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Is Freeing Our Minds the Answer?

In a blog I wrote a month ago titled Interracial/Anti-Social Implications of Dating we covered quite a bit of territory in our discussion on the societal underpinnings of interracial dating. We not only engaged interracial dating, but various types of different dating scenarios. Though I didn’t go into same sex dating in that blog, I recently posted an In My Opinion in the Press Republican (April 28th) on the implications of one of our elected officials criticizing same sex marriage in what I saw as complicated ways because of the problematic language she used. In essence, her critiques/concerns about same sex marriage reflected the same language that people used to prevent her, as a woman, and other now so-called liberated people from achieving their equal rights.

One of the conversants in that blog discussion, the never shy, always eloquent Whaler, inspired some intriguing questions from certain statements he made. Though it was in the context of interracial dating, Whaler asserted that “Real freedom from oppression starts within.” Does It? Whaler likes to tease me about what seems to be my default position, which is challenging him about his privilege. The reason I go there so quickly with him, others, and myself, is because it is exactly dimensions of our privilege that prevent us from seeing what others who lack our privilege and yet are oppressed by our actions, see.

If we look at relationships again and the oppressive condemnation that our friends and family can leverage about our choices of partners we choose for intimacy, does the real freedom from oppression start from within? Or does real freedom from oppression start from efforts to educate those outside of us about the impact of their judgments/hypocrisy upon us? Yes, many people, many of us have the audacity to want to hold others to standards of actions that we ourselves don’t adhere to. What is that all about?

Let’s be real about this. How many of us have been curious about pursuing a relationship with someone who is somewhat outside of the norm of the type of person our friends, family, or associates would expect to see? How many potential relationships have we not gone after because of “whispering, nudging, snickering, pointing, or gossiping?” What would your friends say, in this the year 2009, if you dated someone of a different race? What would your friends/family say if you dated someone of the same sex? How would your peer group respond if you dated someone 10-15 years younger or older than you? Would your friends be able to appreciate your judgment without questioning your taste in dating someone from the other side of the tracks? Would it be a curiosity to your friends if you fell deeply in love with someone who was wheel chair bound? Why does it even have to be deeply in love with someone wheel chair bound? As two human beings, what would your friends think if you just had a hot sexual relationship with someone wheel chair bound? If I were wheel chair bound I would hope that whatever hot sex I was having before becoming physically impaired wouldn’t have to necessarily stop, though it might have to change.

Is Whaler correct? Is the key to transcending the limitations on these different relationships freeing our minds? Or, does the key reside in creating an environment, perhaps a society where we can be comfortable enough to free our minds? Since there are communities that are all Black, all Latina/o, all White, all Asian, all Native American, etc. also predominantly gay communities, predominantly middle class communities, nudist communities, etc. is it necessary or worthwhile for bi-racial people to have their own community? Would it make people involved in winter-spring romances more comfortable if they lived in a community where this was the norm?

Can I really free my mind if others continue to impact it? What do you think (or am I in your head so deeply at this moment that you actually can’t think until you remove me)?


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Your post made me smile; it brings up some points that I am thinking about myself. I have always considered myself open to however people choose to live their lives, and open to however I choose to live. The latter meaning I believe in Love and whomever I fall in Love with is who I fall in Love with. It took me a little while, but I am comfortable saying that. I do know that my family on the other hand has serious concerns with who I fall in Love with. Unless, of course, I fall in Love with a – shorter, slim, younger, white, heterosexual, Christian, women –

I wonder how much, knowing that about my family, that effects how and who I Love. I have only really been “in Love” once, so I will have to examine my ‘crushes’. I have had crushes and pursued them with women and men. I have had crushes and pursued them with people of different religions and different abilities. Yet, looking critically at myself I have never had a crush or ever pursued a relationship with a Hispanic, Black, Asian, etc. person in my life thus far. I have had chances; interest from those races, but never pursued them. Why is that? Is my internal racism stronger than I thought? Or is my worry of my family’s potential disdain for the person I bring home that great?

Then I say to myself, I have never crushed on a heavy set person either. How does that compare with my race comments and attraction? Is it me, or the thought of them? I have also found some older women beautiful, but I have never crushed or even been interested in pursuing a relationship with them. Why is that? Is it me, or the thought of them? After writing this I cannot just place my family in the “them” category either, it would also have to be my community, and society in general. How will I be viewed to my neighbor(s)? That has never bothered me, so why does it on this topic? I’m leaning towards it being me and my preference for a relationship. But still, always questioning myself: how does my family and communities role influence my life.

One more note: Great perspective on the gay marriage comments made by local community leaders. I could not articulate it as well as you did here. I may have to use it, don’t worry I will give out the casual JW citation.

*** Avery, I think I heard something quite provocative in the early moments of your post. I don't know when you arrived at the moment you are in, but that is a helluva moment to arrive at, my brother. Good luck with being you while anticipating family reactions.

Your hesitance to step across racial lines might just be the last bastion of enlightenment for you. Race might be your most difficult blind spot even though you've convinced yourself you manage your racism well (knowing that all of us socialized in America have to work against the racism we've been indoctrinated with). It isn't easy to step in any different direction and stepping in two or three of them all at once, or in a short period of time, is flirting with enduring quite a bit of anxiety. I remember when I first dated an older woman (as a burgeoning young man) I had to put into perspective my socialization around the norms of winter-spring romances. Especially because the one I was in was flipped due to the fact that my lover was an older woman. So, we were an older woman-younger man hookup--long before Demi and Ashton--vs. the traditional winter-spring romance of older man-younger woman. At the same time I was engaging my homophobia just by thinking about the reality of some of my male friends, co-workers, associates. I had not really given maleness much thought when I was coming up, I was so focused on women (actually girls at that time). At the same time, I was making a decent wage for the first time, had a new car, basically feeling as if I was rolling. I had three large social challenges going on for me.

I was engaging ageism by being in a relationship that people would critique while I was doing self-critique of her and I, and me regarding she and I. Confusing!

I also was engaging my homophobia by engaging my heterosexism, and somehow started to at least attempt to look at the world through the lens of others. I think I had done it with race adequately, but with sexual orientation, it was a different ball game.

Lastly, I engaged my classism, because I actually was earning enough money to have independence, so my class standing had me thinking about access to much, while putting a distance between me and many.

My long-winded point here is, I believe many of us have a threshold to which we will push ourselves before we realize we've overdone it. The three significant social challlenges I had simultaneously were huge growing pains for me that I couldn't successfully recognize at the moment they were all upon me. I somehow emerged from my introduction to those hugely diverse challenges a more informed, caring person. However, I can imagine having attempted to take on one more challenge of that magnitude and becoming emotionally distraught.

Avery, your not stepping over racial lines for love or lust reasons is something that is worthy of thought, yes! However, in the analysis I definitely would also factor in how many significant or anxious moments you have immediately in front of you. Don't beat yourself up over moves you haven't made. If you haven't crossed the color line, as globally as you roll, you just haven't encountered the person that will inspire that crossing.

By the way, I recall once in my Romance class, where we were discussing the irony of the fact that often when men don't desire other men they are framed as homophobes or limited, because either way they haven't really looked at themselves. In contrast, when gay men say they were born loving and desiring men with no appetite for women at all, it is totally acceptable and not questioned. They simply are hard wired toward men. Well, isn't it about time that we realized that if some gay men can be hard wired toward gay men, then some heterosexual men can be hard wired into women, and some White men may simply prefer White women, some Black women preferring Black men, some Latinas preferring Asian men. It happens.

The other concerns of how the world is processing you goes away the moment you start to realize that many people don't have lives and will become preoccupied with yours. If you don't focus on that and avoid it you can get pulled into being preoccupied with them being preoccupied with you (the old watching you watching me). Take the time to continue to work on being the best person you can be (which doesn't mean you will be a saint) thinking positively while proactively attempting to learning something new every day and people's perspective on you will still get your attention, but only when you have an exorbitant amount of time and choose to consider it. It won't control you.

Avery, if you are not so provocative with your questions next time I promise not to write a manifesto.

Oh, and the verbal footnote is always appreciated *** -- J.W.

JW...I really appreciate the compliments. And kudos to you as well for picking out the heart of my response. You have a knack for digging in and grabbing hold of the meat of an argument.

I've written and rewritten this response about four times. I can't seem to get all of what's in my head on the screen in a way to cover all my ideas. But here's a shot...

I truly believe that freedom from oppression does start within. We, as people, have free will...we have the ability to choose how we act. This is a beautiful thing...it allows us to be individuals...truly unique creatures. However, with that beauty comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. When we have the ability to do what we want, we should also be aware of how our actions affect others. Unfortunately in many situations, this isn't the case.

In a perfect world...we'd all treat others like we'd like to be treated...fairly, respectfully, honorably. But there are always going to be selfish, bitter, uncaring people in the world. There's always going to be a certain amount of hate. As long as we're "allowed" free will, and the ability to have differing opinions, there's going to be conflict.

In the end...what we have control of is ourselves. As much as any of us thinks we can change society, in reality we have only a partial impact. Look at great spokespeople like Martin Luther King, or Abraham Lincoln, or Mother Theresa. The impact of their actions was incredibly far reaching...they changed many people's hearts and minds. But arguably (and disgracefully), they probably hardened a few folks bigoted opinions as well.

In many ways I actually agree with your statement that freedom from oppression can "start from efforts to educate those outside of us about the impact of their judgments/hypocrisy upon us". But unfortunately, I don't think this will ever "reach" everyone.

I like to focus on the things I can control. Myself...my mind...my actions. I joke with my wife about how I don't care what the neighbors think if I walk out to get the mail in my boxer shorts and T-shirt. Truly, I don't care. If my neighbor is going to judge me based on my pre-breakfast attire, then so be it...I can't control their thinking. If I was overly concerned about my neighbor's opinion of me, I might get in the habit of changing my clothes...and maybe even showering...before I checked my mail. But I try not to make decisions in my life based on what others think of me...or as an attempt to assuage others preconceptions of me. I am who I am...and I'm comfortable in my skin. That confidence allows me to be myself.

Granted this is a trivial example...and dealing with oppression is much more complex...but the underlying philosophy is the same. I think it's more important to right my own ship, than it is to focus attention...and in many ways waste time...trying to change others' minds.

I used the example above mainly as an analogy to the dating example you gave. I think it works well, and you can substitute "checking the mail in my boxer shorts" with "dating someone wheelchair bound". And upon second look, the words "I don't care" may be a little stronger than I intended. Maybe, "I'm not all that influenced by" would be better.

This response is getting a bit long. I think I'll stop here...and look forward to a little "back and forth" discussion. I know I only hit on about a quarter of JW's material rich post...but I don't want to monopolize the space. :)

l wish you would have done a survey on how many people in wheel chairs are enjoying sex. Secondly I think you recent editorial was full of of one sided thrust The subject is not clearly understood by anyone.Yes I know its hard to accept but the real truth is everyone of us comes from a woman and man united. Dispute it. We cannot forget our roots.

Lot's of layers, JW, lots of layers. I've dated people who my peer group might say were "my type" and I've dated some who were clearly not - on the surface at least. Suffice it to say, I was once engaged to one of the former, but, married (and am still married to) one of the later.

I tend to agree with Whaler that freedom from oppression starts from within. There are all sorts of oppression - some of it certainly imposed or exacerbated by society, but, there is also self-imposed oppression. Phobias might be seen as a kind of self-imposed oppression - denying onself something based soley on irrational fear. And, we've all known someone to whom the statement "can't get out of their own way" might apply; people who put more barriers to happiness in front of themselves than society might ever impose upon them. Moment to moment, we really can't do anything about the barriers society imposes..all we can do is control our reactions to those barriers, that is, our own choices. It is through continually making these personal choices that, I think, one can best "create an environment, perhaps a society where [others] can be comfortable enough to free [their] minds. People who continualy make these choices for themselves are the trail-blazers, the envelope pushers, the line-crossers. They do not necessarily try to force their own lifestyles, views, or morays onto society but, they certainly do not allow society to stand in their way. By moving "the line" back and standing right next to it, they make it safe for the rest of us to fill in behind them...maybe not as far along as they are, but, farther along than we otherwise might have been.

More specific to the topic of dating outside one's own comfort zone (or society's comfort zone for us) - some of what Avery said got me thinking that there needs to be a distinction made between personal attraction (or lack there of) and descrimination. If I've never "crushed" on someone of the same sex, does that make me a homophobe? Or, if I've never pursued a relationship with someone of Asian decent, does that make me a racist? Or can their be room to say I've never met someone of my own sex, or, someone of Asian (or whatever) decent for whom I feel a "crush?" "...[A]n environment, perhaps a society where we can be comfortable enough to free our minds" must not only accept the choices I make for myself, but, must also accept the choice that I DO NOT make.

Card Buddy

Your questions really make me think J.W. , how we all conform to how society truly wants our image to be. There's like a pressure that is almost invisible to us that creates in our minds what the model couple should look like as well as act like. People who would call themselves "normal" that have found themselves falling for a person with a disability, for example in a wheelchair feel a type of pressure that gives them doubts in their mind of being with them. What will my friends think? This is a common question we ask ourselves when going outside our societal "norms" that are despicable. We almost find ourselves disgusted when thinking of dating a disabled person, or anyone who isn't viewed as a model American man or women. This needs to be released from our brains, because if we can't even find the origin of where this belief came from, than it shouldn't be there at all. We all tend to worry so much about how we are viewed, we don't want to answer to anyone, and we would ideally like to live life the way we want. Sadly, there is society and it's negative values constantly saying "to be this way is the right way" challenges us everyday. I draw a parallel to Chris Rock's many skits particularly when he commonly says "when its all white it's alright", when referring to white privilege over blacks. It's so hard for many of us to put society in the backdrop, love whoever we want without questioning or receiving looks, and many people miss out on love because of their feelings. I challenge everyone to engage anyone they want to date, love, or whatever, and feel pride and confidence that you are making a step forward which will make you feel better inside and happier as a person. Because after all, your doing what your heart told you right? We can't deny how we feel, so don't let invisible boundaries hold you back. There is always going to be haters, and we need to rise above them.

In general I believe attitudes towards interracial and non-traditional dating are progressing, but if we are having this conversation, then obviously there is still a need to resolve, or should I say, attempt to dissolve the prejudice attitudes that still exist.

I like Whaler’s concept of starting at “one”. It makes sense to me because I have always subscribed to teaching by example. I believe it is powerful and effective. While everyone does not have the ability to learn by example, many do, and will. But I also think it is just a start. Couple that concept with the educators and activists of the world, add time, and the product is continued progress. That is an optimistic and hopeful view, which I realize may be different than the view as seen through another lens. But like Whaler, I will start at “one.”

Progressing towards a world where we do not discriminate not only involves changing attitudes and perspectives, It involves a healing process for those who have been marginalized and mistreated. As a society, I think we need to focus much more on finding ways to help people build trust amongst each other. Without it, there will always be the push and the pull that prevents us from fully realizing peace.

"Real Freedom from oppression starts within"- an intriguing take on current situations that many people may find themselves facing on the daily. And even more curious to me remains the fact that after sitting, wrestling with, contemplating, and discussing this simple yet complicated quote, I came to the realization that freedom from oppression truly does start within the individual.

I mean think about it, any individual who prides his/herself on being free from societal bindings would ideally have the mental liberation that I search for today. In order for any individual to begin to change the iconography of what being a free thinker truly is, they must first look at themselves and question; question everything, from the reason why you chose the fat-free milk, to the reason why you turned on the radio to KissFM. Americans, simplistically put, have become submissive to societal values. We are bound by invisible chains that keep us conformed to the ideologies that were put into practice at the conception of this country. We are so involved with what OTHERS think and say, that we disregard what WE think and say in order to maintain the acceptance that we worked ‘ever so hard’ to obtain.

You mentioned the idea of possibly educating the ignorant on the advancements of today; the attempt to revolutionize their way of thinking, but I pose to you J.W., in 2009 millions of people are ‘aware’ of or are ‘educated’ on some of the most debated topics in our nations history, but yet, just because they are socially aware of what is going on, does not necessarily mean they are going to obtain a new found sense of acceptance or tolerance to the subject matter.

History is a funny thing, and being a student of history myself, I have often times heard that History is important because we can learn from our mistakes, but ironically History is so important in the American culture, that it shapes our frame of reference. You see, it is a sad, but important truth that I find myself defending often; People are a product of their surroundings, and I can take that a tad further, People are a product of their History. If for generations, the idea of inter-racial relationships is viewed as deviating from the norm or wrong, younger generations will begin to embrace and practice the precedent set before them.

For a country filled with people who consider themselves to be socially conscious- I find it humorous that we remain to be mentally enslaved by the historic ideologies of our fore-fathers, OR MOTHERS, and physically restricted when it comes to the simple act of loving whom one chooses.

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