PRIDE AND SHAME…

I’m more proud of my legs than I am my eyes. 

My legs represent hours and hours of running and lifting and sweating and pain. They ran relay batons in track, back in high school. They have gotten up before dawn many, many times, to run 5k’s or jump on treadmills, in gyms out of town, or do squats or lunges. 

When I was a teenager, they called me “chicken legs,” because those appendages of mine were so skinny.

But after years of toiling on those things, I am happy to say I now have great legs. In fact, a couple of years ago a young, twenty-something weight lifter told me I had prototypical calves and he wished he could build calves like mine. 

I’m proud of that. Because I built that. 

My eyes, on the other hand, came standard issue with the meat suit. I would’ve preferred ice blue Paul Newman eyes that seem to sparkle all the time. But I got these deep set, brown, serial killer eyes. That’s what I was given. I had no say in it whatsoever. 

I would’ve also opted for darker skin like my dad’s, that never burns in the sun – just gets darker like baked ginger bread. Instead, I inherited the fair, white fragile kind from my mother. It gets splotchy and pasty and red for no reason. 

I try to tan it a little in the summer, just to keep it from blinding people when they stare directly at it. But for the most part, I can’t do a thing about it. 

I also wanted to be 6’2” instead of barely 5’11”.

There are some other physical traits I’d love to have been born with…or without.

The bottom line? I just keep working on my legs…and arms…and abs…and things I have some say over. The rest is just what it is. That’s how I showed up.  

I’ve never understood being proud of something you had no control over. 

People often say, “I’m a proud to be from so and so” or “I’m a proud Black, Asian, Indian, Native American, Hispanic, whatever…insert some heritage of your choice here…man or woman.” Notice I didn’t insert “white” anywhere in there. Because that would be racist. Go figure …

The point is, none of those things are anything you had control over. Why would any of it be a source of pride? It would be like me being proud of my disapproving brown eyes. 

What’s the pride in?

I was born in the south. But I’m not necessarily a “proud” southerner. I’m proud to carry on some of the traditions of the culture into which I was born; kindness, friendliness, hospitality, common sense, resourcefulness, no nonsense action, self-deprecating humor, a sense of something higher than ones self (belief in God), etc. 

Some of the traditions, on the other hand, I do not carry on. 

Either way, I cannot change where I was born. And I am not necessarily “proud” of it. Kind of like my eyes. 

Conversely, I am not ashamed of it either…much like my eyes. It’s just a place on the map. It was here for millions of years before I showed up. It will be here millions of years after I’m gone. 

Where the shame or pride comes in is based in what happens here. And that is based on what other people do and have done. And heaving pride in that gets dicey. 

I am a proud American, not because of amber waves of grain or purple mountain’s majesty. It’s because I’ve studied history and I’ve studied the documents they founded all of this on, and I’m proud to carry on that legacy. Liberty and justice for all, and so forth. That’s something we have a say over. And so, much like my amazing calves, we can be proud of that. 

We can also shun and shift and change the things that have been shameful. And hopefully move on. 

But these days we don’t seem to get to do that anymore …

Ellie Kemper, actress and comedian known for The Office and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, is just the latest in a long line of public people being forced to apologize for things she had no control over. 

The story is actually so boring I’m getting agitated having to type the details. But basically, she was born into a wealthy family and went to some debutante ball, where she won the crown of miss best of whatever, and twenty years before she was born that same organization didn’t allow in anyone in who wasn’t white, blah blah blah. 

Yeah, a lot of places were like that twenty years before a lot of us were born. That’s why – like my thunderous thighs – we work to change stuff like that. Then, we move on. 

But Ellie bowed to the pressure and publicly apologized for how she was born and where she was born and a bunch of things she had no control over. 

Meanwhile, like my sculpted hamstrings, she has a lot to be proud of that she has actually accomplished. But that is seen as some sort of unfairly advanced direct line from her privilege of birth to her current success.

No worries. As long as she takes her beating, confesses her sin of existence (basically, apologizes for her eye color) and votes for Democrats, she will be let off with a warning this time and sent to bed without any supper. 

As long as we continue to derive a sense of pride from things we cannot control, we’re never going to end racism or sexism or any ism. Because having pride simply based on things you were born with and had no say over, is the nucleus of all prejudice.  

By the same token, feeling shame over things you had nothing to do with is the nucleus of a psychotic society. 

We don’t ask people in Germany to constantly do penance, day in and day out, for what their grandparents did – which was horrible, by the way! 

We don’t ask people in Egypt to send people in Israel a check every month for that whole Moses/Pharaoh ordeal. And if you live in Egypt, and are proud of those pyramids, just remember that you had nothing to do with them. Everybody knows space aliens built them. But that’s another blog for another day …

I have often wondered if my “white privilege” has played a role in my career as a songwriter. Would I had achieved the same success if I had been born black? Would the mainstream world have listened to me?

There’s really no way of knowing that. But I have a few clues …

All I can say is that I have mistaken for a black person my whole life. In fact, several black producers have thought I was black, based on my name (Regie) and something about what my music sounds like. My first paid publishing deal was owned and operated by someone who thought he was meeting with a black writer, when I first showed up in his waiting room. 

From my perspective, I’m not sure my color made all that much difference in my career. 

On the other hand, no one would sign me to a record deal until I lost a lot of weight and got in really good shape. That part is (and was) real. 

So, I got my splotchy white ass in the gym (in Nashville) and did what I could control. And it worked. 

I’m proud of that. 

Was that gym a slave owning piece of ground before I got there? Yes. Was it part of the Confederacy at one time? Yep. Did that piece of ground inhabit a world that didn’t allow women to vote? Absolutely. 

Did it represent oppression for women and minorities? You bet it did.

But by the time I got there, there were Black men and Asian women and all sorts of different races and genders in there, free to work on the things they could control. 

None of us were working on changing our eyes. There’s nothing we can do about those.   

   

R

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2 thoughts on “PRIDE AND SHAME…

  1. Well said and thought provoking. “Pride” seems to also serve as the antithesis of shame. People are proud of some aspect of identity because in the past they were made to feel ashamed of that identity. So it’s not so much pride in something positive that they purport to feel, Rather pride is a constant reminder and reference to past shame (which ironically serves to keep the shame alive and present.)

    Like

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