A Righteous Old White Lady

“Nevermind if you think an angry black man is scary …  try dealing with an old white lady when her food order gets screwed up – now that’s scary.”

Incorrectly recalled quote posted via Instagram, tagged to me, her mother, by my 25 year old daughter currently living and working in Philadelphia.

When I get angry I am certain that it is justified. I think of myself as righteous, speaking to power, taking down the man, confronting injustice. Granted it’s mostly when my food order gets screwed up, or when someone is smoking outside an open window while I am eating my lunch, or when someone is at a red light that just turned green and they are still texting, or a cop pulls me over for no apparent reason. It’s always an irritating inept activity that interrupts the illusion of my potentially perfect day coupled with the expectations that we should all do our best all the time.

Like I said – righteous. The scary black man part of the quote was totally lost on me – it was all about me – the scary old white lady.

As a white woman in this world – having been young up until just recently, by the way – I am fully immersed in the illusion that by speaking up I can actually make a difference in the limitations of my fellow human’s activities. If someone is following my car too closely on the one lane road that leads up to my house, I have been known to stop my car, get out and full out tirade on the rudeness and ignorance of such an act. Screaming inconsolably stuff like: “Not only are your headlights blinding me, but there are animals everywhere! Do you know how many deer I have hit on this road? I am not going to kill an animal just because YOU are in a rush! SLOW DOWN! Get off my ass!” Stuff like this. As a young white woman, most of the time, the driver was rendered speechless. As an old white woman, they seem to just want me to die, disappear, evaporate – like some irritating tick bite or bat flying around the house. The response is very different as an old white woman as opposed to a young white woman. Although, if I were a black man – or a black woman for that matter – or just simply just a man (I like the word ‘man’ and ‘simple’ in the same sentence – sorry, knee jerk reaction) 911 would have been called after my license plate was recorded, and I would have been arrested of course assuming that the driver behind me were an old white woman. Because, y’know, that would have been really scary, a violation of an old white woman’s almost perfect day.

What I have come to love about that quote is that, as an old white lady, I am merely a demographic. I am not just an old lady, I am an old WHITE lady. This fact speaks volumes about how people of color have become more viable, more powerful.

This scary old white lady has come to be more ‘woke’ – although I am not totally comfortable using that word, it does feel correct just about now – I have become more and more aware of how race and circumstance effect our behavior.

As an older woman, I am also keenly aware of how I am perceived differently than when I was young. As a young woman, it was difficult to speak to power without being looked at as a sexual object, and a little ‘cute’. Like ‘ok honey,’ whatever you think – that kind of thing. Although I recall, more often, a heightened level of engagement that I do not experience anymore. As an older white woman, when I have almost any interactions, the perception of the lack of my sexuality has become palpable. Almost as if there were something in their heads saying, “she must have been hot when she was young”. Although not sure how much of that is just me. Conversations become tainted by our obsession with youth, as if youth is something to honor in and of itself. We are living in the illusion that being young and sexual is being alive. Now that I am no longer ruled by sexuality, I feel as if I have been freed by the limitations that youth and sexuality had placed upon me. I recently heard a quote on NPR – yes I am one of those old white, righteous ladies that listen to NPR – “If you are lucky, you get to age.”

When we stand up for ourselves we should all expect not to be arrested or shot. We all should expect a perfect day here and there, and not simply the illusion of a perfect day. Hopefully this might happen more often and for more of us regardless of our whiteness, non-whiteness, or for that matter, our age.


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