Monday, January 21, 2008

it's my blood

I have cakes baking in the oven. The laundry is folded. School started two weeks ago, but it feels like it starts tomorrow.

School didn't start quite right. Even setting aside the Amish-Country living with no electricity at the start of the year, I just wasn't in the right mental space for it. I think I'm there now, but I am having all sorts of thoughts about school right now, and I debate whether or not to express them. It's not (necessarily) that I don't want to share, but rather that all the thoughts are so fleeting and so dynamic. One moment I am enraged by various things, and in the next moment, a turn of events changes the way I think about everything.


It's Martin Luther King Day today and it's one of the rare years that I've actually spent time contemplating the Civil Rights movement and its legacy. At school this past year, we've had a number of cultural competency conferences, which have varied in usefulness, but have been notable for the reaction they've evoked in some people. In particular, the last competency conference we had really put the white man under a sniper attack.

Technically, I am kidding. The conference involved a video which did show a group of various minorities ganging up on a white man, pointing out all of his prejudices, pointing out all the fallacies in his 'color-blind' assessment of the world. And while they did gang up on him, he kind of deserved it- the video was a bit archaic and the dude was saying things like, I'm fond of your people.

What was curious though was everyone's reaction to the video. Some students were in earnest and wanted to discuss it, all bright-eyed and idealistic, thinking they might change the world in a 2-hour discussion section. Some of us (me included) didn't want to get into it. And then there were a few white students who arched, arched in a way that was disconcerting. There was rage in the offense they took.

I'd put it fairly well out of my head. I have to admit that I'm not a big subscriber to MLK's dream these days. It's hard for me to imagine a world without prejudice, where everyone is given a fair and equal shake, where there's seamless integration across all racial divides. Maybe I'm jaded, because I get weary at such discussions- it feels like a waste of precious words to try to talk to people who feel so differently from you.

Then, at a dinner party this weekend, there was a resurgence. Two white men at dinner brought up the conference again and freaked out, got rather suspiciously defensive and started in with the I'm not going to apologize for my race, I'm not going to apologize for things I didn't do and that none of my family did, and you are not going to make me feel sorry for anyone.

One of the bright-eyed idealists tried to meekly interject, pointing out that wasn't the intent of the video. The tension just started getting heavier in the room.

In such instances, I sit with stone-faced silence. I'm not going to condone such behavior, but nor am I going to bother to engage in an argument with someone so clearly unwilling to entertain other opinions. And I guess I always feel conflicted about that, like I am letting some idealistic part of myself down by choosing my battles.

But I woke up the next morning with a case of the mean reds. I was, all of a sudden, angry about a wave of things. See, I'd also been asked by the school to fill out a survey regarding diversity on campus. And you know, as an Indian woman in medical school, I am well aware that I am not really underrepresented. And yet, things occurred to me. Why were all the perceived-to-be-brilliant students white? Why is it that the professors know the names of the white students but only know the name of two Asian students? Yes, the white students are the ones who ask all the questions and talk to the instructors, but why is that, that they are so much more comfortable with that? Why were there five women and one man who ran for the leadership roles in our class, and, even though everyone felt the man to be a disaster with no personal skills, the leaders wound up being that man and a woman (both white, incidentally)? Why are the two women who are professors the ones who are most often challenged in class, and why by male students? Why are all the professors either white professors who like to teach or foreign PhD's who are teaching because it's a requirement for them to do research?

The numbers say one thing, but the reality of what you see every day, what you feel is something else entirely. And, you know, most days you shake it off and know this is the world and go out with your scythe and cut your way through the stalks until you get where you need to go. But some days, it's frustrating. Some days, it's frustrating because you have to pretend it's all in your head when you know it's not. I guess that's the frustrating part of the civil rights movement. The opposition has gone guerrilla, underground. It's become insidious in this way that makes it impossible to prove, to articulate, to challenge.

On the other hand. On the other hand. On the other hand, I think of how I'm in medical school right now. I think of how a woman, an Indian woman, an old Indian woman- I think of how impossible even the dream of someone like me going to medical school was a mere 60 years ago. I'm aware of how far the world has come. I'm not sorry to live in the present. But I just wonder where we're headed. I wonder if we didn't stall out at some point, or if the game did not just shift in some way. And perhaps what frustrates me the most, what gives me that case of the mean reds from time to time, is that I have no idea how to turn these tides.

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