• Bigotry unmasked

    It is the moment I get up from the wooden breakfast table looking out over a tropical beach, wind whipping and fish visibly rushing to meet a couple of anglers, that a flash of searing pain rips through me.  I’ve been breakfasting with my friend who is gigging locally and visiting from down south, near Brisbane.  She is a talented, emerging songwriter and performer. The word ‘emerging’ always calls to mind an army of blue face Picts, rising up from the forests of the Lowlands of Scotland, but in her case, they would be singing friendly ukulele songs with catchy melodies. She is excited to share the news of her duo’s recent performances and their new E.P. in the mix. I love her boundless energy and enthusiasm and it’s catching because I bounce up out of my chair, lean forward to kiss her cheek, and this is when I feel a sword strike through my back and pelvis. A nurse will ask you, how much out of ten on the SUD, Subjective Unit of Discomfort, scale is your pain?  I have a high pain-threshold so unless I’m screaming, I don’t usually consider pain to be important. For a second or two, I am in 10 out of 10 white I-want-to-vomit pain.

    There was the time when I was learning how to muster cattle in the outback and I endured a spiral fracture as my finger was caught up in the reins of a bolting horse.  Later, Neil tapped it hard with his finger and when I didn’t shout in pain, he pronounced it not broken.  But I’ve hypnotised the pain away – I said. When the finger started to go black I sought an X-Ray and discovered the fracture. It was only then I realised the power of my own mind in pain reduction.

    Neil is a nurse and I know what he’s going to ask me. I also know that anything above 5 is drug-worthy and I want to say “it’s a fucking twenty” as I scrape myself off the edge of the table. I’m not a drug-taker by choice. Sure, when I was in my twenties and thirties, I dabbled — you know,  middle-class girl living a big-city life in London. It was practically on offer, but of course I never inhaled!  And here I am at 51 (am I getting old?), my first bout of back pain and all I can think of is I want the hard stuff and I want it now! No luck. Instead, I succumb to a dreary routine set up by my nurse husband of hot showers, applying a cream that smells like something has died at the same time as heating up my spine and the usual over-the-counter painkillers.

    In my other life, I am a clinical hypnotherapist and Master Hypnotist (trained by the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, Tarzana, as well as other institutions and other Master Hypnotists). As I’ve just mentioned, I can reduce pain. It’s not rocket science but focus, dedication, and hypnosis which leads one to be able to reduce physical pain without painkillers.  I work my magic and my pain reduces by about 50% as long as I don’t move, so of course, I don’t move.  Well, if you call lying on my bed with a wooden bed-desk straddling my chest for my iPad Pro, iPhone and TV remotes not moving, I’m not moving. I will always find something to occupy myself, something to do, read, watch, play — even if it’s people — watching on reality television, (that’s my excuse anyway).  Time for me to get busy and work on something creative. If Frida Kahlo could paint on her body-casts after her operations, I am sure I can scribble in a notebook.  Here is something I’ve not thought of before now. Pens are designed to work with gravity. My first challenge of the day, if you don’t count the fact that I can’t stretch far enough to wipe my own arse, is to find a pen that works upside down.  What in Australia we call a texta — in other words, a felt pen — is the answer. Everything I now write is thick and slow on the page.  I agree with myself that sludgy penmanship is better than no penmanship at all but I am keenly aware that perhaps the work produced is as sludgy as the ink itself.  Also, reaching out like a Tyrannosaurus Rex proves much more difficult than it looked in my head twenty minutes ago.

    I find myself contemplating my own predicament. Apart from spending the last year at my desk writing a memoir for someone and not exercising, I suspect there may be another reason why my muscles have gone into spasm, protecting my central nervous system.  Two days before, instead of being bored, I had posted several unusual questions online for my friends to answer.  Questions like “Have you ever borrowed/stolen a garden gnome from a garden?” and with a nod to a David Sedaris essay I had just read, I asked “When was the last time you met with a monkey?” Perhaps I am obtuse but I didn’t necessarily want to know the content of their answers. I wanted to see how they would respond, using imagination or being literal?  The majority of my friends answered literally and gave me an insight into their vacations or extraordinary adventures including at least one monkey.  Most satisfactory. A few replied with highly creative answers which made me laugh. Then there was that one response. The one answer which I think may be the cause or the trigger of my back pain.

    “I don’t know where you are going with this?” came the answer and I replied, “I just want to get to know my friends a little better.”

    At which point, I repeated the question.

    Now even though I know you want to know, I can honestly say there’s no point getting into the nitty-gritty of it all.   I socialise within a very tight-knit group and live in too small a town to cause ripples.  (Pause and reflect).  Oh, bugger it — witness my ripples.  This particular friend had thought me to be a racist/bigot as the question about a monkey was interpreted as a question about my islander, emerging-songwriter friend!  WTF!  Let me repeat. WTF?

    I was raised in Zambia, South Africa, and England. I don’t think I noticed I was white until I went back to England at the age of 9. I was made aware of the disgusting, shameful attitudes that drop from the lips of racists when I lived in South Africa from the age of 11. When my mother fought to provide an education for non-whites. I have lived in a regime of evil that spawned hatred and death to people, tagged either by ethnicity, religion, politics. Sadly, the list was not a small one. It’s bad enough that someone can describe another person in this way, but to me, the fact that someone might think that I could use such terminology and reference shocked me to my core.  Two hours before my breakfast at the beach cafe, I was so rocked by this accusation my whole body shook and I cried.  Should I have not used such a question? Should I have anticipated possible misunderstandings? Now, my answer is simple. If it’s not in my head, how can I prepare for it? How could I have seen that someone would think such a thing and someone amongst my group of friends?  Of course, being civil, a case of misunderstanding was quickly established and the two parties, one being me, resolved to move forward in our friendship.

    This is where difficulty rears its not insignificant head. My friend was sorry if they had offended me, check, but was still glad to have said their piece. Their ‘piece’ is the ultimate detail causing me grief and now, anger. Why glad? In their assumption of my supposed disgusting behaviour, had they not labeled our mutual friend by default?   Who then had the problem?  I am nearly convinced that my body decided to protect my spine, my backbone, my central nervous system when under ‘attack’ that morning. When accused of using heinous language and harbouring bigotry and racism, my brain descended into sorrow and my body responded in angry protection. The physical pain I felt was equal to the disgust and fear I once experienced when I lived among injustice and evil in my childhood during apartheid.

    Now, I have to lay on this bed and rest my sore back.  I have to focus my mind in self-hypnosis to reduce the pain and I have to think happy thoughts. A beautiful breakfast by the Coral Sea and my friend in her successful singing duo will do.  The day will continue. My lovely husband will patiently attend to me and at some point, I will have to find forgiveness for ignorance? For fear? For a lack of faith in me?   I can only hope they are fighting some inherent bigotry of their own upbringing and although I am moving forward, I fear my trust is stained by this event.




      • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      • February 29, 2020 at 10:29 pm
      • Reply

      All white people are racist — even when unaware of it. We are horrified and tend to reject the idea because good people among us know that racism is evil and we don’t want to be evil . But the black people I talk to know that whites were just raised with it and don’t blame us for having it, just for clinging to it or denying it. Racism is basically the preconceived ideas most whites have about everyone else plus taking advantage of the privileges light skin affords. It is NOT the same as bigotry. Anyone can be a bigot and there are plenty of bigots of color. Your “friend” essentially accused you of bigotry, which is the chosen, mindful expression of prejudice. Everyone has biases — comes with the territory — but YOU are not a bigot and being accused of it would, I think, feel like someone assuming you were a Nazi when you had never given any evidence of it — painful and even traumatic. Plus, your friend’s response was entirely inappropriate. She leaped in with accusations without even asking what you truly meant. There’s just no excuse for that. Nobody should assume that any but the most overt racist commentary is meant that way. Monkeys can be used as a weapon for racism, but if they aren’t being used that way, they’re just monkeys. And the truth is, we’re all monkeys. Every one of us.

      • Thanks for your comment Maya, however, I think being white and racist is not a foregone conclusion. It would depend largely on how and where that white person was raised and taught. Perhaps your comment is pertinent to USA more than other countries?? I’d have to investigate this more.

      • Sue Mitchell

      • March 1, 2020 at 1:12 am
      • Reply

      Always traumatic when a friend reveals a hitherto unknown or unsuspected aspect of themselves one finds abhorrent. I’ve retreated from friendships for similar reasons. The shock is physical and nauseating.
      It stands to reason that if words can stimulate the pain, they can, if well chose, also negate the pain. We create our own realities.
      Be well soon.

      • craig

      • March 1, 2020 at 2:20 am
      • Reply

      great article, even people you think you know can surprise you

      • Susan Hunter

      • March 1, 2020 at 4:22 am
      • Reply

      Thank you for your thought provoking article. It occurred to me that throughout our lives we are all occasionally accused of being something we clearly are not. It always hurts and some things may stay with us for the rest of our lives. We do not share our back-story with everyone, so friends and acquaintances may not know ‘our story’ and maybe they can be forgiven for adding you to the list of dreadful people we read about daily (especially our politicians). As far as I know all religions in the world, however diverse, preach understanding and forgiveness they can’t all be wrong on this point. Perhaps when you heal your heart from the pain of the insult you will start to use your amazing skills to heal your back pain. View your article to place the insult in the past, which no longer exists.

      • THanks Susan. The past no longer exists, this is true, for some but not for others. I however have managed to release this and my back is also releasing muscles.

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