Wednesday, June 6, 2012

WTF? Not thinking

While some of my friends pay attention to my blog (in much the same haphazard way that I may read theirs occasionally), I suspect that most people who read this have no idea who I am other than what little I may actually write about myself. So, before I go into details with this post, let it suffice to say that I consider myself an average guy who is just generic enough to fit in most places, depending upon how I look and carry myself at any given moment. And I've almost always been that way. I've been an outsider to most groups and yet just enough of an individual with knowledge and personality to be able to deal with people from almost any social/cultural/religious grouping. I've never been a close member of any of those groups but I have close friends who are from almost all of them. As a result, I like to think that I'm fairly diverse in my outlook, opinions and viewpoints.

Put another way, I don't necessarily look Chinese but I speak the language and have lived there. I don't necessarily look Hispanic but I grew up in a largely Hispanic area and was fluent in Spanish at that time (nowadays, if I start a sentence in Spanish I invariable end up in Chinese because I forget the words in Spanish). I don't necessarily look Middle Eastern but have done a great deal of research on some of the cultural and religious customs of that area so I'm not completely ignorant - especially since 2001. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that I've been mistaken for all three of the above at different times.) I don't necessarily look black (or African-American if you prefer, though oddly enough, most of my friends can't stand the term) yet, again because I grew up in largely minority-populated areas, I can fit in well enough with my friends. And perhaps it is because I do have such a diverse background and it is natural for me to talk with anyone regardless of their social/cultural/religious background that I have some of the experiences I do. It has only been in recent years that I have started to realize that most people grow up in a very mono-ethnic area and never leave that area and thus my experiences tend to make me unique (at least with the majority of people with whom I deal). I don't pretend to be an expert, mind you, I just have grown to realize that my background and knowledge is a little different from a lot of other people...

So, that being said, it sometimes amazes me what people will say to someone based solely on their looks. I've worked for a boss who had the temerity to tell me one day that Blacks and Hispanics (I started to leave that word with a lower case "b" but figured if I was going to capitalize the "h" in Hispanic - because I've only ever seen it that way - I should probably do the same for "Blacks" though I've typically seen it in lower case. Is that a form of latent or institutionalized racism?) were genetically inferior to Whites and Asians (ok, see my aside above about blacks and consider I was going to do the same for whites. Does that make it ok?). I've had Black friends (well, now I'm just going to capitalize it for the rest of this post to prevent acrimony) tell me that all Asians looked alike. I've had Asian friends tell me that they don't like Blacks because they're dirty and criminals. I've listened to White people tell me - who didn't know me at all - about how all Arabs are terrorists and we should just nuke all of them back to the stone age. I've listened to some of my Indian and Pakistani friends complain about the hypocrisy of Americans (typically Whites) and their faux-religious foreign policy that discriminates against them - even if they're just as Christian as the Whites who would otherwise bomb their home countries back to the Stone Ages.

Yes, one would think that after hearing all of these things many times in my lifetime, I might become somewhat inured to these comments. However, that is apparently not the case. Recently, in my office, one lady with whom I work started making asinine, racist comments about Asians and then using her fingers to slant her eyes as a way to discern Japanese and Chinese (Japanese eyes slant upward while Chinese eyes slant downward, according to her). I rarely take anything personally in my office but I have to admit that this lady got to me and I had to walk away before I said something that would be totally right but also grounds for termination. Then, after doing it again yesterday (she's done it a few times over the last several weeks) while asking if I wanted to order Chinese food with her team, I politely (ok, well, as politely as I could manage) declined stating that I preferred my wife's cooking. One of her co-workers must have said something to her because when I came back by her desk later, she stopped to ask me if my wife was Chinese. I answered in the affirmative and walked on (because I was worried I would say more if she said something else). She has worked to avoid me since then - as best I can determine because she's embarrassed realizing the things she's said were totally wrong and she would not have said them to any Chinese person and I'm probably the closest she will ever get to that ("y'know, 'cuz ya can't understand anything they say 'cuz they got those ter'ble accents!"). So, in short, she knows she was wrong because she made comments that would be publicly unacceptable but were ok to someone whose background she assumed based on their appearance - though I've made no attempt to hide my family. Yep, that's what I refer to as "not thinking". Or stupid - take your choice.

What gets me is that they will make all of these comments to others who they believe are like them but won't try to address these issues publicly and try to resolve some of the underlying issues. Thus, they continue to perpetuate and fester because no one will deal with them. But, saying that, maybe I will take up the opportunity to discuss this lady's comments with her in the near future and see if maybe I can help to get one person to understand some of these differences. As the saying goes, think globally but act locally. And every change starts with one person.


  1. I, too, had a similar situation growing up, as you know. Multiple races, many-colored friends. It's informed so much in my life and now I can talk quite comfortably with my students about race. Some teachers don't touch that issue AT ALL and I find that sad, sad, sad. We miss a greater opportunity to understand others if we pretend to be the same as everyone else and pretend to be blind to race. Remember the "Love See No Color" shirts? It's a nice sentiment, but really, you can't NOT see color, or race or acknowledge a difference. What you CAN do is get your head out of your butt and learn something new.

    I, too, have heard how people talk about Obama because he's Black (I follow your lead in this capitalization thing, which started cracking me up). The assumption is that I hold the view as they do because I am completely and totally Scottish/Welsh in genetics and looks. People assume that I also hold racist beliefs because I'm white. I've seen this assumption among both Blacks and Whites and on all accounts they are wrong. I also find that people assume I'm Republican/Conservative/Christian because of where I live and I often want to smack noggins when they make that assumption, but that's socially unacceptable, isn't it?

  2. Yeah, I agree with you. Stop making race the elephant in the room and discuss it openly. We don't have to agree but it would be helpful to at least recognize where differences are and see if we can break down some of the barriers that seem to separate us (funny, but I'm remembering I just did a post on walls recently).

    Strangely enough, I've rarely, if ever, been accused of being racist based solely on the color of my skin. And no one has ever accused me of something because of where I live. Of course, they have to sort of hear me only once to know that stereotypes go out the window as far as I'm concerned - I love to break stereotypes!

    And no, knockin' noggins is not socially unacceptable if you're responding socially unacceptable behavior. Just sayin'...

  3. May you be filled with patience and may your co-worker have open ears and be receptive of your comments, but in my experience, these conversations don't go well. Once a person has been making racist remarks in public, they tend to defend them to prove that they are in the right.

    If she comes back with a statement that starts with "But..." I would just sigh and walk away. The conversation can only go down from there. Some people are just not ready or willing to change.

  4. Thanks, James. Unfortunately, patience is not one of my virtues but I have learned with time to try not to argue with those unwilling to be reasonable in their arguments. And, let's face it, people who harbor such ideas and attitudes are not often reasonable, as you note.