I’m sitting behind the register, swiping people into the dining hall when a girl in a recognizable hat gets to the front of the line.
“You,” I think, “You’re the girl who leaves her dishes all over the table without cleaning up after yourself. You know that shouldn’t be my job, right?”
She passes me her card, ignores my “hello”, and takes it back without thanking me. To her, I am nonexistent.
“Bitch,” I think, and then change it to “jerk,” chiding myself for using a word that oppresses women, even inside my own head.
Later on I’m in the dining hall and she’s there, making me stay later to clean up after her, leaving a mess on her table as usual. She isn’t the only one, but she’s one of the few people I recognize. I seriously dislike this girl.
My job involves interacting, if only briefly, with a lot of people, many of whom I’ve started to recognize on campus. The funny thing is that because my job involves serving these people in some way, most of them don’t recognize me. Few people take notice of those who serve them, probably because it enables them to take whatever liberties they want without actually having to think about who they’ll be negatively affecting. At this point I have a hate-list of people who’ve made my life difficult, and half of them don’t know I exist, let alone the fact that someone could have a reason to dislike them. That’s crazy. Even crazier (from my own self-absorbed perspective) is the idea that I’m probably on some random other person’s hate list Right Now, and I won’t know whose it is or why I’m on there unless they decide to tell me about it.
In “A Small Place,” Jamaica Kincaid talks about how tourists come to Caribbean Islands with misconceptions. They think they’re going to have a wonderful, authentic getaway. They think that their servers and hotel staff are all lovely and kind and attentive. They don’t think that the staff, along with the rest of the island, probably hates them.
It’s so easy to distance yourself from an issue, because your ignorance won’t allow you to see the part you play, either in creating or in perpetuating the problem in the first place. I don’t know where the idea that if you don’t know about something, you aren’t guilty came from, because it’s wrong. No one is completely innocent. Tourists, you’re coming from a place that made these islands economically-dependent on your presence. You represent what screwed them over, and you get to enjoy what most of them can’t, because they’ve been screwed over! Kids in the dining hall, clean up your messes! Your privilege is showing, and not in a good way. White people (plug), you’re the only ones who don’t understand that you’re still benefitting from slavery, and that racism exists to keep you ahead.
I do think it’s possible to be guilty of something without being at fault for it (so everyone who’s about to get up saying that it’s not their fault for how they were born, or what their family wanted to do for vacation..you’re right). That doesn’t matter, though. The fact remains that somebody’s probably out there right now hating you for something you have no idea about. Kind of an incentive to get informed and start being more respectful of everyone else.
I’d like to apologize to whoever hates me.
* * * * * * * *
To end this on a nicer note, though, I’ll also point out that it’s very probable that someone out there loves you. A couple of my friends have babies, and those mini people are adorable. It’s weird interacting with babies, because unless they really know you, you’ll only be some rando to them no matter how much love you feel for them. They’ll grow up, but if you don’t see them often enough there won’t be an un-awkward way for you to let them know how much you love them, unless you want to be that creepy older person going, “I knew you when you were only this big!” I refuse to be that person.
Anyway, the take-away is that while someone probably hates you, someone also definitely loves you.
I’d like to thank whoever loves me.