Saturday, September 19, 2015

"I would have lived...

my life differently." This sentence, which was written in a post titled White Happened to You over on Dr. David Shih's blog, stunned me when I read it.

It echoed with me because it perfectly expressed a dismal and uncomfortable truth that's stung me at various points in my life but never so pervasively and wholly as it has since I was lucky enough to become a little less oblivious and began stumbling along the path of veganism.

Culture is a word often used to reference ways of living and understanding and comprehending...pretty much everything. What's often left out of thinking about or writing or speaking about culture is that it also teaches us obliviousness. In addition to identifying how to do things and understand things, culture also quietly and stealthily teaches us what to not know or comprehend or be aware of. This aspect of 'culture' doesn't get much thought and yet...in ways large and small...a case could be made that this strategic and purposive hiding of knowings and comprehensions is just as significant and influential (maybe even more so) than the acquisition of knowledge and understandings that happens to us with a culture.

We are taught what to know...but also what not to know. The sentence that began this post was voiced by a woman who had been guided into becoming aware of some of the knowings that her culture had hidden from her...and...as a result she realized that she would have made different choices and done her life differently had those things not been hidden from her.

I think (tentatively) that maybe those several years ago when I experienced my vegan 'transversion' (or whatever word fits better) was the first time it came home to me how much I had been carefully taught to be oblivious. It both shocked and scared me. Shocked at the awfulness I had participated in for years because of this important obliviousness and scared because I couldn't help wondering what else didn't I know that I didn't know I didn't know. (I realize this sentence looks strange to you...it really does make sense and if you don't get it...keep struggling with it)

When I was an adolescent the books of J.D. Salinger were extremely popular with a segment of young humans. I too was smitten with his writing (he's a white man who's whitely oblivious in many ways...so there are many limitations in his perspective). He did express some things though that possess truth that endures.

One thing I remember vividly that he wrote that has stuck with me for over 50 years...it came from a book of his titled Franny and Zooey. I don't have a copy of the book right now so I found the sentence online but there's no page reference...my apologies. The meaning of the sentence has stayed with me all these years and it's still with me. He wrote:

I don't think it would have all got me down quite so much if just once in a while- just once in a while- there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time.
Wisdom is defined in this dictonary entry as "the ability to discern what is true, right or lasting; insight". I would add that I include being able to comprehend what is fair and compassionate in my private notion of the meaning of wisdom.

I appreciate encountering that which seems like wisdom to me. I linked to Dr. Shih's blog at the beginning of this post. I only recently found it and I'm sharing it here as an offering to you. I've found a number of thoughts/insights there that are worthy of being tagged as "wisdom".

He writes about "race" but he's actually writing about things in addition to "race"...he's writing about oppression and oblivion and the harms we do while believing ourselves to be innocent. His writings are worthy of being read and re-read and re-read once again.

2 comments:

Have Gone Vegan said...

Thanks veganelder, for the introduction to Dr. Shih's blog. Very interesting posts. I would especially recommend "How to Tell if Something is Racist" for those of us (I'm including myself here) who would benefit from a refresher course. "Racist Euphemisms" is very good too.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting HGV. He's a treasure isn't he?

One of the most incredible gifts that I've ever given myself has been to make a concerted effort to find writings/thinkings that weren't produced by humans known as white people.

I think there's sort of an inverse proportionality at work that operates something along the lines of...the more social power a group has that a person belongs to...the more likely their comprehension is to be harmed/distorted by being a member of that group. And...belonging to a group with less social power can mean thinkings/percievings are less distorted by that power factor. There will be exceptions of course...but I'm talking on average.

There are some phenomenal folks around who rarely get heard/noticed by humanoids with white skin because all of our major social institutions (the media, the government, corporations, education, etc) are dominated by...guess who...white people. And...stuff we get exposed to is filtered by...guess who...white people.

I think one of the unremarked upon effects of the internet is that it is providing a new and easily accessible platform for voices of folks who belong to marginalized groups. I'm a little irritated with myself that I've taken so long to figure this out. I'm glad you're enjoying his writings. There are many others out there with seriously excellent content.