Monday, January 11, 2010

Angry All the Time

Yesterday I was waiting in line at Shoppers Drug Mart and an elderly Caribbean lady, perhaps in her mid-70’s, was at the lone cashier and fumbling a little with her bag and her purse and her wallet – basically taking some time to get through the check-out process. The woman behind her, a white woman maybe a few years older than me, marched up to the cashier, put all her purchases on the counter and basically stood there tapping her foot and frowning and muttering at the elderly lady and the cashier, who was also a young black woman. She essentially pushed the older black woman aside and was acting extremely put-upon that the other woman was taking a bit of time to finish her transaction. The older woman looked at the white woman with this expression of – damn, it was heartbreaking. Resignation and a touch of humiliation and sadness. Defeat even.

The guy behind me was a young black man and I turned to him and muttered, “White privilege in action.” He looked at me with the same kind of look and shrugged. I watched as the elderly lady gathered up her purchases and walked slowly away. She was also leaning on a cane. The white woman brushed past her and wouldn’t even hold the door open for her.

I don’t know why it is but these sorts of incidents infuriate me more and more as I get older. Perhaps it is part of my personal decolonization process, a result of my own awareness and sense of outrage at the way the world is. Perhaps it is because I am starting to get tired of these years of struggle and have no patience for the visible signs all around me of white privilege in action. I’m starting to realize that I have an inner rage inside me that I have to keep clamped down on, only it’s becoming more and more difficult as time goes on to contain it. No wonder I have hypertension and have to take drugs for it. No wonder it’s a prevailing condition among indigenous and African peoples in North America. I bet if there was no colonial system that’s propped up by the twin pillars of race supremacy and capitalism we wouldn’t be having this disease.

I never thought of myself as a particularly angry person but it’s always there, just below the surface, waiting for little incidents like the lineup at Shoppers Drug Mart to fan the flame into an outright inferno. One of the reasons I got into being a union activist was that injustice makes me crazy. I felt that if I could fight in the workplace, where I spend most of my time anyway, and advocate for other people, at least I could feel like I was doing something and not just bending over, waiting to take the corporate boot up my backside.

The other thing that I’ve got to try and get a handle on is the burning rage I feel when I find myself driving through a particularly well-heeled neighbourhood. Where even five years ago I would think, “Wow, look at the beautiful houses”, now all I can think about is “Wow, look at that wealth on our stolen land” while thinking of some of houses on my Rez. Intellectually I know this is a waste of time and gets me nowhere, but the resentment and the envy and just how crazy this fact of reality makes me is starting to feel poisonous. Dangerous, even. This is the kind of thing that eats away at a person like cancer. Or gives them cancer. Or a stroke.

Intellectually I know this thinking is futile and that I should just let it go. This is why I take yoga, why I meditate. To try and work through this shit and let it go. But dealing with things, working through the anger, is hard. It just feels righteous and easier to be angry. It’s not though.

Being angry is exhausting, and in the end, what is the point? Better to work around it. Educate, resist, lead through example. And in the end, I hope it’s easier for my kids. I probably unconsciously chose that path for them by having their father be a white man. They will get the easier ride in life because they will have white privilege working for them instead of against them – until they open their mouths and announce the fact of their Haudenosaunee DNA. That makes me feel a bit better. I’ve successfully infiltrated by the best means possible, launching my own onkwehonwe ambassadors into the world. I hope they don’t have to be angry all the time.