Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What is empowering? Choice is empowering.


As I am presently lucid and not in bed (what is up with the spate of bi-weekly malaises? I'm trying to get a lot of fluids by making myself thirsty through the eating of potato chips, but I can't say that's Dr. approved), I will respond forthwith.

I can hardly focus long enough on an article before moving onto checking my email or reading a blog. The only way I can turn off distraction is to turn off the wireless or read in bed with my laptop in another room. Blogging helps in so far as it forces me to write down thoughts in a somewhat organized fashion, but I feel you about the problem of lack-of-focus. Although I tend to think that the problem may sometimes be with the text--I had no problem sustaining the patience and focus to read Henry James or even Pierre Bourdieu (who may as well write in French), but David Markson always makes my eyes roll back in my head. Some of our readers and friends may disagree, but I find life too short to read the same passage three times because I keep losing interest or focus.

And so for now I will turn my scattershot focus onto the topic at hand: the articles by Ta-Nehisi. As you know, I pretty much anticipate being disowned by my parents for dating outside of race and my specific nationality. Your support is much appreciated, and all of my friends (and their parents!) have been so understanding and supportive of my struggles with my drama-filled family and incredibly restricted upbringing and potentially stormy path to long-term happiness. So I have quite the personal, emotional response to the subject of interracial dating.

My first boyfriend/love was White, and for almost three years I had to hide the relationship from my parents. He and his family accepted me, crazy dad baggage and all, but it wasn't easy to shake off the guilt I felt for bringing so much drama to the table. I dated him because I liked him. We met in high school, interacting for the first time on the bus ride home from an MUN conference. He was the first boy to like me and find me pretty. We dated from my freshman year to my junior year, even though I couldn't see him past sundown because I had a curfew (yes, in college), and we dated even after he moved to Ohio for college. The reasons for our eventual breakup aren't that complicated--we were too different. Not because of our racial backgrounds or even socio-economic backgrounds, but because we had met as boy and girl and grew up to be very different as man and woman. We had less and less in common as we progressed through college, especially so far apart from each other--no common friends, interests, habits, or perspectives. I was interested in feminism, politics, campus activism, and literature, and wanted to talk about all these things and more. He was only interested in lab work, golf, and World of Warcraft. I was inquisitive, he wasn't. He didn't read for pleasure, and when asked what he thought about something, he said that he didn't. That was the end of discussion. We had spark, and the affection that comes with being first loves (see also, Dora and David in David Copperfield, where the dying Dora remarks ruefully, knowing her limitations as a partner, that perhaps it would have been better if they had loved as boy and girl and left it at that), but little else. We could have been happy together, but we weren't.

What point does this anecdote serve other than to say that I agree with you in part (about spark being necessary but not sufficient), and say that yes, you should throw out the list, if the list is too particular. It feels lottery lucky to find someone with whom I have spark and also that complex give-and-take of true partnership. It feels so jackpot lucky, in fact, that I can't imagine what it would have been if I had rejected TD on the basis of lame-ass Seinfeld-esque reasons like what music he likes, what favorite books, what major in college, or whether he was in a fraternity. All former Belle "deal-breakers"! (Although Nickelback is still pretty bad, but fortunately TD hates them too.) It matters so much more a person's outlook on the world, the way they treat you and others, the way they approach life and what fundamental values they have that you must share. Some people are more particular. I wasn't so much, at least not phenotypically or racially. I just wanted a nice, smart guy with whom I had spark and with whom I could learn with and learn from, and have adventures big and small at home and abroad. Oh, and he can't display my three "hater" tendencies: can't be misogynistic, racist, or homophobic. It's like my previous post on ideology vs. policy: so long as we agree ideologically, the precise iterations are negotiable. Whereas previously I thought I wanted a fellow academic who had a similar intellectual trajectory, now I realize that all that's necessary is matching in intelligence and inquisitiveness: a life of the mind is what you make of it, and an examined life is best in the company of another whose perspective will occasionally challenge yours.

But yeah, you should have the day-to-day meshing, although compromise is a big part of relationships, from both parties. So long as you aren't fighting intractably about big things (whether or not you believe in the institution of marriage, whether or not you want kids, working after childbirth, religion, which faith to raise the kids, where you want to live, etc.), what's the problem about having a little give-and-take about "this is how we do things"? You just agree to compromise on the things you can (I'm happy to raise our kids Jewish), or keep to how you do things and have a bit of separation (including checking accounts, with one joint for household). TD doesn't like vegetables, chocolate-based desserts, drinks non-fat (ew) milk, and doesn't eat breakfast. Somehow I have learned to adjust my cooking and eat breakfast myself while he sips coffee next to me, and we have agreed to have two types of milk in the house. Before me, he probably didn't think it was necessary to call his girlfriend every day either, or how important interactive, date-like "quality time" is to me, or to take off his shoes before entering the rest of the house.

When we mix households, the compromises will abound, and to a large extent they will stem from our different doxa and habitus--the "this is how we do things" differences we had from growing up. But I do not resent the changes I have to make (I will concede the shoes thing), and I am only insisting on the changes most important to me (for instance, he now does call whenever he lands, cheekily telling me that once again, the laws of aerodynamics have held true and that he is alive, and he values having "normal time" and dinners together). Oddly, I would anticipate having more problems with a same race/nationality partner, because though most Vietnamese boys know to take their shoes off, not all may be as cool with such an outspoken wife (depends on native born, family rearing, time of immigration) and I would so not be good at being excessively deferential to my mother-in-law. Like dating like is matching outlooks and habits, not race or Itunes playlist.

How did I get to be this way? Seriously. I grew up with extremely racist parents. Sometime in eighth grade, my social studies teacher taught us about the Civil Rights movement, and I never really looked back, and never took my dad's stereotype-filled invectives about members of other races the same way. I grew up pretty insular, since my parents didn't allow me to have friends outside of school, and somehow mostly hung out with Asians. Somehow I acquired feminist consciousness, and in college started learning about choice. So now I am all about choice--in the pro-abortion sense, but also in the liberty and individualistic sense. A large part of this, of course, is because of my legal training and citizenship. How can I not think of my personal ability to choose and thus my personal choices as being the product of the fortune of being born in America, and the fortune of being born in a post-Loving v. Virginia world? That is why Prop 8 is so heartbreaking, and that is why I am continuing to donate to the legal challenges. Mildred Loving (who very recently died) herself put it best:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

I just want to cry, reading that. For a long time, I thought the right thing to do, in order to preserve family unity and decrease potential for drama, was to follow my dad's edicts and try to find a nice Vietnamese Buddhist boy with all of the characteristics I myself sought (you know, intellectual, not-a-hater, spark, etc.). That was hard. I tried. Joined Asian student orgs, went online. I tried, I did. I was unhappy even trying though, because it wasn't important to me that my partner be Vietnamese or Buddhist and certainly not both, and I knew that I was compromising on something important--my ability to choose freely, based on whim and fancy. So fuck that shit. TD is White, was in a fraternity, was an economics major (to sociology-inclined people, gasp!), listens to reggae, and means the world to me. I will fight for this love.

And I would take the extra step of declaring this love on record, before all of my friends (including you, of course, in an non-traditional bridesmaid dress of your choosing) and whatever family shows up, before a judge at City Hall. Or a friend who got a Universal Life Church license, I can't decide. How could I not, knowing the value of choosing your own partner? Knowing the legal benefits of marriage, as well as its symbolism and significance to the world, to society and to government? If I can choose love, and if I can choose to be married, I will choose this. I don't have to choose. But that's the point. I want to choose this person, and I want to choose him in this way. Ta-Nehisi makes compelling arguments--I liked his essay. But I like marriage too--the idea of it, and the reality of it.

Onto more choices we modern women can make: what do you think of this article? Not being much of a drinker and not much into being "one of the boys" as a way of articulating my feminism, empowerment, or enacting equality, I didn't think much of it. Then again, I knit, bake, cook, and wear makeup and heels, and will probably have a 60/40 division of childcare (what with startup hours) or else outsource the household duties like most first world, upper middle class families do, which doesn't solve the problem so much as pass the buck to yet another group of women, mostly minority. Phew! Can you tell I struggle with anticipatory guilt and cognitive dissonance? But I'd love to hear your thoughts. The XX Factor has been pretty good, I think. See here, here, and here (well, the last one makes me bang my head against the table since it doesn't get the idea of social capital and homophily and social ties). Shrug. I dunno. I find these "ooh, look at women being like men" articles to be kind of annoying, as they at best scratch the surface of, and at worst, detract from more serious problems of institutional and structural discrimination, sexual double standards with legal consequences, and wage disparity. We can have our own gender studies seminar by discussing this article, although we'd be missing the inevitable post-modern deconstructionist who insists that semantics matter and that we should be spelling it "womyn" or "wimmin."


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