Sunday, September 22, 2019


A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook, "A few situations and conversations this weekend have led me to feel simultaneously judged and pitied, triggering feelings of inadequacy and isolation. I have evolved radically in the past decade, and I have to remind myself I’m living my life on my terms; other people’s opinions don’t get a vote. Easier said than done, y’all." She posted the meme below as an addendum to her frustration. 

I responded, "Pity is gas-lighting masked as concern. A relative pulled that on me recently, 'Are you feeling okay, Jennifer?' I responded in my cheeriest voice as I stretched my arms, 'I'm on top of the world!' Gas-lighting subverted. As far as judging, I don't have an answer. I feel it every day, mostly from other women. I'm half tempted to say, without warning, 'Look, I have no obligation to fit into your mold. If that makes you jealous, then your problem with me is actually your problem with yourself."

After some thought, I realized I did have an answer, and here it goes.  

The person who pities is making a desperate attempt to place themselves above someone they perceive as having more by trying to insert the idea into the head of the pitied that, maybe, they actually have less than they thought. Less mental and physical health, less wealth, fewer friends, fewer resources. Queue the flickering lights and disappearing paintings. The thing is, pity may well, in fact, be projection of someone's own inner workings onto another (a defense mechanism) or possibly well intentioned. It's easy for me to brush it aside. 

I still hate it. Worry about your own act, please.

But the judging part is far more insidious.

As those who pity you, those who judge you are playing nearly the same game, but with a different and intended effect, at least from my perspective. When a judge drops the gavel, the ruling has been rigorously reviewed and is final. In our personal lives, there are no appeals.

My husband and I recently stopped for drinks at the Capital Hotel Bar and Grill. We were both dressed way down because...weekend. About 10 minutes went by, and a couple our age sat down at the bar next to us. It didn't take long for the wife to strike up a conversation with The Hubs.

Here's where I have to back up a bit. We were in Little Rock for two reasons: 1) to buy a five-gallon clay fermentation crock for makgoelli making at the local Korean store and 2) to see the "Hateful Things" exhibit at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum whose mission is to preserve the history of Arkansas's African Americans. "Hateful Things" is a traveling exhibition of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia housed at Ferris State University brought to Little Rock to mark the 100th commemoration of the Elaine Massacre, which ended in the lynchings of ~200-400 African American sharecroppers, probably the largest mass lynching in our country's history.

Two images got to me. One was Rastus, who greeted me often in the mornings as I prepared my Cream of Wheat, and the other was a stamped metal sculpture (also a caricature of an African or African American) used for target practice at gun shows up until 2001. People who managed to shoot his tiny feet were awarded big prizes, and I think we can all relate to the horror of that. But Rastus is almost equally as evil because my young mind understood, in all my naïveté, that, though Rastus was dressed as a chef, he was merely a servant who could only be trusted to prepare and deliver the simplest of foods. I hate that I KNEW that even then.

Hold on. I promise this is not some wildly irrelevant tangent. I'm still on the topic of how we are judged on a daily basis, and you will see my point shortly.

It became obvious to me that Wife—blond, blue-eyed, highly made up and coiffed, dressed to the nines—had sized me up (quite literally...I'm 40 pounds overweight as I write this) and judged me as a non-entity because she proceeded to openly flirt with The Hubs. Her husband, an Episcopal priest—I kid you not—tried his best to become part of the conversation. Since this has happened to me before, my go-to is ignoring the entire situation as if I couldn't be bothered. The priest has not figured out that the way to deal with an attention seeker is to ignore them. I feel sorry for him. Wife, in between her flirtations with my husband, assailed the bartenders for not providing the free and fried black-eyed peas she remembered from her days living in Little Rock despite their efforts to assure her that they were only available when the actual cook staff arrived in the evening.

And then it happened.

A young African American woman (possibly lesbian or transgender) arrived to start her bartending shift wearing a black, long-sleeved Oxford shirt, grey vest, black silk bowtie, black slacks, and natural hair.

"Well don't YOU look spiffy!"

Translation. Good for you to dress up in a way that makes you look like a happy servant. There are three white bartenders here dressed similarly, but, since you're the only person of color here, I feel the need to extend kudos to you because you took time to cater to my stereotypes. End translation.

So there we were with this white woman (NOTE: I am also a white woman): I was judged as inconsequential; I don't know what standards my husband was judged by but clearly he won the day; Wife was obviously unhappy with her own husband...perhaps because he had too many duties to fulfill as an Episcopal priest, including a funeral for one of his parishioners; and an African American woman who showed up proudly for work, judged as "spiffy," "smart in appearance," a.k.a. uncharacteristic of people like her. I say that because, again, the three white bartenders were dressed similarly.

I'll wrap this up. Wife and husband left and The Hubs, who had to leave the exhibit because it made him sick, looked at me and said, "So this young woman is just another Rastus [from the Cream of Wheat boxes] to that c***?" I reminded him not to use that word around me, but, honestly, y'all, I was kind of feeling it.

So here's the thing about judgers: they are THE standard. And their standards are usually the standard of society at large. If you don't conform to how they and our society orders the world, you are less than. Their decision is final, and, since they often maintain positions of power (real or imagined), their standards are a stranglehold on everyone around them. They'll use pity as a weapon, sure. But they'll also use their ability to command or commandeer attention to belittle and dehumanize. I don't understand how they so often occupy leadership positions because, as I obliquely said to my friend, their judgment belies a fragile jealousy. They hate the standards they conform to, but they most especially hate the people who refuse to or can't conform to those same standards. I'm on a sabbatical from make-up, high-heeled shoes, hair spray, and the office uniform. The bartender showed up to shine as a woman of color feeling safe in her own skin. Neither of those things conform to the current American order of how people, especially women, women of color, and LGBTQ+ people, should present themselves. We are the preferred subjects of trolls everywhere.

If you want this BS to end, stop letting them, the scabs, cross the picket line of your authenticity. Confront them instead: "I am not obligated to fit into your mold of what's normal, worthy, or good. I carved myself out of my own mold, intentionally incorporating what fits into the framework of what I value. Since this isn't a court of law, I don't accept your judgment. Your ruling means nothing in the court of life. Now get out of my labor of love."

If you read this, please leave an emoticon (if that's all you can manage, it's cool) or a comment to let me know how weird it is that I'm collecting the scabs from my most recent fire-ant bite as some kind of badge of honor. #seeWhatIDidThere

But seriously, let's have a discussion somewhere because, to quote Lady Gaga, "enough is enough with this horse shit." Tell us your story or stories of being pitied or judged. Your voice is valuable, and it is safe here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment