The Dark Side of the Rainbow

by Kit-Bacon Gressitt Excuse Me, I’m Writing

Writing about prejudice can be a challenge. I was born into a happy little privileged space. I’m basically a nice white gal, a daughter of the hegemonic norm. What the hell do I know from prejudice, right? There’s racism, homophobia, misogyny, classism, ageism, a vast spectrum of “otherisms” — the dark side of the rainbow — all of them designating certain groups of people as “other.” And I write a lot about them, 25% of my columns, I just figured out, despite my pallid skin, humdrum heteronormativity, and prissily privileged class.

That’s not to say that one must be victimized to crave justice for all; neither does it suggest that I’ve never been the target of prejudice. My body parts of the female persuasion make me a daily bull’s-eye for the slings and arrows of misogyny. My advocacy for LGBT civil rights makes me a target for car window bashers. I once married a Puerto Rican and was promptly removed from several invitation lists (omissions admittedly devoid of disappointment). And I’ve witnessed the resulting issue of that union, my daughter, struggle with the rampant prejudice so freely expressed by the otherists in our Southern California community.

Visually, she is of ambiguous ethnicity, but she’s obviously something other than white, Anglo-Saxon. Yet when she is traveling through town with me, she enjoys the benefits of my race, described in Peggy McIntosh’s classic 1980 essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” McIntosh’s pack holds a cornucopia of previously unexamined race-privileged perks, things many white folks don’t think about because they are granted to us at birth, without our even having to ask. The goodies might seem subtle or mundane, but they are essential elements of white privilege. Here is a sample of those she wrote:

 I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

 I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

 When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.

 I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

 If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.

While it’s true my daughter enjoys such benefits when she is with me, she bears the consequent burden of being exposed to the bigoted comments so many white people freely spew when they think others are absent. She and I take no pleasure in having to point out when she is among the group that they are denigrating — and that we don’t agree even when she isn’t.

Nonetheless, I’m grateful that my kiddo is not a racist, that she empathizes with the Latinos in town who struggle without the benefits of class she was born into, that she asked me to take in a gay high school friend when his parents rejected him, and that she will never eat at a Chick-fil-A. But is this a function of her having an other nature, of being raised by an activist mother and Latino father, or is it something she picked up on the playground, like chicken pox? Did she learn it the same way some folks learn to reject others?

In her essay “Defining Racism: Can We Talk?” Beverly Daniel Tatum, Spelman College president, wrote, “Though I would not describe three-year-olds as prejudiced, the stereotypes to which they have been exposed become the foundation for the adult prejudices so many of us have.”

Tatum makes a lot of sense, that the stereotypes we experience in childhood ultimately become our beliefs — unless we have influential role models who challenge them and their underlying prejudices. This suggests that all the otherists in our town who see “wetbacks” instead of humans, the homophobic owners of Chick-fil-A, the flyers of Confederate flags who really don’t do it to honor the history of the South but because they long for white supremacy, they could all be dying breeds.

It’s a nice vision, one I’ll probably keep writing about — despite my being a daughter of the hegemonic norm.




  1. avatarT.Jessup says

    I don’t agree with your characterization of the owner of Chick-fil-a as homophobic. Because the Bible makes it clear in both the Old and New Testaments that homosexual behavior both displeases God and is something that is to be forsaken when a believer becomes a Christian, he was merely stating a position that is as consistent with his Christianity as his policy of not allowing the stores to be open on Sundays. Add God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, not subject to changing morals and norms as is our perverse human society, anyone who attributes any other position to Christianity is a hypocrite. I’m sure God loves His children who engage in homosexual behavior as much as he loves those who commit adultery, lie, and murder, but he can’t protect them from the eternal consequences their behavior will compel them to suffer, and certainly wouldn’t enshrine homosexual unions as marriages are hallowed. I’m deeply distressed that the State seems determined to do so, but I don’t think that makes me homophobic, either. I loved living in Hillcrest and would live there again if I could find affordable housing. When I lived in Houston, Texas, I had several Gay friends whom I loved so much that the pain of losing them to AIDS has made me hesitant to get close to any Gay men. My dog’s former groomer is a lesbian, and the only reason I won’t take him to her is that she ignored my instructions, shaved him much more closely than necessary, and denied having made any mistakes; her sexual orientation didn’t enter into my decision, any more than it kept us from getting along very well until then. I can understand your decision to boycott Chick-fil-a; I boycott both Starbucks and Amazon, which is much harder, because I’m a person of conviction and conscience, too. Keep up the good work, for the most part, with your daughter. I hope you try to give her a more balanced view on some issues, though.