilege comes from random sources at random moments - I just wanted to get some exercise - that I remember how sadly right she was. I can only imagine how I would've felt if I'd been that wife and heard those words - my culture trivialized and my choices co-opted by the dominant culture. Or if I'd been the husband - my shortcomings used to spread judgment against my entire religion.
So fuck you, Nice White Lady. Fuck you and your "polite" ignorance wounding everyone who doesn't have the privilege of being like you.
*I keep meaning to address this false argument, that somehow nice = anti-racist. I should do it soon.