Thursday, December 01, 2005

Blog Against Racism Day

In honor of Blog Against Racism Day, sponsored by Creek Running North, I offer you these words.

When I was a child, my family watched the movie Jesus of Nazareth when it came on television every Easter. Inevitably, when the movie came to the scene where Jesus was presented before the crowd, and they were asked if he should die, and the crowd shouted “crucify him!” over and over, I would start crying. Not because I was moved by the religious intonations of what was happening, no, I was too young to really understand that. I cried because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be so hated, to have a crowd of people standing before you wanting you to die. I cried for the loneliness Jesus must have felt at that moment. In fact, it eventually got to the point where it traumatized me so much my parents wouldn’t let me watch the movie.

At that young age I had not yet learned the concept of racism. The idea of being hated, for any reason, was something I simply could not wrap my mind around. My parents had raised me and my brothers to accept all people with no prejudices, so it never occurred to me that because someone had a different color of skin, or had a different religion or culture that they were “less” in any way. I was taught to embrace these differences and encouraged to get to know people who came from a different background than I did. These differences, I was told, made the world a more interesting place. So in my early life I never thought of any group of people as “them”. We were all the same species. We were all human beings.

Imagine my surprise, then, the first time my grandmother balked at the idea of me having a black friend. I didn’t understand her concern, and she couldn’t explain to me the reasons. I dismissed her attitude as a result of her being old, and didn’t give it much thought.

I had the good fortune of attending schools for the gifted, first in grade school and then again in high school. Aside from the standard teasing of students outside the program towards our geekiness at being the smart kids, I did not witness any racism or hatred during my school years. I had, however, been introduced to the concept of racism, and knowing the respect, love, and admiration I had for several of my black schoolmates I couldn’t imagine someone hating them, especially someone hating them for the simple fact of the color of their skin. This made no sense to me, I found it to be ignorant and stupid, but I was starting to realize that the world was not entirely made up of the smart people I went to school with, that there were lots of people who couldn’t see past the color line and the differences between people. I understood that these differences, in fact, scared some people, and often scared them into hatred. I started to see the same scene I saw in Jesus of Nazareth playing out in reality – towards black people, Jewish people. I was devastated. The world I had assumed existed was falling apart.

Yet I, in my innocent naïveté, could not understand the way it felt. I was a white, middle class protestant teenager. How could I even pretend to know what racism was like? I could sympathize, based on how I thought it would feel to be hated, or be judged, for what I was, but I didn’t know. And then I went to college.

In my sophomore year of college I started working as a dispatcher for my college security department. The department was crawling with current and ex-military men, most of them misogynistic, several of them racist, and only a couple of them well educated. The director of security at the time (he is no longer the director and is now in fact, deceased) was himself ex-military and ignorant of mind. One of his favorite “jokes” was to laugh and say “a woman can become a patrol officer when she can piss in a cup from 6 feet away”. Now, how he actually thought a man could piss in a cup from 6 feet away is beyond me, because most of the patrol officers couldn’t even seem to aim for the toilet in the single department bathroom. This was not the only “limitation” he saw in a woman’s abilities. This man was misogynistic to the core, and felt that a woman could either be a housewife, a secretary (his assistant director was female, but she did all his dirty work, and ended up essentially a well paid secretary), a teacher or a nurse. He’d occasionally joke that women could be prostitutes and strippers as well but only if they were “stacked” and had nice bodies. He’d scoff at women students, saying he didn’t know why they bothered going to school. He was a real piece of work.

At first his statements bothered me, even hurt me. But after awhile he sounded so absurd and ignorant, and considering I knew full well my abilities, it stopped bothering me. I realized, however, that I had a small taste of what it was like to be judged based on what you were on the outside. It definitely was not a good feeling. While I will contend that the prejudice shown towards a woman is minor compared to the prejudice faced by a black person, or anyone else who is considered different in the world of the white man, I felt I could sympathize with racism a little better for my experience.

There are people who assert that racism is not only a white man vs. the rest of the world issue. Today, they are correct. There are scores of blacks, Jews, and Muslims who disapprove and hate the world of the white man. While I wish it were not so, I hardly blame them. The reality is, racism started as an issue of white against black. Within fifty years of the Emancipation Proclamation, black people in America were still subjugated to second class citizenship. A hundred years later, they couldn’t take it anymore. How can we blame them? I honestly feel that had we given black people full citizenship, full rights, a good education, and equal opportunities right after the Civil War, the racial hatred wouldn’t exist in America today.

There are also people who claim that all blacks are African and Africans are tribal, therefore it is a genetic reality that they will be violent. I find this theory particularly amusing, because I have yet to have ever known a black person who had a temper that was worse than any white person I have known. If you watch the show Boiling Points on MTV (a show that attempts to enrage people in everyday situations, to see how long they can keep their cool) you will find that for the most part, the black contestants keep their cool – much more than whites or Hispanics (seriously, white women are bitches, it’s scary). If you want to use riots, looting, whatever, as proof of this tribal mentality, I don’t think the argument holds. Most of these situations occur under extreme duress and white men are just as susceptible to bad behavior under similar circumstances. Besides, to say that only Africans have a tribal mentality is pretty dense. Human beings have a tribal mentality. Just because the conflict plays out on a different scale in Africa than in the rest of the world doesn’t make Africans any more tribal than white men. White men are pretty damn tribal when it comes to colonizing and starting wars and killing people. One of the worst villains in history was a white man. Is he excused because he is white? Other white men kicked his ass, so I guess not. I suppose my point is that no race, religion, or culture is without blame. We are all responsible, at least, we all should be responsible.

It would be interesting if we could live in a world, just for a short time, where all outlying characteristics of our race, religion, culture, gender, and sexuality were obscured from view. If there was a time when we all just looked like blobs, with similar sounding voices – no way to establish our identities on sight or sound. No names, no accents, nothing to give us away. Because really, that is what we are. A bunch of living, breathing blobs just trying to make our way in this world. So why should any of us waste time with racism?

Perhaps we should all take time to get to know the “others” in our midst. Talk to the black man we see every day, hurrying to work in the same direction. Talk to the Muslim we see frequently in the supermarket. Talk to the Chinese woman who lives two doors down. I bet we could all find similarities in our lives and our experiences, not to mention hear an interesting story about someone who lives a different life. They could even become your best friend. But with racism in your heart, you’ll never know.

9 comments:

deviousdiva said...

Thank you Mel for posting this incredibly moving and inciteful post. Would you consider posting an excerpt over at my blog with a link to yours so people can go and read the full article?

Ethnocentrist said...

Feel better exorcising all that white guilt and privilege, Melusina?

Anonymous said...

I reckon we should have ONE day where we didn't have to answer that question ethnyperson. Don't you?

The SeaWitch said...

Good post Mel. You made a lot of interesting observations.

you will find that for the most part, the black contestants keep their cool – much more than whites or Hispanics (seriously, white women are bitches, it’s scary)

I've watched this with my husband several times and it's true...white women really ARE bitchy on that show. My boiling point is 0.1 nanoseconds.

While I will contend that the prejudice shown towards a woman is minor compared to the prejudice faced by a black person, or anyone else who is considered different in the world of the white man

I'm not sure that I agree that racism towards women is minor compared to racism suffered by others. Women did not have rights for most of our existence in human civilisation...not even in our own countries. At least black men in their own countries had some rights. Women didn't even get the right to vote in Greece until 1952 and in Portugal in 1976! Hundreds of thousands of women are sold into the sex slave industry even now. Open up your Greek newspaper and look at the employment section...if we're over 35, we're basically unhirable in this country. For centuries we have been treated as chattel by men. Even your previous boss would have known enough to shut his mouth with his derogatory comments if he had a black employee instead of a woman. No, I think if anyone 'understands' racism suffered by blacks, it's women.

BallAndDust said...

The problem that I find with this post is its attention on white males, as if white males are the inventors of racism.

This statement is so incredibly false:

There are people who assert that racism is not only a white man vs. the rest of the world issue. Today, they are correct. There are scores of blacks, Jews, and Muslims who disapprove and hate the world of the white man. While I wish it were not so, I hardly blame them. The reality is, racism started as an issue of white against black.

Racism is not something that was invented by white males after the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor was it started with the beginning of the trans-atlantic slave trade in the 1500's.

It goes much farther than that. Its roots lie in the competition of resources from when we finally learned to stand on two legs.

If you really believe that the white man invented racism, you should try living in countries that are far more xenophobic than Greece or the United States. Try China.

When one of the relatives of my Chinese friends was visiting them here in the states, she referred to an African-American as a "Black Devil". Did this racist remark stem from historical invention by the white man?

There are racists of all races, creeds, and colors. Everywhere in the world.

I'll tell you the potential consequence of this emphasis on this whole "the white man is the root of all evil" stuff.

You piss us off.

You make us not care about the issue because while we acknowledge that racism exists, you unfairly point fingers at us, and that makes us indifferent.

And mind you, I currently sit on the board of a non-profit that works with urban teens, most of whom are minorities. I've helped the children of Hispanic migrant workers in Oregon learn to read. While in college, I spent my time volunteering to supervise minority teenagers on their first job for the city of Seattle.

I don't help these kids because of their race. I help them because they need it.

Bullshit like your post just makes me less enthusiastic about what I do.

Kosta

melusina said...

Well gee whize Kosta, I'm sorry I presented my post from MY point of view, which centers around my own experiences with "white male" misogynists and MY concerns over the prejudices "white people" have towards people who are different. I never said that anyone other than a "white male" was racist and I sure as hell never said ALL "white males" were racist.

Thanks alot for confirming how "white males" react to what women have to say. You said a lot.

BallAndDust said...

Mel,

Your post goes beyond your personal experiences, and that is what I'm taking you to task for. Again you stated:

The reality is, racism started as an issue of white against black.

First of all that statement is false. Or please say if you believe that is true. Second, how is does that statement reflect YOUR personal experiences. You are making a statement that whites invented racism. And that is simply an uninformed statement. It is indicative of what Ethnocentrist implied: white liberal guilt.

How much history do you really know, by the way?

I'm not denying that a problem exists with white males regarding misogyny and racism, but are you really looking for a solution?

You see, there are two important aspects of communication. There is what a person intended to say, and what the recipient heard.

Sure, my comment says a lot about how white males often react. It says a lot about how we feel and think about the statements on racism and how it focuses on white males.

You can say We are all responsible, at least, we all should be responsible.

What exactly should I be responsible for? What did I do for which I should be held accountable? What am I supposed to do? What minorities have I personally persecuted? I've helped them at different times and I've never done anything to harm them in any physical or financial way. So again. What is the basis for this responsibility that I'm supposed to bear?

I'll leave you with this statement. If you actually want progress on the issue of discrimination, you may want to reconsider how you can more effectively engage white males and not put them on the defensive. Think about how they may hear what you say, and you might be surprised with how positive the responses will be.

Just my 2 cents on that topic.

Kosta

PS. Regarding the Boiling Points show. Using that as an example to demonstrate that white women are bitchier is such a joke. Such shows can portray people any way they want in with the right editing. I remember an interview with Eddie Murphy where he discussed how he ridicules whites. He made a point about what an outrage would erupt if a white comedian made similar remarks about blacks. And that is true. It is acceptable in this PC world for minorities to ridicule whites, yet it is not acceptible for the reverse to occur. Why does this double standard exist? You know the term, reverse racism. It's alive and well.

melusina said...

Well, in my education of American history I don't know of any other racism other than white vs. everyone else, at least as far as early America is concerned. I certainly can't make a treatise on racism all over the world, as I don't know what is going on there, except by means of media reports, and I don't like to base my opinions on those. My impetus for change evolves from my country of birth, America, and my race, which is white.

My problems with making comments on racism in other countries lies not only in the media, but in how people tell history. Obviously, I can get a very different perspective of what happened in Turkey in 1922 from a Turk than from a Greek. My relationships with Greeks make me want to believe the Greek side, but is that really appropriate? What about the Japan/China discrepancy about Japanese occupation of China? What history can I believe? And for that matter, can I really believe what I've been taught about the U.S.? How can I ever really know, except from what I've seen and experienced?

I have always held the belief that we should all be responsible for our actions, our attitudes, and our beliefs. I realize that such an idea runs contrary with Christianity (and perhaps other religions, although I wouldn't know) because a fundamental belief of Christianity seems to be passing off responsibilty to God, or Satan, or whatever the hell. But yes, I maintain that we should all be responsible. Why shouldn't we be?

My father and brothers are (obviously) white males, and they don't take issue with such an attitude. If anyone should, perhaps my father should, because he couldn't find work at the age of 54, despite a successful 30 year career in the philothranpic industry, because he was an "old, white male". I think all sides of racism are bullshit,
I'm not even a fan of affirmative action - because I sure as hell don't want a job just because I fill a racial/gender/social requirement - I want a job because I'm the best damn person for it. But in some jobs I've had to wonder, is it because I'm a handicapped female? Or do they really believe in my abilities?

I just can't buy into the threat that someone who is "different" from me is dangerous. And it pisses the hell out of me that there are white men, white people, who continue to be so hateful of other races/cultures/religions. So yes, I am particularly hard on whites. I think I have a right to be. Those people make me ashamed to be white. And any other white person who doesn't discriminate should be ashamed too. But they aren't, because...who knows.

PS. I'm not even going to get into the whole white woman argument with you. You aren't a white woman, you may have dated several of us, married us, but you don't know the inner workings of our social "structure". We ARE bitches.

BallAndDust said...

Mel,

I certainly will not claim to know the inner workings of women. I will disagree that all women are bitches. In fact, I think women are wonderful and they are quite a source of inspiration for me. I'll just leave it at that.

Well, I'm glad we had this discussion as I now have a better understanding of what you are trying to say.

I agree that we all should be responsible for our actions, our attitudes, and our beliefs. And that is in line with Christianity as we have been given free will.

But I don't see how I can be held responsible for things that were done by others who are not even related to me hundreds of years ago to today. I try to make a positive difference in the lives of people regardless of race. Sure, I don't go around looking for white supremists to challenge their viewpoint, but who does.

As far as the events of 1922, I would offer you to read an account by the US Consular General, George Horton, in his book "Blight of Asia". When writing his account of the sacking of Smyrna, he would not take any testimony from Greeks or Armenians in order to ensure the most unbiased historical account he could.

In terms of history, I find it is necessary to read multiple sources, and to glean out the exaggerations and to fill in facts that were conveniently left out by the other side.

Indirectly you have admitted ignorance on the roots of racism. I think I'll just end my contribution to this discussion at that. Thank you for this discussion. I don't think I have much else to say.

Kosta