Thursday, May 24, 2012

free Apartheid?

I have a new favourite public figure. Well, he himself isn't new - he's been around a while - but I only learned about him yesterday. Tim Wise, and if you don't know who he is, check him out immediately. I'm a bit disappointed in myself that I haven't heard of him sooner to be honest. And don't be surprised when I meet him one day & I'm about as ecstatic as the time I met Dr. Maya Angelou. I think he's that amazing. 

So I'll spare you the complicated process of thinking that goes on in my head, but basically I read over his bio & realized that he became an anti-racism activist by involving himself in anti-Apartheid activities during his undergraduate studies. Having grown up in Apartheid South Africa myself, I understand how that experience can make you question not only your values but also the concept of justice in the world as you know it. And I started thinking about how common it is for white people there to have black maids. And the general thought is that by allowing this person to clean your home & care for your children 5 days a week, pay them, house them, & give them a day or two to return to their own towns/families, that they are being given a better life than they could have otherwise. There is no inequality, because they are getting a great deal. Think about that for a second - someone comes in, cleans up your crap, takes care of your (probably completely spoiled if you're the type to hire a maid) children, lives away from their family & loved ones, & this is *a good deal*. What's the automatic assumption there? 

Wait for it.......did it click yet? 

The unspoken yet automatic assumption is that the person who is financially able to do the hiring has a better life. Let me tell you, some of the most valuable lessons I learned as a child were from the Zulu women. And there is nothing that money can buy that is more important than being able to be a part of your own community, culture, and people. Therefore, by offering employment to people on the condition of being removed from their own is not actually "better". 

And then I got to thinking about the United States. Today, not in previous decades. Who primarily cleans houses here today? Latina women. Low income black women. If you're a really generous and wealthy white woman, you *might* have a live in nanny/maid type of thing & actually believe that you are in some way helping them achieve a better life. I cannot for one second wrap my mind around how someone could actually believe that having another person clean your toilets and raise your children and clean up your messes is "giving" them anything. It's the other way around in fact....they are enabling your lifestyle to exist by doing the menial tasks (otherwise known as common household responsibilities) for you. But there is no inequality of course, because they are being compensated for their work & oh my goodness if they are undocumented then how very generous of you to be providing them with a way of life. Right? 

When is the last time you heard a little girl say "when I grow up I want to be a maid" or "my biggest dream is to do someone else's laundry" or better yet "I hope I can take care of some rich lady's bratty kid while my own sits home alone all day"? Pretty much......never. These women do this backbreaking work for so little compensation because there are no other options. These women have hopes and dreams, and most likely they will never come true because of the way society is set up. 

Tim Wise said something very true that nobody wants to acknowledge: the term underprivileged by default means that there is an overprivileged. But nobody wants to admit that they could be hogging the resources of society or denying people access to basic rights like healthcare, education, self determination. Oh no, especially not if they are kind enough to *pay* these people for their services. No inequality there! And yet it exists....there is a distinctly overprivileged group in society, typically made up of wealthy whites. 

Our society in the United States today is really no different than it was in South Africa during the Apartheid, for plenty of reasons aside from this one. But I think in a way we are worse, because we hide the fact that there are distinct inequalities in the way we live. We *deny* it even. We say "oh no everything is wonderful here! Look we aren't like THEM." 

But we are. And we are worse because we adamantly refuse to admit it. We have the Apartheid in place under the guise of freedom. Ruminate on that one for a while...

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