Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Macie Lavender is a fan of slurpees, crows and old music. She is not a fan of dumbasses. 

Growing up is an achey, gut-wrenching kind of bittersweet. You’re forced to leave the simplicity of childhood behind, to throw out the Junie B. Jones and buy a SAT practice book. Growth and change are the scariest monsters of all, and they’re invisible. You can’t get rid of them by making Dad check underneath the bed.

Luckily, while our parents can’t remove such unnerving obstacles, they can provide guidance through the arduous adolescent journey. In return for their protection and instruction, we revere them with unconditional trust and love.

When we’re little tikes, toddling around with jam sticky hands and eating glue, the ability of parents to perform mystical, mysterious Adult Activities is mind-blowing. This inherent, awed dependence is why it’s so unsettling to realize that Mom and Dad are, in fact, fallible; the steadily creeping awareness that your parents are not all knowing, omnipotent gods oozing in quiet, burgeoning menace with each passing year.

I remember the first flash of insight hinting that my father was not the intellectual hero I had so highly venerated. Under the flickering fluorescent lights of a 6th grade science classroom, his shining pedestal cracked irreversibly. As Mr. G explained the basics of DNA, the depths of my learned ignorance shone in shameful Technicolor, scientific knowledge illuminating the ugly flaws in my beliefs.

Indisputable DNA evidence disproved the idea of “race” as a whole, presenting biological proof that no significant differences were present within the human species, no matter the subset of ethnicity or gender. Simply put, there is no such thing as white superiority. My carefully constructed perception of the world lay shattered. A mediocre middle school PowerPoint had disproved years of my Dad’s teaching in a mere 40 minutes.

Throughout my childhood, racial theory served as the comprehensive solution to any problem. Juvenile queries investigating the mystery of why the Syrian family on my father’s side was so different from the white bread, All American families of my friends were quickly resolved by paternal reassurances that these cultural contrasts were immaterial; we were both white, and that was what really mattered.

The concept of ethnicity seemed inconsequential, characterized as a meaningless distraction from pride in our “elite racial status”. Devotion to twisted beliefs of supremacy allowed me to rationalize away the physical dissimilarities between my classmates and myself, offer a defense against the jeers during the month of September. However, no amount of perverse comfort could heal the self-inflicted wounds of internalized bigotry.

With the vitriolic smoke of racist delusion lifted, I found myself unrecognizable. No longer was I comfortable cloaked in false privilege, instead choosing to shed my illusory whiteness and attempt to reconstruct the broken lens through which I saw the world (and myself). After coming to terms with my rediscovered ethnic identity as an Arab American, I could no longer cower pathetically under a veil of ignorant prejudice.

Unlearning institutionalized racism is an uphill battle. Racism is a master of disguise, masquerading as simple tradition: it’s home-made cooking with heavy helpings of heart clogging lard, it’s a relaxing, lung devouring cigarette after a difficult day. The temptation to just succumb, to live life in a state of obtuse toxicity, has a sinister irresistibility.

Comprehending people as whole individuals, appreciating and loving them despite and because of their faults, is much more difficult than unknowing, generalized hatred. The process is formidable; there’s no movie montage to speed through the labor, as we’re all born into some form of privileged innocence. Subconscious prejudice creeps around every corner, and each day is an internal crusade. However, I do not envy the blind. Through my single, half-cracked open eye, the beauty of what I see is worth fighting for.

Macie Lavender

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