An Embarrassing Truth: Unwinding Privilege and Hypocrisy from Within (Part One)

Perdoname, nunca lo haré mas. These words ought to haunt anyone who thinks to say them. They are the words of the overly confident disciple: “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33). Most people, if they promise that way at all, do so sparingly. I guess we sense, among other things, that words like that have the power to make oneself plunge downward into an abyss of failed meaning or intention. For myself, there have been only two times that I’ve proclaimed this “plea and promise” and, surprisingly, both times were about the same sort of failure.

Part One

During the mid 1990s my white upper-middle-class family was breaking apart because of the stereotypical greed, self-preservation, and spiritual dis-ease that “life in the suburbs” has been known for. My father had made an unethical trade as a stock broker (before it became popular to do so), which led to the many subsequent forclosures of our stuff. It was there that I began to realize our “usefulness” in the world was shrinking fast.

Following this realization, as a 16 year-old kid, I gravitated toward a group of Latino peers who had learned to live a low-class position in our city without shame (or humility). I was attracted to them precisely because they almost always fought for their respect, something I had always been taught made you look ridiculous and rude. They bullied people that showed signs of fear—no matter what self-conscious adults or their privileged offspring would say. With them I began to feel powerful in a way that never seemed possible for me back in the suburban White crowd.

So when one of my new best-friends, Alex, told me about two female co-workers who had invited us to a party, I didn’t think twice about saying yes. They were older by a couple of years, probably 19 or 20, which looking back I can see heightened our already distorted judgment. Nevertheless, we threw back an extra shot of machismo and piled into my parent’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, hoping our adventure would lead to (among other things) sexual exploits. But that’s another story.

The party resided on the rural outskirts of our small Northern California city. Alex and I walked through the front door of the ranch-style house, while the two others stayed outside. Passing through the entryway, I looked around and may have been first to notice an over-sized Nazi flag on the wall, above the fire place. From there things started to slow down in my head. Then several guys in the crowded room gave us the Hitler salute and a territorial shout-out: “You down with White Power!”

Of course, somewhere around those foreboding alerts I realized that we had been mistaken—definitely about coming to the party and probably also about the women who had brought us there. I remember feeling a bit jarred and tried to cover over my reaction, that is, until Alex caught my eye and reverberated under his breath, “Fuck this place!”

Turning back the other way, now heading out of the house, the whole group seemed to take notice of us, apparently deciding whether or not to grab us by our neck and drag us back in. Thankfully, aside from menacing looks, no one really tried to get in our way. But Alex must have thought differently about our exit. When we got outside, with about half the party in earshot, he defiantly yelled toward a tall White Prider: “Fuck White Power!” Over and over again, he shouted this and, before anyone had a clue, he had already swung at his opponent.

The party then surrounded Alex, myself, and our two friends as the brawl moved out into the street, but surprisingly they kept it one-on-one. I threw a few half-hearted licks, preoccupied internally with our dwindling opportunity to escape. Around that time, I finally resorted to something fearful and embarrassing, something I had never thought would be possible for me to say. Instead of losing the fight with my Latino comerades, I argued with the bigger White Supremacist punching me: “Dude, I’m white! I’m white!”

Even though I felt worse saying it than I did getting hit, it just came out. Loudly too. All of them heard it, both the group of White racists as well as my best friends. The individual fights finished after several long minutes of fists and exhaustion. Believe it or not, our female co-workers actually helped us get to our vehicle. Everyone was fine. We left the party with our typical adrenaline rush, but this time no one talked about it.

On the way home, I thought to myself: I just wanted to make them stop, right? For everyone to stop?? I don’t actually remember if I went ahead and said that to Alex or the others, but I do remember the sad expression on Alex’s face and the detached way he put his disappointment to me when we got home: “I heard what you said, J. And I’m going to forget you said it.” His reply suddenly cut through my bullshit and brought up the shame I had put between us. All I could think to say was “I’m sorry, man. I won’t ever do it again.”

To be continued here