Thursday, March 11, 2010

[557] racism's last stand

I'm a somewhat black person living in America. And when I say "somewhat," I don't mean 'cause I like, totally act like a white girl and stuff. I mean because I'm half white. But we all know that if you have even a little bit of black in you, the white is canceled out in the eyes of most. See Harry Reid's comments regarding Obama and the negro dialect as exhibit A.

That said, I've also had the good fortune to grow up in areas that were pretty unconcerned with the whole race thing. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I grew up in northern towns that were made up almost completely of white people, and therefore having a black person or two around wasn't really a threat. People tend to get a lot more racist when they feel that their power is threatened. See where I live now as exhibit B.

Southern California is racist. One of my professors recently claimed that SoCal did not have ethnic enclaves like that silly ol' racially divided east coast. I didn't know how to respond to that, because it is categorically untrue. I mean, not just kind of a stretch, but blatantly false to anyone who has ever been to Irvine, Santa Ana, L.A., or anywhere else in this part of the state. Up until my freshman year of college, I couldn't have told you a single stereotype about Mexicans. I didn't know that Asians were supposed to be bad drivers. I had never seen someone get pulled over for being the wrong color in a white neighborhood. Needless to say, my eyes have been opened to all of these things.

I'm not trying to say that Greenfield, MA or Mill Valley, CA are completely without racists. I remember being in the cafeteria when I was in third grade when a girl who I was barely acquainted with said to me, "No offense, but my dad says you're a n*****r." Um... none taken? But really, I don't even think I knew to be offended. I'd never heard the word before. I remember thinking something along the lines of, "Gosh, her dad's stupid. He can't even pronounce the word 'negro.'"

So, sure. Racism's all over the place. But it's the places that think they've got something to lose by accepting the minority that really know how to dish it out. I think we're seeing that more than ever right now, with the whole black president thing we've got goin' on these days. With the tea partiers making all kinds of fun, racially charged statements, and political figures - both Republican and Democrat - saying some pretty ignorant stuff, it is incredibly apparent that there are those in the white population who are beginning to feel a bit threatened. We see a lot of it happening amongst the poorer and less educated whites because, well, being white is about all they've got going for them. They may not be high up on the totem pole, but at least they're not [insert undesirable racial background here].

Most Americans have some skewed views of other races buried somewhere in them. These things come out in jokes or in their surprise when someone doesn't live up to their preconceived stereotypes. It's more a product of our socialization than an active desire to discriminate against people who are different from us. As such, most Americans also have come to a point where they don't harbor ill-feelings toward people based on their race. They may think that you should stay off the road or that you enjoy Kool-Aid more than you do, but they don't think you're going to mug them or that you should sit at the back of the bus.

Thus, a part of me wonders if we're seeing racism's last stand; the desperate attempts of those who are seeing power slip away from them to say, "Hey, wait guys! Remember how we're inherently better, and other races are stupid and invasive and stuff! C'mon!" It looks dire. We're hearing nasty things being said and seeing ridiculously bigoted acts carried out by individuals all over the country, but the mere fact that these incidents are a big deal says something about how far we've come. Where once we wouldn't have batted an eyelid over Reid's statement, we're now tearing apart Dan Rather's completely innocuous comment about selling watermelon to find some sort of racist undertone.

As I've said before, I'm not so naive as to grab hold of this "post-racial America" thing that people like to dream is happening. I don't know if that's ever going to happen. I do think, though, that the recent burst in racism is a reaction to the fact that racist people are seeing their power slip away. Americans aren't standing for it anymore. The social order is being challenged, and, despite our silly prejudices, as a collective group, we don't accept that anyone is inferior based on their race anymore. Yeah, there will always be racists. But the time in which we let them get away with spouting it in public without consequences is coming to an end.


Lindy said...

I hope you are right Corri. I take your words seriously because you live it daily. I hope that all are standing up to the un-ok-ness of acting it out, and I hope that we are educating the new generation.
Keep writing. I enjoy it.

Sonya said...

hm how interesting. i claim irvine as my home in the u.s. now, since i'm in japan for awhile. while i was a student at uci, my classmate/friend was working for some OC politician answering phones and the sort. she is korean, and she told me that she would get phone calls from people complaining about how there were too many asians in irvine. how sad. i don't know why it has to be an asian vs. other people thing. people can get too hung up on things like that and then they can't just enjoy their life and they're always gonna blame someone and die angry. also i know we were in 5th grade together, but were we in 3rd grade together? i remember racial comments directed at me such as, 'why is your face so flat', or two boys who overheard my convo with my grandma and started mimicking us in loud voices. sometimes it wasn't anything malicious, sometimes it was just childish stupidity. anyways it still showed me that i was diff as a child in a not such a good feeling way. trying to decipher it all now that i'm christian, i'm older, and i understand the world better, i dont want to be like those ppl calling in with complaints about them asian ppl, i want to hope for the best, and know that i got the best citizenship in heaven ;)

Jordan said...

I personally have no tolerance for this sort of stupidity. I remember the first black girl (African-American, negro, etc) I ever met in elementary school. Not because she was black, but because of who she was. It never crossed my mind that her skin should make any difference, though I did think the colorful beads in her multitude of braids was a little odd, I simply chalked it up to a "girl thing."

In high school, we moved to what I affectionately call "Little Mexico" here in Columbus. That's not based on any negativity or racist feelings, but rather the fact that being white put me in the minority. By then I had a little more understanding of the whole "race issue," even if I did think it was about the dumbest thing a person could come up with, and living there was a new experience. Being white made me the minority, and not everybody was very nice about it.

My first job after high school was in the patient transport department of a hospital. Out of nearly 100 employees in our department (yes, it was that big), I was one of four white people on the day and evening shift. But the thing is, I didn't even realize it until I'd been there about 6 months. I was never made to feel like an outsider, so it never came up until a patient (who still harbored some racist feelings) commented to me about how I was the first transporter they'd seen who wasn't a n****r.

My wife half Asian. I didn't know at first since we met on dear ol' LJ, but it wouldn't have made a difference anyway. From a scientific standpoint, the differences in race are so minimal that we're all even classified as the same sub-species (Homo sapien sapien). From a spiritual standpoint, the difference is even smaller. We all came from Adam & Eve, and even more recently, from Noah's family.

Race is stupid. It will eventually be a non-issue. The only people today who care about it are those who have no other way to define themselves or their own worth except to try to make others out to be less than they are.

Duncan said...

Race really doesn't matter, its what kind of person you are. I know you are the kind of person that my entire family misses! Come visit MA sometime!

Jessica said...

I think you're right that a lot of racist individuals are coming out of the woodwork because they know they're losing. But I also hope that we don't view this as the ultimate victory in terms of achieving a "post-racial" society. I want there to be a time when "white" isn't viewed as "default". I want there to be a day where the sentence "Study finds median wealth for single black women at $5" contains a typo. (source) I love that people are getting better at this, but we can't ignore inequality exists on a greater scale than individual bigots.

BallerBaggins said...

"People tend to get a lot more racist when they feel that their power is threatened." Great point, CoR...never really thought about Marin as being un-racist simply due to apathy or ignorance. Strange concept.