Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Such an Ungrateful G Bitch

HBCUs often tell their students they are not there to become millionaires (necessarily) but to contribute to the fate of Black people, the diaspora, not just themselves or their mothers but all of us, in some way great or small, DuBois' Talented Tenth. Too often, though, that urging to remember-where-you-from smacks of or is laced with a generational gap issue in some African American communities--the older folks telling the younger ones, All you do is whine and complain and we don't care b/c what WE complained about back in the day was important and all you children do is whine and moan when you are so $#&@! lucky, all said with a you-ungrateful-heathen tone and/or look. Some students are quite lucky no matter who's doing the judging. Others aren't. And if you've been working your ass off in school and at work (and elsewhere--some of our students have families/small children of their own or siblings, parents, grandparents, other extended family they help support and take care of; get and survive cancer and other draining diseases; lose loved ones and cars and apartments and pets and books and children), it's deeply insulting to be told, essentially, that you are lucky, spoiled, petty and not nearly grateful enough--I suffered, you have a baby doll picnic, I am Better. (And you're an ungrateful heathen.) As if suffering is a scorecard. Some suffering is obviously 'more'--I would never compare not having my laptop for a couple of weeks (which isn't suffering at all, just an annoyance) to the suffering of a rape victim or a child in Darfur or an Iraqi’s daily existence--but it still is not a contest to decide who's the bigger victim, the heartier survivor. A student I helped last year, not a student of my own, tried to argue with me when I told her she could not write in her argument that Black people have suffered more than any people in the history of people. We may still be suffering in many degrees but we cannot get into a pissing contest over pain. I heard a similar mental distortion from my mother, that b/c she had suffered so much as a child (physical, emotional and possibly sexual abuse), I had no right to feel I suffered at all (at her hand or anyone else's), that any of my losses mattered or caused 'enough' pain to merit notice. (Not by her but by me.) It is not the job of children or the younger generation to make any individual or older generation feel better about itself, to give that person or group some folks to look down on/feel superior to (in intelligence, in wisdom, suffering, dedication, survival skills, etc.). It's a bad idea in general. It's unfair to all involved b/c suffering, no matter what some religious people say and their myths say, does not make you noble. Especially not if you fucking expect it to. Then it can make you angry, bitter and primed to take out your suffering on someone else. Like the grad school I attended--I was supposed to be dripping with gratefulness they allowed me in their club (I was black person #2 in the current English grad program, and one of the few to ever get a teaching assistantship--the looks I got--, and the creative writing students were considered the idiot savants, heavier on the idiot, of the department). To be grateful before any benefit has accrued...stomach-turning.

Gratitude should be spontaneous and earned, not demanded or expected, and not expected or demanded of others b/c you suffered. I refuse to be grateful without cause, before cause, in spite of no cause b/c it is too familiar a position. Be grateful to someone who attacks your right to exist, tries to control and use you for her own psychodramatic needs and wants and fears and to prop up a shattered ego...Gratitude? Fuck me.

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