Though I saw it all around
Never thought I could be affected
Thought that we'd be the last to go
It is so strange the way things turn

Thursday, July 30, 2009

International Blog Against Racism Week

It's International Blog Against Racism Week. I didn't post earlier this week because 1) of all the ranting I needed to get out (thanks for bearing with me) and 2) because it's a week and most people are pretty much done blogging it.

First, some administrivia. The obligatory post of the letter from the Carl Brandon Society on the Tempest vs. Ellison rumble. There's also some good stuff near the end about how to talk about racism.

And let's get the basics out of the way.

In case you didn't know, you should also be aware that it is International Blog against Racism Week.

How do you participate?
1. Announce the week in your blog.
2. Post about race and/or racism: in media, in life, in the news, personal experiences, writing characters of color, portrayals of race in fiction, review a book on the subject, etc. (Linking back here is highly appreciated!) The optional theme this year is "global."
3. Let us know by bookmarking your post on Delicious with "for:ibarw," or comment with a link to your post in one of the link collecting posts.

Basic functioning: Prejudice, the roots of racism
And here I'm just going to address racism, ignoring the lingering cultural and economic effects of slavery.

Okay, so now the pleasantries are over with, lets get the ugly out of the way. I'm prejudiced. Yeah, I am. Sorry about that. But you know what, you are too.

See, prejudice is part of the monkey or lizard brain. It's the part that screams toward the higher brain functions "Not One of Us!" when it sees something it doesn't recognize as one of the tribe. In chickens, it's the part that screams "RUN!" when it sees the shadow of a raptor. It's also the part that discerns your auditory, olfactory, taste, and pain senses as well as the visual. The auditory could come out as "What's that rustling in the bushes?!" Olfactory and taste help us avoid things that would give us the squirts (and worse). And out touch/pain sense keeps us aware of things we may not see, smell or hear.

For millennia the prejudice function of the lower brain kept us part of the "fittest" for survival. It's the part of the brain that quickly figures out if we're in trouble or not. While it's been demonstrated that skin color in humans is highly plastic (we can adjust our appearance in as little as four generations) and that we are all more inter-related than even the most hopeful diversity proponents would wish (DNA Ancestry Project, Family Tree DNA, National Geographic's Genographic Project), human culture (for the most part) still will lump people in "race" piles. This is because it's easier for us to sort ourselves into tribes (and this is way tribal) this way than say by "serial-killers and sociopaths" and "the rest of us". As Wednesday notes in "The Addams Family" when asked about her costume, "I'm a serial-killer. We look just like everybody else."

For a long time, this was an adequate way of "keeping the tribe safe." People who looked different (as in opposite the way people in deep Appalachia look the same) were from "the outside" and "not one of us." Sometime around, oh, let's pick a point, say 4000 BCE that function started causing problems. It was good when maybe you would only see about two hundred people in your entire lifetime. But once we started civilization that function started tripping us up.

Milk, the other homogenized, or "We'll take the blacks and the chinks, but no Irish"
Prejudice in the case of racism is more a function of "who is in and who is out." It's a quick summation of character traits (stereotyping) which becomes a shorthand for cultural biases. Where racism starts becoming transcendent is when those snap judgements bring along their ugly baggage for the trip. So not does the monkey brain start screeching "Not one of us" it triggers other higher brain conscious functions which then say, "Oh, look, an Italian. I wonder if they have pizza with them?" Except for brain surgery, we'll probably not get rid of our monkey brains, they'll continue to screech until we become "transhuman." However, we can, through education and live experience, disconnect the negative cultural stereotypes from the prejudice snap judgements.

You see, modern racism (as in the kind we face here in North America) is a by product of European assumed dominance. The Europeans, safe in their convictions of their God(s) felt they were "better" than all those other peoples scraping a living out of the dust. See, we were civilized and they were the heathen scum. After all, we invented the spork. And from this we have the "purists." I'm not going into their insanity right now, except to say they feel that their views are the "right order of nature." However, history shows how completely screwed up their vision is (see Phrenology).

Right now, modern racism considers basic skin color and body topology. To be crass about it, the blacks, browns, pinks, yellows, and "tannish" divisions of "racial" identity are where we draw the lines. This isn't historical by any means. It wasn't so much than a 500 years ago (25 generations if you will), racism meant than English wouldn't mix with French which is hilarious because just another 22 generations before (1066) the aristocracy of England was suddenly made up of French (well, Norman and Burgundy). You can look at the history of Europe and see racism isn't about just "who's white and who ain't."

And these divisions are still there (Polish jokes anybody?) and were very evident even in the beginning of the 20th Century where former slaves were more welcome in northern US States than Irish, Germans or Italians were. No, seriously. I'm not making this up. Look at any major northeastern city and the "neighborhoods." Those were considered "racial enclaves" formed by the various immigrants for support and mutual protection. Now, to be sure, freed slaves were also marginized and in many cases forced to live completely outside of the cities, but not fully to the extent they were starting in the 1920s (and still are to this day). The 20th Century in the US saw many "civil rights movements" (lower case) which saw "white culture" rise and "black culture" excluded and pushed to the edges. The major reason for this was the death of the abolitionists and the intermarriage of European immigrants until it was difficult to point to who was Irish, Welsh or French.

Higher functioning: Cultural bias
Let's say you're Black in America and you get an urge to go to Africa to see where your ancestors came from. Are you going to be surprised when the Africans do not consider you African, but White North American? It doesn't matter what your skin and body shape look like, to them you're an American and that defaults to White.

Even within the US we have differences in what we consider Race. There are African Americans who "pass" for "white", and this isn't just by their outer appearance. Look at the racial discussions about OJ as he was on trial for killing his wife. Or that conversation about Michael Jackson now that he is dead. In each case, the "Black Community" welcomed them "back." The popularity of OJ and Michael didn't so much make them trans-racial as they were accepted into white culture (aka, "the mainstream"). And then there was the discussion about if Barrak Obama is "black enough."

Then there are other groupings of cultures that the color of one's skin is less important that other things. The Caribbean, South American, and some ancient cultures in the Occidental lands (including northern Africa) didn't delineate between skin color as much as other cultural indicators. Class and allegiance are more important to those cultures.

And then there are highly xenophobic cultures which put our own (North American) racism to shame. The Japanese, as a culture, hold many racial attitudes toward other Asians, their own indigenous culture (although that one is changing), and toward any European type.

Most of all, however, racism is political. It is a direct attempt to disenfranchise a group of people based on cultural squickiness than on ability. It's about making the group perpetrating the racism feel better about itself.

You and your racist friend.
So what we need to do is change the cultural baggage that comes with the prejudice reaction. This is where racism needs to be defeated. People need to learn that this baggage is just that, it's nothing based in reality. To place on others the past misconceptions based on a prejudicial twitch is neither warranted or acceptable in this age.

And because this is a conscious function, this is changeable.

But only if we challenge it. And talk truth to power about it.

I've read on other people's blogs about how racism is more prevalent in the South (of the US) and I want to call shenanigans. The racism in the South is historical. However, the South, as a culture, has dealt with the problem openly. It's still there. It's still there big time. However "we in the Deep North" know it's also here, big time. It (and here I'm talking about racism against African Americans) may be about the same as in Civil War time (there were race riots in NYC against integration), but we haven't dealt with it openly and it remains there. In the past months since President Obama was sworn in I've had to deal with racist comments (and have done my own asshattery regarding them). To my shame, I think I've only challenged about 50% of those being made in my presence.

Playing the Cracker Card
Lately we have had a spate of "Reverse Discrimination". I want to call bull shit on this. What this is mostly is that those in a previous position of privilege suddenly fund themselves without that privilege. They don't comprehend the cultural issues surrounding racism and so shout out that they aren't getting theirs.

The Connecticut firefighters (one of whom is hispanic)? If the city had promoted black officers who either hadn't taken the test or had scored way below them, they'd have a case (it would be countered by affirmative action, but they'd still have a case). As it is the city said, "Hmm, there seems to be some cultural bias with the test, that's against the law, we better throw it out and not promote anybody until we fix it." Until the Supreme Court rewrote the law (conservative activist judges, heaven forfend) and smashed their previous guidance (so much for Starry Decisis) and wrote in a precedent not found in the law, it was perfectly acceptable.

And then there are those who continue to spout racial comments and when called on them say, "Sorry, ignorant white person. I didn't know." Now, that's an acceptable excuse, in my book, except when they continue to make the same mistake over and over again. Then the excuse is really, "I'm white and I don't care."

Just like sinning, you have to make the effort to change or any forgiveness is null and void.

And with that, I think I've rambled on way too long for a blog post.

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