Call Me Stephanie

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Maybe you haven’t heard about the latest visual and verbal contrivance that has been bestowed upon us by the meme lords?

If not, White Boy Summer, has been making an appearance on my news feed, especially popular amongst the disenfranchised right of center males.  It is mostly in fun, a poke at the color tribe obsessed, that started with a post by Chet Hanx, and has since evolved into a sort of pushback campaign against divisive identity politics with some actual white supremacist types joining in on the action.  It is mostly just the typical alt-right silliness the feeds off far-left identity politics outrage.  

As for myself, I’m still principled enough, in my opposition to color identity politics, to not to join in.  No, that’s not at all to say I’m any better than those less idealistic and more open to this kind of humor.  However, I can’t help but believe this is exactly what far-left fringe elements of the political spectrum had in mind when they started to affix “white” or “black” to various terms.  Even as a joke it is reinforcing of their divisive narratives.

The Identity Politics Dilemma

That feedback loop is the insidious part of identity politics and tribalism.  When one group of people starts to gang up, then others need to do the same or risk fighting a mob alone.  A person doesn’t have to care one bit about skin color to not want to be the next Reginald Denny, a man beaten by four strangers because they hated people who looked like him.  So we go down this spiral of increasing mistrust and polarization often leading to an escalation of hostilities.

In my own life time I’ve watched the tension grow between ‘white’ and ‘black’ people.  It feels as if we have taken steps back, more people see relations deteriorating, most likely due largely to the intentionally divisive framing of news stories, and yet perception becomes reality as we react to this by being more conscious of color.  Those who push racial or other identity division do it cynically, as part of their divide and conquer strategy, winding the two sides up to play them off each other while they use the ensuring chaos to take more power.

White and black should not be identities.  It is superficial.  It confuses culture with color and goes directly against everything gained in the Civil Rights era.  I’m sorry, but a person only needs to be the slightest bit aware and marginally intelligent to realize that there are vast differences between individuals in these too generalized color categories.  As someone born into the working class and a small religious subculture, I probably have more in common with most racial minorities than I do the American mainstream.

Call Me Stephanie 

Stephanie is a wonderfully energetic and comedic person.  She’s the receptionist and all around badass, in heels, employee for the place where I go for physical therapy and friend.  Being my inquisitive self, knowing that she’s a cool person who laughs about her love for fried chicken, I had to ask her a little about what it is like for her (as a black woman) growing up in rural Pennsylvania.  

The most significant thing that came from that conversation was her answer to the annoying (yet well meaning) questions she fields about her preferences regarding her identity.  In other words, does she want to be called “black” or is “African-American” her preference?  To which her witty response is “call me Stephanie.”

As a conservative Mennonite kid in a public school, who also had to field dozens of such ‘micro-aggressions’ or ignorant assumptions that undermined my individuality, I wanted to give her a hug.  I also admire her for taking such things in stride.  I’ll admit, I have not always handled similar things as graciously and let people get under my skin rather than just blow them off as ignorant.  And for this reason I love Stephanie, she’s just a great person and all around good example.

To be honest, what she expressed is a big part of my own identity.  When classmates tried to pigeonhole, bringing up my then side parted hair as being “Mennonite” style, I would resist their categories and changed to a different hairstyle.  Despite my love for my strange religious denomination, I didn’t want to fit their stereotype for Mennonites and allow them to minimize my own uniqueness in the process.  I may have been Mennonite, but I was also Joel and had my own mind separate from their generalizations.

Stop Coloring Everything!

There are some who, unlike Stephanie, love to wallow in their assigned categories.  They both choose to be and then simultaneously resent being categorized.  In other words, if something bad happens to someone who is superficially like them they’ll tribalize around that person and yet also not own the many reasons for differences of outcomes that are less than politically expedient.

Why should a college educated, reasonably law-abiding and responsible person ever see a drug addict or convicted rapist as being their own peer or clan?

That’s what drives me crazy about all of this color division, those who truly have more in common with me or even enjoying privileges that I do not, are so easily bamboozled into believing that our many similarities are less important than the color of our skin.  The more troubling part being that to do that they have to ‘other’ me and not accept my own lived experience as equal to their’s.  It is the very definition of dehumanization and ends any possibility of finding common ground that transcends our most obvious (most truly meaningless) difference.

I mean, does my exterior veneer actually make my own suffering, my many losses and disappointments, any less valid than that of someone else?

It isn’t fragility to reject the divisive color framing intended to keep us at odds.  And, no, taking responsibility for our own future, two-parent homes and a work ethic are not indications of white privilege, rather it is the most probable and proven path out of poverty and laying the foundation for the success of future generations.  That’s the big lie of divisive color terms.  People, no matter their skin color, are not fundamentally different and those who try to convince us otherwise are only trying exploit our insecurities to keep us trapped under their games.