The Press Republican

Wiley Wandering

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July 27, 2007

Is It Really Just A Number?

I just had a birthday. Before you think how young I am, let me invite you to wander with Wiley a bit. It never fails how people want to know your age, and the worst thing you can do is choose not to tell someone how old/young you are. Some people get really upset with you behind a refusal to reveal your age. I remember having a lengthy conversation with a woman where she revealed her age to me in the general flow of the conversation. Later, she asked me my age, and when I chose not to tell her, she got really, really upset with me. She told me it was unfair that she had told me her age and I wouldn’t tell her mine. I mentioned to her that I hadn’t asked her age, she offered it, and that I didn’t. I asked her if she offered me the pin number to her ATM card, would I have to give her mine just because she gave me hers. She said it wasn’t a big deal, so why was I making it one. She didn’t see how she was making it quite a big deal as well, arguably a much bigger deal than me, because I really could have cared less how old she was. I can’t begin to describe how upset she was, and trying to discuss it with her logically only infuriated her more.

I am not a game player (at least not anymore than anyone else in the general population) and wasn’t enjoying her anxiety, so I explained it to her. I told her that at 19 years of age I had dated two older women (at different times for those of you who would think lesser of me for lack of dating monogamy) who both were thoroughly enjoying their time with a younger man. Neither one of them had bothered to ask me my age in the early stages of the relationship though they both somewhat knew I was younger, so the relationships developed. Then one day the 24-year young woman (why do we normally refer to someone as 24 years old?) asked me my age, and I unthinkingly told her. Why did I do that? From that point on, she stereotyped me, relegating me to this type of action, this type of thought, reading into my accomplishments or lack thereof, etc. Later, the other woman, who was considerably older than me (let’s just leave it at that) decided she wanted to know my age. You would think I should have learned from the other relationship, but no, not me! Unflinchingly I told her, and once again, the entire relationship changed. Now, I am not silly or naïve enough to think the relationship with the much older woman was anything more than me being a boy-toy or eye candy for her, but still the change in our level of engagement was disturbing. So, at nineteen I made a decision that I would not contribute to anyone else’s preconceived notion of my worth by disclosing relatively irrelevant data like age that would help them prejudge me anymore than they would already be apt to do anyway. Of course I am speaking about adult interactions, because age discussions are important to dating if you are looking anywhere in the direction of someone just entering adulthood. I also realize that not disclosing my age over the years has contributed to another level of scrutiny, but hey, what can you say. I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t, so I decided to control how I would be damned.

I can’t be the only one who has ever been prejudged because of their age. But is it possible that I am the only one who thinks knowing someone’s age is overrated and that we should be judging people by their maturity, energy, actions, etc.? What are your thoughts?

July 23, 2007

The Other Can Be Another, Or You!

As Snoop Dogg would say, I walked into a local eatery “just a slinging my hair” recently and had a personal epiphany that I just had to share with those of you who wander with Wiley from time to time. I know before I go on I probably need to clean up the Snoop Dogg reference. No, he most likely wouldn’t refer to any eating-place he would frequent as “a local eatery.” More importantly, as some of you have already laughingly considered, I am a shaved headed man (not bald, so don’t start no mess), so how would I be “just slinging my hair.” Well, I wouldn’t, it is just a saying that I like. Relax!

Anyway, as I enter this local eatery (me and my pretentious language) I am greeted by one of the most personable hosts I have ever met or known at a restaurant. He is quite gracious, witty, charming, obviously intelligent, and straight up funny! He is also not as tall as most. I interacted with this dynamo of personality and then watched him engage the rest of the room, energizing those who were available to receive that energy. If stature is just as significant as height, this cat was the tallest person in the room, and often is whenever I have seen him.

What must it be like to be the only one reflecting your reality in a larger moment of multiple people interactions, like at a mall, ballgame, restaurant, school situation, etc? What type of energy does it take to move throughout the day only letting the positive looks, communication, whispers, rumors, suggestions attach to you, deflecting the negative glances, dysfunctional dialogue, gossip, and ignorance away with little effort? Many of us have truly reflected upon that time when we experienced a moment of being that host, of being the “Other.” Usually it is an experience that is perspective altering, if not life changing. Have you had one of those moments? If so, what happened? If it changed you, how so?

Postscript: Interestingly enough though, we should keep in mind that for many people, an “Other” moment is a lifetime experience.

July 16, 2007

Is The Grass Always Greener?

So, my ten year old son and I are sitting in a restaurant eating dinner when he tells me that on occasion some of his friends have told him that they wish they were black. Is this alarming? It depends on the perspective of the parents I guess. When my daughter at three years of age told me that she wished she was white, I straight up freaked out! Why? Because, while it definitely validated her intelligence and observational skills (How long does it take even a child to figure out a certain level of skin privilege exists for people who are in the majority?), it also caused her mother and I concern that our lovely little brown skinned baby may be on the road to devaluing her own reality. Those were scary times. So, I can only imagine the reaction of white parents whose children might come home and say “Mom/Dad, I wish I was black.”

A child wishing she or he was black is a statement about how much our society has changed, even though many of my colleagues in the academy would beg to differ. Think about it, 60 years ago, I can’t even imagine a white child in this country saying to someone, "I wish I was black!” The context of blackness and the opportunities associated with having a black paint job (dark skin) were so very different than they are today. Today a child might say that, primarily because there is a preponderance of black role models in American society, as opposed to 60 years ago, when there was only Jackie Robinson, and he was just breaking in, and that was only in baseball.

What is more intriguing to me about my son’s statement was imaging how often a child might say “I wish I was Mexican, or Native American, or Asian, or gay, or poor, or disabled. How often does a little boy say I wish I was a girl? I guess being black in America may not always be the best thing to be, but it appears to definitely not be the worst. What are your thoughts?

July 10, 2007

Politics and Religion: The Luck of the Draw

Everyone knows that you aren’t supposed to talk about politics and religion in mixed company. I know that as well, but will do it anyway because that is how I roll, how I flow, because I do it exceptionally quick, and then change the subject. You will see me do this in a moment, but first I must set the table to lessen the anxiety of the moral majority or overtly sensitive minority (who used that word?) who won’t even process even something fairly rationale if in the context of a challenge to politics and/or religion.

As many students and faculty at SUNY Plattsburgh, many educators of North Country New York and Vermont schools and various business owners already know, and as I have mentioned before, I often conduct an educational workshop titled “Diversity Enlightenment.” Its main purpose is to situate the concept of diversity within the same context as social justice. Another critical point made in the presentation is that you can’t avoid being framed a hypocrite if you desire RESPECT while not prepared to give it at an equivalent level. The level of engagement at this moment in the presentation is always quite intriguing because of the different places people’s minds may happen to be in, relative to change and their own xenophobia (fear of difference/fear of the unknown/fear of strangers). It never ceases to amaze me how people can rationalize their right to some type of social justice or civil rights, and then stutter, stammer, or downright deny others their similar rights. But it happens, over and over again, and the writer of this blog posting (yes, your’s truly) as well as most of my blog readers are guilty of this infraction if we really take the time to consider our reality across a wide spectrum of categories (obesity, socio-economic class, ability, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, religion) and admit it.

I often tell my audiences that examples of our hypocrisy reside in our politics and religion. Oh-oh, here he goes! Yes, an example of this hypocrisy exists in the fact that the average person who steps in a voting booth could not pass an exam on the principles of their self proclaimed political party, but they nevertheless vote. Frankly, our parents couldn’t pass the exam, but because they are our role models, we vote politically the way they do, in essence, becoming as clueless as they are/were, and rationalizing the experience as something we somewhat intuit as the right thing to do for our society. So we exalt the Democratic Party, Republican Party, Independent Party, etc. over others and often bastardize our entire country over partisan politics because nobody wants to lose a contests the average Jane and John frankly don’t understand. The phrase “vote for me and I’ll set you free” really should be “vote for this and you’ll vote for that” until we really start to address larger issues of why we belong and sing certain songs. Think about it! Now, what are your thoughts?

Religion is even more of a peculiar experience. We are brought up in certain faiths with devout belief, often so devout that we take a judgmental position on others who have different faiths, or none at all, and label them uncouth, heathens, essentially lesser humans because they don’t believe what we believe, or don’t believe at all in a higher being. We never stop to think about the fact that on some level our religious affiliation is “often,” not “always” simply “the luck of the draw.” If our parents had been of a different faith, we would have been as well, and our entire world view would be different. So, Baptists, instead born Catholic, Jews instead born Muslims, Christians instead born Atheists, would all be looking at various religions quite differently. It is conceivable that someone born Christian who is condescending to Atheists could have been born an Atheist instead and prejudging Christians.

1. By the actions of people in our world do you think this is something that people think about? Why not?

2. Do you have any other examples of the type of societal or personal hypocrisy that we live or let occur, without challenge or even consideration?

3. What are your thoughts in general? Oh, come on now, you have something to say on this one I know...

July 5, 2007

Was Sally Wrong, and Harry and Chris Correct?

I remember being introduced to certain male codes of honor as a youth. One was never kiss your girl cousins. Another one implicitly decreed that the women in your crew that date your boys are forever off limits, unless you square it away with your buddies first. I know at first glance this appears to reek of sexism, it sounding as if a woman is the property of men (like the lyrics from an old Frank Sinatra song “woman was made for man).” While this was a dysfunctional cultural norm of maleness (actually thinking it was necessary to check in with your boys before you made a move on a woman you both may be admiring) it also made sense because it minimized competition between friends, more so, it helped reduce strain on friendships. Not until my more enlightened adult years did I become savvy enough to realize the complexity of this gender dynamic. As a young adult I also learned that many women have a similar code that they honor and adhere to. So the rules of engagement around gendered interactions were somewhat articulated for me as I was coming up. Oh, but I still had questions that were unresolved, like what about those women that are simply your friends, the women that are only friends and have never been involved with anyone in your crew? Flipping the script, for women the same question can be asked, “what about the men that have been your road dogs through college or in the work place?” What are the rules of engagement in these scenarios?

In the film “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry insists to Sally that it is impossible for men to not desire their attractive female friends, and that even if men and women who find one another attractive are friends, at any given moment that friendship/relationship is a romantic accident waiting to happen. It is quite interesting to consider whether or not men and women can be friends without any romantic involvement if they find one another attractive. Acknowledging the obvious fact that relationships aren’t necessarily predicated on intimacy, nevertheless Harry states that men pretty much do want intimacy from their female friends, with the assertion that they pretty much would seduce any female friend if they could. Now, while Harry is expressing much of this in the film for laughs, does that negate its truth? Can it be true that men harbor these secret desires?

Comedian Chris Rock in his “Never Scared” stand up comedy film says that women who leave their boyfriends/husbands alone with their female best friends are asking for trouble, because a woman’s female friends are not to be trusted with their men, especially if the woman’s friend is single. This can’t be true, can it? Are men more inclined to take advantage of friendships with women? Are women more inclined to backstab other women for an opportunity to "kick it" with their men? Do women even imagine an opportunity with their attractive male friends?

Is the dynamic for gay men/lesbians the same? If a gay male is friends with a woman, then it would appear that their friendship is safe and Harry’s assertion about friendships being in trouble if both people are attractive is nonsensical. However, if a gay male is friends with a male, by Harry’s rationale, does that make him more likely or less likely to desire his friend if that friend is an attractive male? Would a lesbian be more/less apt to desire her attractive female friends, regardless of their sexual orientation, or can the libido be filtered to only process like sexual preferences? Why can’t everyone simply ignore their hormones and just focus on the intellectual and spiritual components of the individuals they meet? If this is the case, then what is the reality for a bisexual man or woman? Is everybody quietly awaiting an opportunity to take friendships to another level? Perhaps people are just positioning themselves for the opportunity if they ever become single or free to explore others? Is this a problem as well? Where do we draw the line in our admiration of others? Wasn’t it Jimmy Carter who admitted that he had lusted? No matter what we admit to others, should we feel bad if we find ourselves desiring a friend or another’s partner?