Hardly a quiver in the dirt

23 08 2020

Do I have cancer?

I mean, the surgeon scooped out the tumor and got clean margins, and there’s nothing to indicate a spread, so: do I have cancer?

I’m still a cancer patient: I start radiation this week, and after that’s completed, I’ll be on hormone treatments for five years, but both of those are to lower the risk of recurrence. Sure, the radiation could zap any stray carcinoma cells—presumably that’s one of the ways it reduces risks—but it seems weird for me to say “I have cancer” when. . . maybe I don’t?

Yes, I know: it’s too soon to tell. Oncologists speak the language of “x-year survival rates”, and one month out of surgery is not enough time to know much beyond what they discovered in the surgery itself. I had a tumor, and now a don’t, and while I know that matters, I’m still not wholly sure what that means.

My puzzlement may stem from the fact that the docs caught this early, none of my tests indicate a propensity to metastasis, and, importantly, I won’t be undergoing chemotherapy. I’m old enough that cancer still carries the implications of chemo and hair loss and nausea and “looking like a cancer patient”; well, I am a cancer patient, but you wouldn’t know it to look at me.

I am not in any way complaining about this: like I said, I am VERY GLAD not to need, and thus not to have to endure, chemo. But it makes it [too?] easy for me to think that my cancer is just this summer thing that I’m dealing with, and not much more than that.

And maybe that’s fine, because maybe it isn’t much more than that. Goddess knows I have carried too much HEIGHTENED DRAMATIC MUSIC into too many situations in my life, so maybe my measured response now is. . . appropriate.

Or maybe this is one of those cases in which I’m refusing to listen to the minor chords that (appropriately) accompany cancer.

I don’t know. I don’t even know how much thought to give to this. It matters, yes, but how, and how much? I’ve yet to find out.


Show me the color of your right hand, pt II

6 07 2015

I didn’t want to be racist, and knew that whatever good anti-racist politics I might hold, if every black person I saw was every black person, I was a racist.


So I figured I needed to get over that, and looked for apartments in, if not wholly black neighborhoods (as in North Minneapolis), then in neighborhoods where black people lived, which at the time included the area around Stevens Square. I took the bus with black people, shopped at stores where black people shopped, hung out in the park where black people hung out, and if I was still the (self-conscious) observer, I was, at least, beginning to see that one black person was not every black person.

It was also at some point in graduate school that I became interested in my own ethnic background, or at least the Irish part of it. I’m more German than Irish, along with Scandinavian, French, and, Polish, but in the 1990s I lay claim to Ireland. It was, I knew, a bit of a pose: I’d been Irish all along, but that had never mattered, and there was nothing particularly Irish about my upbringing, but I loved the Pogues and read Kate O’Brien and scoffed at green beer with the best of them. It was something I chose.

I was Irish. But white? No, that still didn’t make sense, and not in a how-the-Irish-became-white kind of way. It was something I recognized as a social reality—that people would look at me and see a white woman—but I didn’t feel “white”, didn’t know what it meant to be white.

A word about white privilege: I don’t much like the term, not least because it seems to personalize the issue too much, to customize the yawning fabric of white supremacy into a bespoke suit of advantage. It’s not that white privilege isn’t real, but that it isn’t the point: it’s just the final, small echo from the deep, deep well of white supremacy.

White privilege is the erasure of white supremacy, a forgetting that white, too, is a race. To call it a privilege to forget is cast this privilege in the most ironic of shadings: to use the term earnestly, piously, rather than sardonically, savagely, is just another way to dodge one’s own race—to look at the privilege, rather than the whiteness.

What does it mean to be white? What does it mean for me to be white? Again, I can look at social constructions and systems and structures of oppression, but do I know who and how I am as a white woman?

I prefer to talk about ethnicity, these days about how I’m mostly Irish and German, but that, too, is a dodge. I know I’m white, but don’t know I’m white. I see the history of whiteness in the US as a history of negation—this is what we are not—built around qualities and characteristics and people that those who are white are not. It’s not just that, of course, but if I reject the ‘positive’ characterization of whiteness, which is to say, white supremacy, then I don’t know that whiteness has any meaning at all.

I’m not sure about any of this. It seems that I’ve concluded that whiteness (in the US, at least) positively affirmed is white supremacy, that a whiteness without supremacy is a lack.  Is whiteness without blackness a thing of its own? Should it be? I don’t know what a non-supremacist whiteness would mean, that it could mean anything.

I am concerned these days with ontological matters: what does it mean to be? The question ‘what does it mean to be white’ appears as an obstacle, the whiteness obliterating the being. I don’t know if I have to answer this second question in order to get to the primary one. In contrast, I don’t feel as if I have to answer ‘what does it mean to be a woman’, that ‘a woman’ blots out the ‘to be’.

No, there is something about whiteness, a somnolent heaviness which masquerades as weightlessness, a history without a history, which interferes with my ability to make sense.

I’m a white woman, and I don’t know what that means.