It's not easy being green
This summer, it turned out that the fierce heat was in the middle of July. Now we have earthquakes and hurricanes, but at least it’s cool. One day during that July heat wave, I woke up in my old, un-airconditioned house and felt the heat sagging all around me. I knew that once I made it into my air-conditioned minivan and drove to my air-conditioned office, I was golden. However, in order to reach these oases of cold, I had to get dressed and out the door. It was in this heat induced stupor that my kelly green cotton sundress with pink and blue flowers (pictured above) seemed like a good idea.
The dress in question was purchased on-line, on sale from Garnet Hill in 2007. Not sure why I decided to buy this dress, but it has been dutifully hanging in my closet ever since, waiting its turn. The cut and style of the dress are "becoming" (as my grandmother would have said), the fabric is soft and fresh, and the colors offer a welcome variation to the greys and browns that dominate my wardrobe. Still, I have only managed to wear this dress maybe 3 or 4 times and now, and after that hot day in July, it is officially on its way to Goodwill.
My problem with this dress is that I feel it accentuates my Whiteness in a way that makes me uncomfortable and out of sorts when I am wearing it.
I know, not the usual product review that you would read on the Garnet Hill website.
I am, in fact, a White person, or pink to be more exact. If I was an ice-cream flavor at Ashley's on York St., I'd be Very Vanilla with a couple of colorful sprinkles for my Irish Catholic grandmother and family secrets that have been left untold. And that's OK with me, that's who I am. I am not trying to find clothes make me look un-White, but, still there is something about my body in that dress that is too White for me to handle.
Just more work for me to do.
Too often, Whiteness has gone unexamined. White is positioned as the "status quo," a neutral non-race race against which other races are contrasted. I have been fortunate to have teachers and mentors at work, school and home who don't let me get away with that. How does my Whiteness, with all its privileges, disadvantages and history, shape my research questions, my voice, and my ability to hear?
Deb recommended I read “
” this summer.
Talk about a beach book! Frankenberg’s interviews with White women about what race has meant in their lives and how they have constructed their racial selves are fascinating.
So, getting back to the hot day in July…
I put on the kelly green dress and spent the rest of day negotiating my Whiteness. In the early afternoon, I met Participant #19, a 30 year old Hispanic woman, for an interview about her experiences with prison foodways at York. The moment I met her, I sensed we weren't going to get too far together. The interview stuttered along awkwardly for about 30 minutes and then I let it go.
Nearly all of the interviews that I have conducted as a part of this project have gone well, so this one lingers in my mind. What went wrong? She was angry that Casey Anthony had been let off and frustrated by her inability to regain custody of her young children. It was still hot and we were both tired. Or was it the dress? Her perceptions of the dress and what it represented? My perceptions of the dress and what it represented? Most likely, it was all of that.
All the anger and the hot and the kelly green and the tiny pieces of our little lives that we carry around with us wherever we go.
The idea that researchers go out into the world of facts and carefully extract pre-existing jewels of information from study subjects has been largely rejected. We now understand that knowledge is constructed, not collected, through the research process.
The hot day interview exemplifies this postmodern position.
We bring our stuff with us wherever we go and when we are uneasy with any of that, it disrupts.
While we may not find peace will all our stuff, we can strive to at least understand what we are carrying around.
So, I will continue to wrestle with my Whiteness and until I have that worked out, try to avoid bright green flowered dresses.