Monday, November 6, 2017

"We gan kill you all!"

My wife and I had the privilege in our early twenties of joining CUSO and working in Guyana, South America, where of course we were glaringly WHITE in this colonial system even though our work was of the low down teaching class type. Everyday we experienced at first hand the complexity of this class system. One minute the unemployed cane cutters were waving their machetes and shouting 'Bukra” at us as we walked through the (South Asian) village on our way to work, and that evening were being introduced to the Governor General. A wild and woolly life, but so instructive.

A student might write in her essay that she was the 'darkest child in her family' and we realized that even there that made a difference to how she was treated within her family and certainly to her future prospects, both for marriage and for employment. We also found that the 'white' Portuguese girl in our class was at the bottom of the ladder in this pernicious social system because the people from the Azores were the last to arrive ( after Africans and South Asians) to work in the sugarcane fields. So colour was not as important as your history and the work you did, that there were economic reasons behind prejudice. As there are in North America today.

I think that much of what goes on between the sexes and between the peoples of different origins has a lot to do with how we envision our lives and how the social system works. If life is a ladder we must fight our way up then it makes sense to step on other's fingers below us and to push off those who share our rung even as we attempt to pull at the feet of those above us. Women should know their place not because they are women but because they threaten our precarious position on the ever changing ladder.  Men obviously do it. Women do this to each other too, as do our children.

What our experiences have taught my wife and me is that living cultures are infinitely complex and variable and that cut-out type images that simplify and provide rallying cries for social activists are dangerous, are only another variation of that 'social ladder' cultural way of thinking. By all means identify social injustice whether of the Weinstein type or pay equity or of the most common and unnoticed attitudes in everyday life, but be aware of all our agendas and biases as well. That 'ladder 'has got to go because of course it will kill us all in the end.

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