Law in Contemporary Society
Draft 3

Dignity Through Defiance

Seattle’s Madison Park neighborhood is where some of the world’s wealthiest people own homes. In the middle of the neighborhood on an enormous and beautiful piece of lakeside property is the Seattle Tennis Club—a country club that was a summer hot spot for teenagers because we could lay poolside and charge drinks to friends’ parents’ accounts. Being from a nearby (although much less glitzy) neighborhood, I had some friends who were members of the Club. I went there once when I was 17 and I refuse to ever go back until things change.

Almost every employee at the Seattle Tennis Club is black. Every single member of the club is white. Noticing this immediately rubbed me the wrong way and I felt like I should trade in my swimsuit and towel for a uniform and platter of hors d'oeuvres. What really got to me, however, was the way that the members looked at me. When I walked by tables of people eating nicoise salads in my shorts and a tank top, they would realize that I was there to enjoy the club and not to work there. While some didn’t seem very bothered, others displayed facial expressions ranging from confusion to disgust.

I wasn’t going to just stand back and take that treatment. Instead, realizing that 1) these people already saw me as a low-life and 2) I would never be a member of the exclusive club anyway, I glared back at these people with my very best non-verbal “fuck you.” Then I started to disrespect the club’s rules, taking a glass into the pool, “horseplaying,” and eventually being told that if I did anything else out of line I would be asked to leave. I removed myself from the club soon after.

I’ll never go back because I hate what that environment did to me. Not only did I reaffirm what these people expected from someone “like me,” but I also acted in a way of defiance and disrespect that is completely out of character. I generally respect rules and order, but feeling like a disrespected, worthless outsider who would never be welcomed into their ranks made me truly not give a damn about their rules and customs. It was a way for me to try to protect my dignity, but it backfired and I walked out feeling like I deserved to be mistreated.

This experience made me realize that I have been very fortunate and extremely sheltered. I grew up with a perception of equality that, although invaluable for my self-confidence, is arguably unrealistic and na´ve. Spending my childhood in comfortable, diverse, and welcoming surroundings with black role models led me to understand that my ethnic background wouldn’t hinder any progress toward my aspirations. This experience made me understand that there are many people in this country who have not been similarly situated.

While I was able to simply leave the hurtful environment of the enclosed Tennis Club and head back to the comforts of my normal life, most people who face prejudice don’t have that luxury. Further, the experience and subsequent personal reaction that I faced at the Club has bled into many other aspects of their lives and caused a harmful spiral that perpetuates inequality and further separates the privileged and unprivileged.

Many others who are born into groups that have faced prejudice for generations have been told and shown that institutions like education and law enforcement will never be on their side. In order to maintain some dignity in these structures that they are forced to deal with, an air of disobedience or disinterest is adopted, which in turn leads to these institutions responding with oppression. Just like how the Club members’ assumption that I wasn’t worthy to be there led to my misbehaving, many who perceive oppression in school and from the law are more likely to have less education and more jail time.

Over time, these patterns have become accepted both within and outside of the affected communities. Because of this, the people with privilege are able to keep the privilege, and those without it have extreme difficulty attaining it. As the gap widens, those without privilege need someone to look up to. They need a role model to show that these patterns are unacceptable and that something like school can be an amazing resource if the teacher and pupil have a civil relationship and a common goal of enrichment and education.

Hopefully we are moving toward a world in which the mistreatment that I experienced at the Tennis Club would be shocking and unacceptable to any onlooker. Breaking down the established social structures has slowly been happening, but maintaining progress takes effort and patience. I hope to do my part and become a role model one day, helping people who experience oppression move toward the optimistic view of equality and upward mobility that I was taught to have. It may take some time for me to reach that goal, but it will be worth it. The view from the Tennis Club is amazing.

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r12 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:15 - IanSullivan
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