Tuesday, April 12, 2011
No, We are NOT Sisters
I have learned a new term: "micro-aggression"--it is a dandy way to explain those little bits of oppression and "isms" that people perpetrate whether intended or not. For example, when a stranger notices someone who appears to be a parent with a child who seems to be a person of color and goes out of their way to comment on how beautiful the child is or how well behaved. The underlying assumption is that an ordinary child of color wouldn't behave reasonably and that is racism.
What I have found to be true is that while many of us have been taught that things like hatred and overt bigotry are wrong, we have not learned to be aware of how to counter or work on the privilege and covert isms that we carry around. So, intended or not, without awareness and conscious effort, it is quite easy to walk around perpetuating oppression and bigotry and while you may be forgiven by those you oppress, that doesn't make it okay.
Enough of the lecture--one of the realities of my life--or mine and Teri's--is that we are white, so we have that privilege going on, but we are also out lesbians--so we have some awareness of what it feels like to be outside the presumed norm of society. People automatically assume all sorts of things about us and we have to constantly choose how to respond, react, or maneuver. One of the things that gets said to us more than I appreciate is "Are you two sisters?" I actually, honestly, hate that!
Even if you are a beginner at privilege awareness (maybe I'll teach a class "Privilege Awareness 101"), I'll bet you can unpack this micro-aggression: First, the assumption is that everyone is heterosexual so two women who are close, holding hands or enjoying each other's company in a comfortable way must be related somehow--as opposed to being a couple. Second, since we are both sort-of fair-skinned (although she has red hair and freckles and I'm more of a sandy-and-grey-haired gal) and Caucasian, we must be sisters since we supposedly look so much alike. Never mind that people can be related and NOT look alike or that we don't really look anything alike and are just two pasty white women. Third, that it is ever okay to make out loud assumptions about people's status in relation to each other is a mistake.
Okay, that is my brief rant about that. Teri doesn't mind it as much as I do and she always answers the same way: "No we're not, but I have a sister and she actually looks much more like me since we're identical twins." I don't usually answer but have been known to give a curt "No" with a disapproving look. I have also been known to walk away or, if I'm feeling really "militant" (another micro-aggression word since anyone who is staunchly resistant to the norm is either militant or flamboyant), I will say "No, we are partners." But why should I have to?
I know you mean well and that you are just trying to make conversation. Or you may genuinely be assuming that since we are two fair-skinned white women we must be sisters, but don't. Stop. This is just one of the little ways that heterosexism and racism are perpetuated. Expand your repertoire of how people can be associated with each other and allow people to exist without being categorized, assumed and packaged in a way that 1950's novels tell you they can exist. I'm just sayin'...