Monday, November 9, 2009

confessions of a white girl

There is an issue that has been weighing on me of late, for most of my life really, but this is something I have to get off my chest. Racism. I don't understand it. Now, I don't understand all sorts of bigotry and hatred, but the one on the table today is racism. And racism is as diverse as the victims of it, but it pains me in all its forms.

As I listen to NPR on the drive home or read news story after news story about Fort Hood, I can't but hurt for the tragedy, of course, but I also hurt for the racist implications which are bound to come from this. Religious discrimination aside, and the realities of who Hasan is and his motives aside (because no one really knows yet and that's not the subject right now anyway. I'll let authorities worry about that.), my concern is the impact this will have on those of any Middle Eastern decent.

It is an age-old tale that racism is consistently used as a tool of propaganda to fuel national support. Look at the Japanese concentration camps of the forties. Even look at the north-south racist propaganda of the Civil War. Ask my dad about the plethora of derogatory terms against anyone of Vietnamese decent, or any Asian decent for that matter. It's an important element of the war machine to hate the other side with such passionate vehemence that no one could object. They must despise them.

So we're in a war right now. And I am not going to preach about the war and I know that there are people who educate themselves about this war. However, for most Americans, the average person doesn't know the differences between Muslim nations, let alone ethnic differences and dialects. Over here, whether you come from and Arab nation or anything East of Africa (forgetting of course all of the Muslim African nations), you're just brown. You're a caricature of a whole region. Never mind the incredibly different nuances throughout such a huge region. What matters is that we must hate anyone east right now.

But to get into that I'd have to start quoting Orientalism and I don't have time for that. Nor do you want to read a dissertation. But I do recommend it. It's not only profound, it's timeless and relevant.

But who am I, you ask, to spout such lofty ideals? Who am I to climb on a soapbox? I'm no one, really, just a blogger. Just a white girl who grew up with open eyes, eyes that saw the evils in this world and couldn't accept that. And I hate that white privilege that bestows its understanding and grace upon all those discriminated against. I hate that. If white people aren't taking the power, they (we) assume its theirs (ours) to give. If we aren't the racists, then we still sit on white privilege and claim to understand the evils of racism. Right? Well that's the norm. And I buy that.

But I (and please don't kill me here) can't help that I'm white any more than anyone else can help the pigment in their skin. I've done my best in my life to live with an open mind and not buy into the racism machine. I've seen it first hand. I grew up witnessing the pain of some very close Mexican friends and I knew that it was not good to be white. White was bad. White was the Man. So I prayed every night that I would wake up and be beautiful like my best friend Tawnya. What am I saying? I am saying that I learned something from that. That it is okay to witness another perspective.

So I've just tried to keep on learning, studying the roots of racism, keeping an open mind. I've learned much about racism in its different forms from its colonial roots to slave trades and this is what I think (now, what I think doesn't really matter, but here it is anyway).

What I think is that the new-agey colorblind let's all just get along rainbow kids method doesn't work. And it doesn't work because we're not a colorblind utopian society on mars. We're humans and we have centuries of human history that just can't be ignored. Centuries of conquering and domination. We can't just sweep all that under the rug and pretend it didn't happen. It did.

Also, this argument of it's not me, it was my grandparents or great grandparents, etc. just does not hold up. For some, the kind of violent racism that you read in books is still happening. There are still nooses in Illinois and it's still dangerous to drive while black or fly while brown. It's not the past; it is still today. For others, it was their childhoods. My parents' generation WAS the civil rights generation and that violence is still palpable for many people, like PTSD. It wasn't so long ago. And slavery in America happened just over a hundred years ago. For most nations, that's a minute. America is young and we shouldn't just pretend that our entire childhood and adolescence wasn't spent in dominance and abuse of others.

Instead of erasing the past or the present wrong, instead of stepping blindly into a future built on a rocky past, I say we confront these realities. We delve into them. I don't necessarily buy into nationalism but I do know that if we expect to resolve a national consciousness and heal these deep racist wounds, we have to confront it. I don't care if it's not you, if you're not a racist. And I don't care if your great grandmother helped in the underground railroad. I don't even care if you've never been a victim of racism and can't empathise. Swim in these realities. Read slave narratives. Read current accounts of hate crimes and don't just read once, read three times or until you feel for these victims. Cry for them. Cry for yourself because this is your (our) culture. We need to all face the stark and graphic truths of racism at its worst, the worst of our past and the worst of our present.

And then we can mourn. Truly mourn. We can mourn for the transgressions of our ancestors and for others' ancestors. We can mourn for the travesties enacted against our parents and grandparents and great grandparents and their grandparents. We can mourn the history we deserve but don't have, the one based on heroism and great acts. We can mourn that that history is tainted with the skeletons of hatred and bigotry. We can sob in the streets for that which hateful Americans have robbed us of. We can shed tears for those brutalized and imprisoned and treated like animals.

But then we have to be adults again. We have to pick ourselves back up and wipe away the tears and realize that even though our fathers failed us, we now need to parent ourselves. We are responsible for our future actions. We have to be our own moral compass. No more blaming others and no more hiding behind others' mistakes. We all have to move forward consciously and without naivete, always questioning our actions and motives, actively checking our behavior and teaching our children to exude understanding and coexistence.

That's what I think anyway. But what do I know? I'm just a white girl from Southern California.

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