My Terrible Bargains

by Shaker Amenfro, a relapsed Catholic and ethical hedonist who fears carnivorous plants and the growing ubiquity of celebrity gossip rags.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a world-class Shakesville lurker. I have been reading Shakesville for what feels like ages, but like a Galapagos turtle, I usually don't stick my head out too far. Still, Liss' post on "The Terrible Bargain" has gotten even me coming out of the cold, as it was the most elegant, moving, and exceedingly articulate formulation of how I—and I suspect many of you—feel in the world.

"The Terrible Bargain" resonated with me deeply: as a feminist, a woman, a self-professed fattie, and a woman of color. I recently left New York City for the Southland, and living in a "liberal" small town has been a recurring assault on my sensibilities. "The Terrible Bargain" reminded me of the many times since living here (New York was not perfect) and becoming an adult more generally that I've gotten the exceptionalism comment from people whom I considered "enlightened" and/or people I considered friends. I suppose they thought the "oh but you're different" comment would warm my heart or roll off my back. But all I think each time I hear it is, "I'm actually just the idiot [Black/fattie/feminist] that took time to get to know you when you're not the person I thought you were."

Worse yet are the little jokes that people thought that I'd enjoy when these jokes were so clearly inimical to my beliefs and what I thought were our shared values. They not only remind me that I'm different, but that my difference is supposed to be funny. It is a joke to you. My race, my gender, my body shape, my sexual orientation, my disability, myself…these are differences that I cannot change and of which I had no control or choice, but they are differences that gives you power over me when you cut me down. Apparently, these are differences worthy of ridicule. These are differences that makes me smaller, less important, less human, a stereotype and not a person, but most of all, not like you. And you, for some reason, think I would laugh. Rather, it's a refreshing reminder of how my race, my gender, my body, et. al. may be used by others to exclude me.

Still, I am grateful for my "mistrust as a self-protection mechanism." I am neither ashamed nor regret the mistrust that I too carry because it has grown rationally and rightfully; it helps me, albeit imperfectly, discern between those who will hurt me and those who I can love and cherish while always trying to educate them and allow them to educate me. My mistrust is the best filter I have to create a good life: one where I can live without the hatred as opposed to just dealing with it. And during the times when I have to deal with it, my mistrust just gets stronger.

But my mistrust is not a weapon I wield; it grows stronger with softness, not with a fist. It is the sieve that separates the desired elements from the waste. Where said waste comes from people I love, the sieve helps me show them that it is just that: waste. This mistrust also helps me readily recognize where my own class privilege or privilege of any other sort creates waste for someone else and hopefully understand my mistakes and keep from making them ever again.

The one shame that I feel is that our human experiences are marred by this mistrust. Will my daughters and granddaughters have a richer human experience because, hopefully, much of the misogyny and racism I experience now will fade away? Just as I have encountered fewer barriers in pursuing higher education and getting a job than my mother and my grandmother, will my children and daughters more specifically, be freer? Will my daughters have richer human experiences when they are not weighed done by the social significance of their race and gender (amongst other classifications) in their everyday lives? Will men too, or any potential sons, have a richer human experience when not blinded by a thousand subtle hatreds they perpetrate without knowing that hurt their relationships with women they love? What would the world be without such prejudices, and how much stronger would our culture and relationships be when we are humankind and not mankind? Will my disabled or gay or trans children live a freer life when not saddled by seemingly inexorable bargains that I have made?

That said, I do not want them to make a bargain, and I will do what I can to make sure they never will.

Because of them, I will not apologize for your ruined afternoon. Every time you make these jokes you insult me too. Every time you call former Governor Palin "Sarah" or talk about how "it would be better" if she stayed home with her kids, you demean all women. And you insult me. Every time you try to paint President Obama as being wholly exceptional for his race, you insult the millions in the diverse Black community. And you insult me. Every time you joke about Oprah's changing weight, you demean her work as a journalist and humanitarian and reduce her lifetime of contributions to society to a number on a scale. And you insult me. Every time you joke about the Paralympics or how Barney Frank's sexual orientation negatively affects his judgment or so on and so forth, you insult me.

I will not apologize for snapping at you. I will not apologize for being uppity or a "man-hater." I will not apologize because you assaulted me. I will never apologize for your hatred, implicit or unknowing as it may be. Your beliefs wound me because they undermine the better world my life hopefully helps create just a little bit each time. You hurt my friends, my family, every soul reading this site, and me.

I will not apologize for your ruined afternoon: now, tomorrow, or ever.

Discussion Questions: What positive attributes would you associate with yourself because of your mistrust? Can you think of a time when your mistrust has limited you? A time when it's protected you?

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