Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday 49er's game

Brad's family have been fans of the San Francisco 49ers for years and years. They buy a block of season tickets every year, Brad, his mom, his sister Cath, and his brother Steve. So, chances are, one of those tickets will be available every once in a while. Today, his sister and mom are in Maui so we got to invite a couple of friends, Kevin and Randy with us.

We met Randy and Kevin while training for the 2007 AIDS Life Cycle. They are both great people, down to earth and low drama (well, there was that time on the ride.....).

It was a beautiful day and SF kicked Detroit's butt on the field.

I like going to the games even though I'm not really a big fan of football. It's an opportunity to see a wide variety of other types of people in the Bay Area. I've always loved watching people.

Growing up in NC, in a small town, we didn't have much diversity. At the last look, I believe the makeup was something like 88% white, 8% African American, and the rest was "other". It felt so boring to me because I wanted to know more about other cultures, more about the world out there.

When I was in the fourth grade, Ms. Vassey's class, we had just been "integrated" in Rutherford County. Instead of separate schools for blacks and whites, after the third grade, we switched from Forest City Elementary School to Dunbar Elementary, which had formerly been all black.

I didn't really understand much about going to Dunbar for the fourth grade. It just seemed kinda exciting to start a new school. I had heard that it was the "black" school, but that just made me more excited since even though I was born and raised in the South, somehow I missed heavy doses of racism. I know it was there, and all around me, but I just didn't have much direct experience with black people or with their experiences living in a little racist town.

I also remember, a special day, a couple of weeks after school had started. Despite the fact that I was now attending the former black middle school, my teacher was white and all the students in my class were white.

Until Gary started. Gary started the school year late, so he was introduced by the teacher to the whole class at once. Gary was the first caramel-color person I'd ever seen. And he was beautiful. I hadn't even begun to deal with my own sexuality at that point in time, but I knew that there was something intriguing about Gary. I was fascinated by him. I introduced myself right away and tried myself to make him feel welcome and comfortable.

During recess, my heart started racing when he agreed to be my sack race partner. We had to hold hands as we laughed and hopped and fell. I don't know what Gary might have been feeling, but I'd have to say looking back, he was my very first crush. After those first few weeks, Gary made other friends and what I had hoped would be a special friendship turned into just another friend in the class.

I have to give my parents credit. Despite the virulently racist attitudes of many of their friends, family and neighbors, they did not raise me in an overtly racist way. We were taught never to use the "N" word and to be generally respectful of people who are different. Of course, that didn't mean that you should MARRY them- which of course makes any forbidden group or person all that much more attractive.

Racism was much more overt when I lived in southern Mississippi. I did hear the "N" word more often, and there was still a lingering historical sentimentality for the "war". I later realized that the war they waxed passionately about was the Civil War. In North Carolina, much of the local historical identity revolves around the Revolutionary War, and being one of the thirteen original colonies. There was a pride inherent in standing up to the British and King's Mountain, a little town close to my own hometown was the site of a grave of a supposedly heinous British soldier who attempted to declare the countryside for the British crown. Today, visitors heap rocks upon rocks on the supposed grave of this anti-American symbol.

I still remember though from the first social gathering I attended in Hattiesburg, the casual reference to the Civil "wo-er" with a sense of dreamy romanticism. I curiously listened as they described a time in their family (but not necessarily personal) history when they had money and land, and power. And, oh yeah, slaves.

The white, middle class gay men at this party didn't project a sense of hatred of blacks or even a direct wish to return to the days of ownership of other people. What they conveyed though was a sense of lost fantasy- a beautiful dream of status, of velvet and bone china. It was as though thinking about having come from wealth eased the fact that they had anything but it today.

Not to say I didn't see the effects of lingering xenophobia, including vague suspicions of anyone with skin that included pigment. When I walked into the student union on the campus of USM in 1986, it was like two parallels universes- a white world superimposed onto a picture of a black one (or visa versa). It was curious to me why they didn't mix. I couldn't even find the intersection.

In the fourth grade, with a crush on the only boy of color in the class, I started to understand that somehow the color of our skin made us different in some way. Different to me was good then. Different meant being able to have a conversation about things that weren't already known to me. Everyone I was raised with was the same. We all went to the same church, the same kindergarten, the same Tri-City Mall. We were brainwashed with the same catechism and the same perspective. Other white people were boring. And I just faded into the background of the same white-washed fence.

California has its problems, but the thing I love the most about this big state is the chance to know other cultures. The endless opportunity to listen and learn about the way other people think is such a privilege still. Everytime I hear another story about a completely different background and belief system that is different from the one in which I was raised, I feel deeply satisfied. I think it's because it frees me from the heavy, repressive thinking from the fundamentalists I was raised by. There are SO many other ways of thinking in our melting pot. It's a good thing. Go 49er's!

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