Monday, September 24, 2007

Come the Stones

Pretty Lady has said it before, but unaccountably, no-one has stoned her. She suspects it is because they didn't believe her; or, more likely, they weren't paying attention. So she will say it again. Pretty Lady is racist. Racist, racist, racist. A veritable bigot. Prejudicial, jingoistic, agoraphobic, narrow-minded, unempathic, and uninterested in the problems of others.

Just so we're clear.

Perhaps the reason that no heavy, jagged objects have yet emerged through Pretty Lady's windows, despite the above confession, is that she lives in New York City. She has often noticed that native New Yorkers, of any color or creed, are up-front about their bigotry. Naive as she is, she had never heard the term 'towel-head,' used to describe a cab driver of Islamic extraction, before moving here. She had not been the subject of open contempt, due to her inferior goy nature, from a gentleman wearing a top hat and side curls. She was unaware that, in certain quarters, the expression 'stoopid f***ing Pollacks' is standard, particularly when referring to the wiring schemata of formerly Pole-occupied apartments.

Despite this pervasive racial pejoration, however, the streets of New York seem remarkably free of riots, marches, sit-ins and Unfortunate Incidents. In fact, in Pretty Lady's psychically sensitive experience, the level of Fraught Tension is considerably lower than her experience of the liberal, progressive, Consciousness Raised Bay Area, where she spent a good many of her formative years.

For in New York City, a group of young black males boarding the train is simply a group of young black males boarding the train. In the Bay Area, a group of young black males boarding the bus is an opportunity for all of us to Remain Calm, Now, and not get all anxious that this group of young men who are not necessarily thugs is about to Cause Trouble, no, we mustn't jump to conclusions, despite their downright aggressive demeanor, and the fact that one of them just swiped your wallet.

Indeed, in the liberal, progressive Bay Area, nobody is racist at all. Everybody has a black friend, an Asian friend, and a Hispanic friend, and they all walk down the street together. Everybody is exactly the same; the same age, the same socioeconomic bracket, with the same interests and pastimes and vegetarian tendencies. Only skin color varies. Everybody is bisexual, too.

(These liberal, progressive, homogeneous Bay Area attitudes are very stringently enforced; anybody who deviates from them by so much as a whisper, however misinterpreted, is universally ostracized without explanation and never mentioned again. Pretty Lady can't fathom how those Rodney King riots ever took place. )

Perhaps the reason that New York retains its veneer of abrasive intolerance is that in New York, there are simply too many races to keep track of. To be properly non-racist in New York, one would have to have an Ethiopian friend, a Nigerian friend, a Hasidic friend, a French friend, an Irish friend, an Orthodox friend, a Polish friend, a Russian friend, a Puerto Rican friend, an Ecuadoran friend, a Syrian friend, an Iranian friend, an Afghani friend, a Slovakian friend, a Cuban friend, a Japanese friend, a Chinese friend, a Filipino friend, a Thai friend, a Hindu friend, and an Indonesian friend. People's schedules are simply too busy for maintaining all these friends, not to mention the cost of all those language classes. It is much easier to remain insular and unenlightened.

Surprisingly, however, everybody gets along, most of the time. Perhaps this is because we all have to work so hard just to pay the rent. Economic desperation transcends mere bigotry; New Yorkers, by and large, are able to say "I don't like your kind, but maybe we can work together."

In fact, it is Pretty Lady's inchoate theory that 1) deep down, we are all racist, for the very good reason that survival of the species demands that we be wary of funny-looking strangers; and 2) racism suppressed does far more damage than racism openly and cheerfully expressed. When a person is busy defending herself against charges of bigotry, however justified, this allows little energy left over for actually getting to know people, in an open, honest, organic way.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't like casting stones, but I profoundly disagree with you and find this post deeply sad and disturbing. "Deep down, we are all racist, for the very good reason that survival of the species demands that we be wary of funny-looking strangers." I know that evolutionary biology is often twisted in various ways to "prove" various social ills, but for someone like me, who has studied evolutionary biology, this statement is meaningless and disappointing.
D.

prettylady said...

Why is this post disturbing you, D? It is profoundly optimistic in its perspective. It is also not remotely about evolutionary biology.

For if we acknowledge that it is an innate human tendency to trust the familiar and be suspicious of the unfamiliar--if we acknowledge a universal tendency toward racism--then we are unable to cast stones. We bring the negativity, the complexity, the ambiguity and uncertainty of human interactions into the light, and examine it for what it is, free of defensiveness and shame.

And then we can discover which fears are groundless, and which are based genuinely in fact. We transcend our racism by removing the fear of being stigmatized by it.

Surely you cannot argue that we are doing a good job of eradicating racism by sweeping it under the rug.

Anonymous said...

PL, I totally agree with the last statement you just made. "Sweeping it under the rug" has never done any good for anyone. In fact, it has made things much more difficult for some who choose to take this attitude when an uncomfortable subject comes up, or any subject for that matter. Why are people so afraid to talk about things, uncomfortable or not? I hold the position that discussing things can only benefit those involved. My parents raised me to be open about all kinds of ideas and to question and discuss. We TALKED about things at the dinner table and most of the time we never agreed with each other. We still don't some 20 years later. Racism exists, period. Are we as human beings prone to racism on a daily basis? Of course, but I think it's mostly based on stereotypes and not necessarily the big word RACISM.
L.

Anonymous said...

I think it's true that we are naturally wary of "funny-looking strangers", but if they are not strangers, if we grew up with them as neighbors, colleagues, friends and family*, they are not strangers. If we did not live in such segregated communities in our formative years, it wouldn't be the case that "everybody is racist".

I think what you're calling racism is more of a class issue than a race issue. When a group of young black men who are all dressed in business suits, checking their blackberries and reading the Wall Street Journal get on the train, you have a completely different reaction than to the group of thuggy-looking and -sounding guys, one of whom just stole your wallet.


* your theory ignores the experience of multi-racial people; they have parents who look different from each other, so maybe neither of those two parental types/races will be funny-looking to the kid. And the ripple effect goes out from there; multi-racial kid, multi-racial community, cross-cultural understanding.

another anon

prettylady said...

Other anon: Yes, indeedy. Exactly. So why are all these stones flying all over the place?

prettylady said...

If we did not live in such segregated communities in our formative years, it wouldn't be the case that "everybody is racist".

A thought: Let's go forcibly desegregate India, and Africa, and Thailand, and Russia, and the Middle East (oops, that's happening as we speak) and all of South America! Come on! Who volunteers?

DuckMan said...

Having the friends you mention, Pretty Lady, shouldn't be a problem. So long as you don't have to include Italians, Ukrainians ("You no say Ukraine is weak. I am from Ukraine. Ukraine is game to you?"), Swiss, Brits, Haitians, Jamaicans, Vietnamese, and Reformed Jews. Oh, and Lebanese. One must maintain standards.

And Rodney King would never have gotten beaten up in San Fran. On the otherhand, in LA...

Anonymous said...

i don't understand your point, PL.

another anon

Chris Rywalt said...

My favorite diversity story comes from the school district where my kids went to preschool. In Clifton, New Jersey, the school district wanted to serve their students better, so they sent out a questionnaire to find out what languages were spoken at home. This being 21st century America, you'd expect to find most non-English speakers using Spanish at home, or anyway that's what I'd expect. What they found out, though, was that the largest group of non-English speaking Clifton residents speak Polish, closely followed by Spanish, then Korean, followed by a list of languages that looks like the membership of the United Nations: Farsi, Japanese, Thai, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, you name it. I don't think Navajo was on the list, but that's about the only one missing.

That made me look around at the diversity my kids live with. I grew up in Staten Island, which is part of New York City -- the most homogeneous part. Almost all of Staten Island was Italian Catholic. What was left was good old American black. (My father occasionally hired a handyman we only knew by the name "Nigger Charlie.")

But my kids here in New Jersey are in constant contact with Turks, Poles, Irish, Italians (actual Irish and Italians from Italy, not from the Bronx), Brazilians (a lot of Brazilians it seems lately), Indians, Afghans, Persians, Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Cubans, Guatemalans, Lebanese, Palestinians, and one French-Canadian. And Puerto Ricans, of course. Lots of Puerto Ricans (it is still New Jersey, after all).

It's really quite amazing.

prettylady said...

DuckMan: Too late. The gentleman who is currently sharing my living quarters is Italian.

Chris: It is amazing, isn't it. New York City and its environs is, I believe, a blueprint for what the rest of the world will someday look like.

i don't understand your point, PL.

Okay.

Point #1: The world is a big, big place.

Point #2: People have developed many, many different societies and cultures in this big place.

Point #3: When people from different societies and cultures interact, there are bound to be problems.

Point #4: This makes people wary of differences.

Conclusion: Denying the differences and excoriating openly wary individuals does not help people get along better. Acknowledging both the differences and the wariness does help people get along better.

Is that clearer?

Chris Rywalt said...

I have trouble believing that everywhere isn't the same. Or that at least all major American cities are like this.

One of the benefits of never traveling anywhere is never being disappointed.

Anonymous said...

If we lived in integrated communities I think we would be more racist.

It's easy to hate racism when one does not have contact with and have to deal with the 'other'.

T.L.