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No one is an island: Put-in-Bay and racial mutuality




My family and I spent the day at Put-In-Bay (PIB), Ohio--an island in the middle of Lake Erie--also known as South Bass Island.  I grew up going to this island.  My dad and I rode the several miles across the warm, green water to dock at the rocky shore.  Dad spent many hours fishing from the dock while I rode my pink bike around exploring the historical monuments and markers, watching the planes and helicopters moving around the island, and venturing in and out of the souvenir shops with my twenty-dollar bill. 

On holiday weekends, the dock would be full--sometimes boats tied together 3 or 4 deep.  On these weekends, the island was full of revelers staggering drunk around the parks and shops.  I stayed in the boat and listened to their ignorant ramblings.  There were fights.  There was a lot of laughter and singing.  And once I saw a couple having sex in the boat next to ours. I covered my ears and tried to sleep.

1.  A White Paradise
The next day, the party-ers were passed out on park benches or in the grass if they couldn't make it that far.  There was trash everywhere.  Which is why I found it quite ironic that yesterday I heard someone describe Put-In-Bay as a "White Paradise."  When he said this, he was referring to frustration over an event that had happened the week before where 31 buses of African-American tourists had visited the island for a Christmas in July event. He said that these people were just trying to get a piece of our White Paradise, to destroy the beauty that the "whites" had worked so hard to create.  He was angry that the "blacks" had descended upon the island--throwing their trash around ("because you know how they are...") and were causing trouble, being loud, and not tipping the waitresses. 

"But I'm not prejudice," he said, "I just think they're dirty, dumb N***s." 

I walked away.  I would not condone this kind of talk but also did not feel that it was right to challenge him because: 1) he had given us the courtesy of staying at his rental home for free; and 2) he was drunk.  You can't argue logic with a drunk dude.

But I couldn't get past it.  I kept thinking about all of the drunken weekends that I had experienced in this White Paradise.  I grew up seeing some of the worst of humanity, which has nothing to do with race.  I grew up in bars watching how the adults act when they are intoxicated.  I listened to the words that they spoke when no longer hindered by logical propriety.  It made me angry, even from a young age.  I have been aware of my white privilege and challenge any white individual who says that it does not exist.  Being white, I am also a female "minority."  It angers me, deeply, when I see or hear white, male superiority.  Or call it what you will... arrogance, ignorance, privilege, pride. 

My anger has been challenged by my own race.  As if being angry about my race behavior makes me anti-white.  Or anti-'Merican. 

There's so much that I could say here.  So much about our own implicit social cognitions as a race.  So many politically-charged racial dog-whistles piercing our unsuspecting ears.  So much that we fail to challenge in our own worldview.  Our views are simply how we "were brought up" (words from that guy again)--views that we accept as truth and continue to accept as absolute truth whenever we recognize a hint of affirmation in any stereotype.

2. I am as dependent upon you as you are upon me.
Mutuality is the goal.  Unfortunately, America was established with a dominant ruling class.  Gump (2010) calls this the "master-slave relationship [that became] the template for all social relations, whether within a marriage, between parent and child, or between employer and employee."  America was established as a society with slaves but quickly became a slave society--with economic process and success built upon the back of slaves.

And not just black slaves.  All slaves.  Irish slaves.  Asian slaves.  English servants.  Subservient wives and mistresses.  There was a dominating class and they did all that was within their power to maintain the "template."  Yet, as Gump also says, they did not believe their dominance to be secure because they were constantly (and continue still) reinventing new ways to maintain dominance and control.

It also happens between genders.  And it's called unconscious normative processes--the beliefs that we hold implicitly (of unconsciously) about others that make them "less than."  Any dominant group attributes higher value and esteem to itself than to the lower group.  That guy at PIB didn't know that this was what he was doing but by calling anyone in the African-American community, "dirty, dumb N***s," he was putting himself into the privileged, dominant class.

The good news is that there have always been those courageous individuals who pushed back against the dominating power-mongers.  Strong men and women that spoke and rallied and defiantly stood for freedom and mutuality.  They refuse to support political racism.  They refuse to remain silent amidst the evidence of oppression and injustice.

Think about this in the next few months.  Dwell on this along with me.
Consider your thoughts when you see an "other."  Work to make your thoughts and beliefs fully known to yourself.  Is there anyone that you consider to be a "less than?"

Gump, J. P. (2010).  Reality matters:  The shadow of trauma on african american subjectivity.  Psychoanalytic Psychology, 27(1), 42-54.

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