Over 90% of communication has nothing to do with the words that are spoken. Tone matters, but not as much as body language. Spoken words account for only 7% of how you interact with another person.
Anyone who has owned a pet knows that you can tell a lot about what an animal is thinking, their mood, or their temperament without a single word. They too know your mood at any given moment even though they do not understand a word of it.
Words mean very little. The way you act and how society shaped you involuntarily speaks volumes. In fact it is so loud that often the words you say cannot be heard.
I grew up in Brooklyn until I was 12. We lived in a predominately Italian and Hasidic Jewish neighborhood right on Coney Island Avenue. I’m the daughter of an Italian immigrant who came over in 1970 because his large family dragged him here at the age of 20. It wasn’t an easy life for my father’s family here in the United States. At that time immigrants no longer had the opportunities they did just a few decades earlier. All but my father and one of his brothers returned to Italy. My father’s reason for staying was that he met and fell in love with my mother.
My father grew up in a small town with an incredible work ethic and even stronger ambition. For his family this paid off immensely. But in the United States his work ethic and ambition went unnoticed and did little to get him ahead. He couldn’t get ahead and even learn English when he had to work so hard just to put food on the table to feed my two brothers, mom and I.
His parents were of the traditional followed traditional, old-school Italian practices. The mother was barefoot at home taking care of the kids, while the breadwinner male provided for the family. The male raised his hands to his wife and kids when he felt he needed to in order to keep his family in line and teach them the value of putting up with crap life throws at you without bitching and complaining about all you don’t have.
Consequently, that is how I grew up. My Brooklyn neighborhood felt dangerous. There were creeps on the street everywhere. We often had various homeless people living on our front step. Our front door didn’t lock. We lived three stories up in a vacant building in a small apartment with only 3 small bedrooms where you had to walk through 2 in order to get to the 3rd. Privacy, my own things, or own room never even crossed my mind.
I moved to Long Island in Middle School. A poor town in the middle of what seemed like nowhere compared to Brooklyn. My father knew a handful of Italian friends who moved there, so our very Italian traditions seemed normal. My mother dropped out of high school in 10th grade, was in love with my father and didn’t even want to tell her family about the dark side of living with my father.
Growing up all I ever saw was my father working and never getting ahead, and my mother depressed at home all day in a ratty mumu.
No one helped me with my homework. No one asked how my day was or what I was learning. No one told me I was smart or pretty or really even hugged me. No one said I love you in our home. My father’s workday dominated how our evening would go. Children were an aside. You fed, bathed, and clothed them until they were 18; then they were on their own and expected to come back every Sunday night for football and dinner.
Believe it or not I saw nothing wrong with this. I did want something more. I wanted healthcare and time off. I wanted to not depend on a man. I think everyone I know, knows my story. I joined the military, got skilled in a few trades, used the Montgomery GI Bill and then my own funds to get an MBA. I got married and had children young (19/21/23 respectively), worked 2 jobs for several years, and spent the first 10 years of my oldest’s life going to school in one form or another.
I was proud of myself. Many people ooh and ahh and say they are proud of me for being “self-made”. White privilege didn’t benefit me. The first time I heard the term I was pissed because it seemed to disregard all I worked for.
I was one of the happiest people I knew. Not to toot my own horn, but I was also one of the hardest working people I knew (if not the most). To say I put 110% into work, my kids and my family was to say the least. I was really happy this way.
In 2007 after 12 years of marriage I learned about a secret my husband had been keeping that absolutely devasted me. We recovered and I was almost back to my old self, but the same issue came up again just 3 years later. This time the marriage did not last.
Being a divorcee and remarrying someone of a different background and current societal class changed my life. I broke down. I liken it to Richard Rohr’s book called “Falling Upwards”.
I broke down but I also became a better person. A more aware person.
I think it started with moving into my first house with my current husband and our 4 kids. We moved to an incredibly too large for my liking house, down a beautiful cul-de-sac not far from my old reasonably sized house in Cheshire, CT. On the first night we sat together to eat as a family, my oldest son (then 13) asked my oldest step-son (then 11) which school in town he went to. My step-son very quickly insulted public schools and said he would “never ever ever” go to one. What was sad to me is that my ex and I specifically moved to this town two years earlier to enroll the kids in a good school system, as our town was known to have. I felt liked I worked really hard only to be slapped by an 11-year-old. I said a sentence or two defending the public school in our town. My children were horrified. My husband sat there and said nothing. The rift and awakening began.
A day or two later our next-door neighbors came out to meet us. They also had 4 kids. They were very nice until they realized we had two 11-year-olds that were not exactly the same age. We explained we were blended. It wasn’t the words they said – because the words were sweet and nice. It was the body language, the surprise and uppishness in their voices. I don’t think we ever spoke to them again.
It was at that VERY moment a flash of awareness came across my consciousness. I suddenly wanted to cry for all the black families moving to a white neighborhood or how an LGBT couple may feel buying a home in the suburbs. I became aware of the stigma of how mixed races try to explain how they are being looked at when going about their lives; or how someone who doesn’t speak English perfectly is treated. A divorcee is probably much lower on this totem pole, but it helped me to see and feel how society treats people that they feel are the non-traditional humans you see on TV. It’s why I relate to the line in the BLM rules about breaking down the notion of the traditional nuclear family.
Over the next few years before I started having clinical anxiety, I continued to get angrier and at the same time continued to climb the ranks at work.
The contrast between my husband’s kids and family became almost unbearable. My step-kids were told constantly by their mother that my extended family is white trash and that their step-siblings were not as good as them because they went to public school. It morphed into me and my ex using my husband to put my kids through college, me using my husband for money and a host of really other rotten things. Everything I did was looked at through the lens of me being a monster.
Obviously none of this was true, but because of my background and my non Ivy league education, I wasn’t one of them.
Shortly after a nearly year-long lawsuit and actual trial that my husband and his ex-wife went through where my husband wanted to put his oldest son in the town public school and his ex-wife fought it (and won) was a now infamous evening where I lost it.
It was the middle of the summer. My oldest step-son and daughter were around 15. There was another battle in the spring about how the kids spend the summer portion they weren’t with their grandparents. My husband wanted to put them in the same camp as my daughter. The ex fought it, calling it garbage, a waste of time etc. Of course she got her way. My step-kids only saw these ongoing arguments as my husband trying to hold them down and at times trying to ruin their futures. My daughter however was over the moon about going to this camp and being a CIT. She loved it.
The infamous evening I just mentioned, my husband, youngest step-son and father-in-law went to see my oldest step-son in a play (where he ended up that summer). During the intermission one of the moms my husband’s ex and he knew came up to us and went on and on about how happy she was that this oldest child (the one the lawsuit was about) was going to the fancy private school and “Not going to that God awful high school in Cheshire”. My husband just laughed and said he knows. Minutes later he said oops – that was the wrong thing to say.
Shortly after in the car ride home; my father-in-law was going on and on about how great it was that we didn’t put him (my step-son) in that terrible camp (the one my daughter was over the moon about); that this was so much better a fit for him.
I lost it. On both my husband and father-in-law. I don’t remember what I said. I remember cursing and I remember just being so pissed about not being defended and other people being allowed to think that what I was content with was “lesser than”.
My father-in-law who was supposed to be staying with us left when we got home. At home we told my daughter what happened. Being mortified she made excuses for a few days about cramps or other ailments to not go to camp. She never went back. My husband vacillated between saying he understood me and being angry that I got mad in the car and cursed with his father there.
This is one of probably several dozen stories where I went ape. The MOST infuriating thing of all is that at the end of it all I was supposed to feel privileged that these civil people forgave me for being angry. My concerns and reasons for my anger were never addressed.
This is why I understand other people’s anger. This is why I understand the BLM movement. It’s NOT on the same scale. Like I mentioned about being a divorcee or even a woman for that matter – it’s lower on the totem pole; but it speaks volumes to how society treats people they feel are “lesser than”.
Take this story and the dozens of others like it where my very white privileged husband could not understand what I meant. Take my delayed onset, complex PTSD from living in a home where I never felt loved, defended or safe (psychologically & with a broken lock in a bad neighborhood even physically). Take my hard work which goes unnoticed because I don’t have an MBA from a fancy school and watch people who tout their brand name successes and complain about first world nonsense without recognizing the privilege they were given. Take my immigrant father’s story and compare it to the immigrants a few decades back where everyone had this ideal of immigrants coming here and making a new and better life for their offspring who enjoy it today.
Then tell me I’m out of line when I get angry and that you won’t listen to me until I calm down and act in a way that the ‘nice civilized white person’ could feel comfortable with. Look down your nose at my father for being a bastard when there was no way he could be anything other than what he is. I understand my own father’s anger now. He tried to tell us about how people in America just don’t want to work for anything, I took me 35 years or so to understand.
I’m a democrat and I believe in hard work. I don’t think that conservatives hold the only claim on this. I don’t think anyone is looking for handouts, but I think they are looking for a fair chance. I know I’m smart, but without tutors, money, or even support; please don’t tell me I had the same opportunities as everyone else. And my skin is white!
I can tell you that my family not finishing school was why I didn’t go to college out of high school. How can you expect the average black kid growing up in a ghetto to possibly make it out of there through hard work and education when their school was so sub-par to one right outside the gates of the ghetto and then claim it’s socialism if we put more money toward schools? I think it’s quite Christian to take care of others and still a democracy.
Being married to my husband was painful but it opened my eyes to wanting to live in a different more ‘just’ world where material possession and “success” are not the objective for to have a good life. People who don’t achieve material success are not less than.
Citizen who don’t have access to healthcare cannot get help when they are sick or help with mental illness at any kind of age – let alone when you are young and can still “make it” in America. It’s not socialism to want to find a way to give people access to healthcare, the very thing that will keep them healthy and contributing to the society we hold them down in. I never had healthcare growing up. Mostly because my father was an immigrant. Even thought he was here legally, he couldn’t get a job that provided for it. Not because he was stupid or lazy, but because he didn’t have the same inherent opportunities that are so invisible and part of what so many people think comes with life, that they can’t see them.
This is exactly how black people are being held down. I’m several steps (maybe generations) behind my husband. 43 points exactly in a privilege walk. How can anyone believe a black person isn’t behind me on this scale? I don’t need data and statistics to know they are. I know because I’m alive. I feel the 93% of non-spoken word communication I’ve been treated with and I see the 93% that black people are treated with. And guess what? It’s much worse.
This is why it matters to me. It’s personal. It’s unfair how society just looks the other way and then blames the lack of hard work on those who just cannot physically or mentally make it.
My father will now be 70 years old this year. He will never retire. He is an alcoholic with tons of medical issues and terrible senior healthcare. My mother died at the age of 49 from lung cancer. Yes, she smoked earlier in life; but please don’t tell me that treating her during her life for depression and helping her find a way out of an abusive home and the stress that it caused would have done nothing for her. If nothing else, her quality of life and subsequently that quality of life for my brothers and I would have made a world of difference.
The social issues we face are real. It’s the single most divisive element in this election. But I don’t understand how anyone can be against helping other members of society be brought up to simple standards of living with dignity. There are cases of lazy people, but they are not most people.
Most people, given fair opportunities will take it. But those opportunities have to be there and visible. Without them there is no hope. You can’t blame someone for not working 80 hours a week knowing it won’t ever get them out of the ghetto. There are some where it can, I agree. Some of those individuals take advantage of it, and others squander it. But I do know that for the majority (like my father) – no amount of hours would have made a difference. I’m not advocating for giving money to lazy people, I’m advocating for creating opportunities for lower socio-economic classes.
That is why living wages are important.
Black people are in this category of the lower socio-economic rung more so than any other sector of our society. They are in these rungs because of the history of our country. You want them to wave a flag and be proud of living here? Not try to peacefully protest and explain this in some way?
We can’t have a conversation about fixing anything if these issues and the whole BLM issue are not acknowledged. BLM came up now for a reason. It’s not just because of police brutality. Police brutality was what made people get up and onto the streets, but it’s not the only reason. Privilege is so entwined into our society that unless you are living on the fringes you cannot see it.
Not seeing white privilege at work or how the lack of attention to these social issues doesn’t mean they aren’t real. Telling your own story of the hard work you did or the hard work your parents/grandparents did does not make anyone else’ struggles today null and void. It seems to be a valid excuse to turn your head. Helping others doesn’t turn our country into a socialist country, it turns our citizens into evolved human beings who can look past themselves for the benefit of others, which will in turn truly be beneficial for the society and county at large. It can be an even more thriving democracy when all our citizens are working and healthy enough to contribute and be proud to be an American. Right now it thrives for only some but not all. It’s not Justice for All.
What you do, how you act, what you post, how you treat people is what people perceive when they are communicating with you. I’d go the mat to say that most people are not knowingly racist, sexist, arrogant or pretentious on purpose. Knowing that, know you might be one of those people and not know it either. But those who aren’t know – because it’s being communicated so loudly, they can’t hear what you are saying. Stop and think about what you really think, what you really feel and what you really support. Is it justice for all? Or is it keeping you and you only safe and sound?
Please. Wake. Up.