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Race Form

Posted by Dirck on 6 November, 2013

This is really far outside my usual line of contemplation, but its all I have on hand.  I was accused of racism this morning, and I’m rather stirred up about it.

The accusation comes in what is a mostly-troll response to a comment I’d left on another blog.  That blog was commenting, quite rightly, that it’s really not on to make a mockery of other cultures via Hallowe’en costumes, and my comment responded to a suggestion that wearing a costume referent of any other culture is inappropriate as it seeks to minimize the oppression of that culture at the hands of Europeans.  I pondered whether this injunction really applied where the costume was non-caricatured and the non-European culture in question hadn’t been serious worked over by whitey (my example being Japan, who pretty much ignored/avoided the problem until 1865, then dove in face first and became a colonial power in their own right not forty years later).  Accuser apparent sees my question about possible middle ground as an attempt to “erase the true meaning” attached to…

…and here I use a phase with careful consideration of the meaning, ethnic costume.  I’m wearing, at the moment, the costume current in North American office workers.  “Costume” is not in itself a word implying zany, cartoonish, misappropriative mockery.  The costume I wear right now becomes a costume in that sense if I get a tie with a bit of wire in it and apply a sticker saying Hi, I’m Dilbert to my pocket.  There are many examples of the offensive type of costume predicated upon ethnic and cultural stereotypes, but I have it in my head that to wear an authentic national costume is not absolutely and necessarily, as outlined above, an insult to that nation.

But apparently, because I’m white, I’m racist.  And, looking at other comments this person left, it is impossible for a white person to not be racist, and it is also impossible for anyone who is not white to be racist.

The irony of this statement apparently does not occur.

Now, my problem with this, apart from not liking the accusation, is that there’s a nugget of truth in it.  Racism and sexism are rather built into North American society, and it takes a certain effort to not give into it.  I know that my ideas of other races, cultures, and nationalities (not all the same thing, of course) are coloured by having grown up where and when I did.  I probably fail more often than I’d like to notice that I’ve said something abominably hurtful.  However, I do ride herd on these terrible ideas that have seeped into me, and make an effort to stamp them out by application of reason.  “All {insert group here} are like that” is almost guaranteed problematical, because unless it’s something like “All Balinese people breath air” that sort of generalization is almost always wrong, because however close one might come to a feasible generalization (All Scots like bagpipe music) you will find a functionally large percentage that it’s not so for.  I know this, and in making sure I examine my generalizations in light of it, I work to avoid being a racist.  Or sexist.  Or similar.

I might, by the way, go so far as to accept generalizations like “All First Nations people in Canada are suffering the lingering and current effects of a couple of centuries’ ill-treatment at the hands of the colonizing power” or something similar regarding African-Americans in the US.  This is because the effect is a result of outside forces, the sidelong glances of those who don’t examine the urge to sidelong glancing and the more active hurling of racist tags, and however firmly one ignores it, it keeps happening.

Which brings me back to the topic of racism being only and necessarily a thing done by white folks only.  I taught English a short time in Korea, shortly before the turn of the century.  Being a large, pale, bearded object, I was a visible minority, and worse, one who hadn’t even bothered to learn the language.  I don’t fault Koreans, who I will now speak of as a homogeneous heap for a moment, as their national history involves plenty of invasions by other nations who didn’t look much different from them; xenophobia, or at least moderate suspicion of obvious foreigners, as a national trait becomes understandable.  It does not, however, make it at all pleasant.  Imagine being in a subway car, feeling the covert observation of at least a dozen people, and knowing that behind those sideways looks ride thoughts in the form of, “Rape?  Theft?  Public defecation?  What exactly is it you’re about to get up to?”

Now, I say “imagine” to my fellow European-descent North Americans, because for most of us this isn’t something that happens.  It is, however, something that happens fairly frequently to people of various other colours all the time.  It is unpleasant.  I makes you wonder if perhaps you’re not so far removed from the committing whatever indecency the surrounding majority expects, and even when you’re not feeling that way, there is the urge to scream, “Knock it off!  I’m just sitting on the damn subway!”  Which would, of course, also confirm a less specific those people don’t know how to behave idea.  I only had to deal with it for months.  I freely admit I can’t imagine how a lifetime of suspected minority would affect my mental balance.

So, I get why the accuser is so damn angry.  But I could wish this anger were not being vented in my direction, merely because I’m of a different race.  We’re both people.  We’re both capable of racism, and of being victims of racism.  I have an unhappy notion that racism, as well as sexism and all the various disgust of otherness -isms we have to deal with are built into humanity.  The history of humanity has been a big round of “spot the reason it’s OK to hate someone else,” and while now we have the tools to discover that on the whole the similarities between races, nations, genders and fans of different sports teams vastly outweigh the differences, we still seem unable to drop the programming and find constructive ways of interacting.  We can none of us help how we’re made nor where we’re born.  We might want to start not blaming each other for those very things.  The inequities that past wrongs have created won’t vanish, of course, but continuing the past practices is even less likely to produce positive results and inciting your group to hate the my group of isn’t going to move my group to drop its unfounded hatreds.

Oh, one last thing.  I still think the accuser is a raving dink, but raving dink is an assessment of the individual.  I make no assumptions about any larger mass of humanity from the actions of that one.

Today’s pen: Sheaffer Balance Craftsman
Today’s ink: Waterman Washable Blue

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