A few weeks ago, I met a man at a formal event who was probably about my age- late 20s. He was white, with his girlfriend, and wearing a long ponytail and a mid length skirt and birkenstocks. This was the most formal event I've been to in years, and he was decidedly under dressed, as well as being dressed in a way to make a statement. Although the event was held in San Francisco and was a wedding of two women, the statement was still a bold one. I spoke to him for awhile and he told me he was staying in San Francisco for awhile for an "anti-racist school." I was compelled- maybe by the nervousness I feel at events that compel me to make small talk, and maybe by the warmness I felt at talking to someone who reminded me of people I used to hang out with- to tell him that I try to live with anti-racist praxis in my life, in my law enforcement world, with it's decided potential for racism. He looked at me skeptically and blankly, like he either didn't believe me at all, or didn't really care.
This event was almost exactly 2 months ago, and the conversation is still with me. His remarks bugged me as pompous, and my replies bothered me. And I find myself becoming more conservative, and wondering why. I went to a very liberal liberal arts college on the East Coast that felt like a transplanted mini-Berkeley. We were famous for our clothing-optional dorms, and the curriculum and the students challenged each other to move further and further left. I loved that stuff- ate it up. I even had dreadlocks for awhile. Men in skirts would have been no big thing- I remember thinking my boyfriend looked hot in my skirt at Queer Prom. So when I saw the Dude in the Dress at the wedding, and heard he was doing anti-racist work, I was surprised at my internal reaction that this guy struck me as a white guy trying too hard to provoke, too hard to NOT be the man, and having all of his intentions backfire into standing out at someone else's party. I mean even I wore a dress.
I'm not in college any more, is what I've decided, partially due to the recent/ongoing protests at the UC system over the ridiculous tuition hikes. These kids CARE- they're blocking buildings, they're protesting, they're organized. And they're kids. In college, we are young and motivated- the civil rights movement and the Vietnam protests led by college kids come to mind. When the (2nd) Iraq war started, we took to the street. Why? What's up with this? I've come to a few conclusions: rebellion, surrounded by like minded people, being out of high school constraints, exposure to new literature, etc. And why the movement back to the right when we "grow up"? Were we rebels without a "real" cause?
For me, college was not exposure to new ideas in the sense that I was raised with more conservative ideas: I was raised in the Bay Area, in a liberal family at a liberal school. I was encouraged to think for myself, and to form my own opinions. I was a vegetarian who had traveled nationally and internationally and thought I knew a whole lot about a whole lot of different "causes." When I went to college, I found a whole bunch of people who thought like me, some who felt stronger than I did about the same things, and some people who felt nothing like me. And I read books that helped me articulate some of the things I felt, question the things I believed in, and learn about power. We organized protests and letter writing campaigns, though we were mostly preaching to the choir. We hated war. My parents approved of my actions, but many of my peers were fighting the good fight against their parents, which probably strengthened the passion in their beliefs.
Some people were so passionate that they graduated and continued their fights. They became organizers or went to work in relevant non-profits or graduate school. And then there are people like me, who went to work in something mostly totally unrelated. I care about the same things- I still abhor war. I still think we're fucking with the environment, and think that society tramples on anyone's rights who can be defined as "other." I continue my education as much as possible through reading and discussions. But I don't march in the streets. I don't go to meetings, I don't belong to organizations, big or small. From the outside, I've become apathetic, the person I hated when I was at school. A few years ago, my mom suggested that I had lost interest in everything but pit bulls. This stung, but she was right- pit bulls and their plight was all I talked about- a far cry from the 3 year old who was upset about apartheid. But at least then I was doing something; I was active in a pit bull advocacy group (don't laugh). Now, I'm "just" a civil servant. I still care about so many things, but I don't "do" anything.
I got sick of all of the talk in college- all this talk about movements, change, and power, and problems, and all I wanted to do was "do." Now, my doing is my life, my job, my choices. I wasn't lying to the Dude in the Skirt: I do live my life as consciously as I can. I try to treat everyone as an individual, with respect, and with an awareness of how society might have influenced his actions. Civil service is not just a "just": it's hard and for me, rewarding, but not always. But at the end of my day of my not-so-important job, I'm too tired to do anything perceived as more meaningful. But I don't think it's just that I'm tired: I think that as we grow older, most of us get more conservative. How many baby boomers are still out there protesting the government, or even fighting against the current totally unjust wars? My grandmother, one of my heroes, a white woman from Missouri, all gungho about civil rights, could never quite catch up with "politically correct" terms, sticking with things like "oriental" and "colored." Again, as we grow older, we grow more isolated: we live in or single family units, and we grow into a routine. We're not forced to share space with thousands of people, challenging each other to work on our perceptions, and to move forward with them. Our media comes from mainstream, or conservative sources. And our passions as young adults shape us: I still care, I just don't have a lot of fight in me now. I have to work, and a fear of getting fired for my outspokenness unfortunately hangs over me. I never thought I would say that, and I certainly never thought I'd work for a police department. But I do, and what I do and say and protest represents my workplace. There is a pressure to conform. To wear a dress. To keep my passions in reasonable bounds.
Mac, we're not in college any more. We're grown-ups.
1 month ago