Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Racism is so profoundly stupid.

This morning, on my drive to work (yes, I listen to commercial radio programming in the morning--NPR is for later in the day, when I'm prepared to hear 1/2 hour programs on spinning organic llama yarn in New Hampshire or depressing war statistics) a guy called in to protest his cousin's wedding because he (the cousin) is planning to marry a Hispanic woman. He yammered on for five minutes about the 'purity of the white race' and said he hoped his cousin would eventually realize he's 'making a huge mistake.' As a parting shot, he said, 'I mean, Hitler had it right, you know? Really, think about it.' To which I could only say: Damn, son.

What do you do with a person like that? I like to think that they don't really exist, that there's the subtle everyday racism (security guards following Black patrons around the mall, people locking their car doors as they drive through ethnic neighborhoods) which is, of course, terrible enough, but that the only explicitly racist folk still around are the same six idiots who keep showing up on Jerry Springer's "Klanfrontation" shows. Oh my my. I realize that saying "Racism is bad" is hardly taking an especially brave stance--sort of like taking up arms against gender violence or anti-Semitism isn't particularly novel, or like the politicians who say, "I'm pro-family." Granted, it's usually a cover-up for deeply disturbing anti-gay bias, but really--who's going to say, "I'm staunchly anti-family. If I'm elected, there will be mandatory divorce for every couple over the age of 25, and all children will be sent to orphanages."?

Anyhow, there are lots of reasons why racism is stupid. Here are several, just off the top of my head...
Race is not a biological classification, ie, if you're looking solely at DNA, you'll find as much variation within a group of "white" people as you will within a group comprised of multiple races. We're all different, but we're all basically the same.

Race is a social construction, which doesn't mean (of course) that it doesn't have power. Any history buff can tell you that who has been considered "white" in the USA has changed over the past 100 years. When lots of German immigrants were arriving, the people already in the US put out signs in their stores saying, "No Germans need apply." Germans weren't considered white; then the Irish came, and the same thing happened to them; then the Eastern and Southern Europeans arrived, and anti-Slavic bias and slurs like "guinea" came with them. Now all these people are considered "white," and Hispanics, Arab/South Asian-Americans and Blacks are getting the raw end of the deal. Granted, these groups have been getting shafted for quite some time in the US.

So, to sum up. Racism is stupid and based on distinctions that, while important, are not germane to the majority of daily interaction. Awareness of racial and ethnic difference is ok, and even helpful (as if we could stop being aware of these things anyway). Discrimination and prejudice based on these differences is not.


John said...

Anne, where have you been for the last six years of my life? I like how you added the "so" into "Racism is SO profoundly stupid" (capitalization done on my part for even more emphasis). Those two simple letters added more to the statement than you could know.

And I'm all about spinning organic llama yarn ... only while watching Jerry Springer "Klanfrontation" marathons, though.

In all seriousness, you bring up a very sad reality. What I can't handle is racism within my own family. My grandfather uses anecdotes from his childhood in Southern California to justify his prejudice against Hispanics. I have let his comments slide my entire life, until recently. I found that combatting his racism only unearthed even deeper hatred. Now all I can say is, "Damn, son."

A-Dub said...

Yes....racism is so stupid. I agree. An amusing case of selective racism - my ex boyfriends parents didn't like that we were together (though they tried to say they were only thinking of how their "racist relatives" would view the relationship). He's now dating an Asian woman...and she was welcomed with wide open arms. Gotta love it!