29 July 2009

The Race to Racism is Not to the Swift

It would have been fun to watch Hitler come to power under the watch of 24 hour news channels. I wonder if it would have fueled his rise or stifled it. The commentators would have loved the ratings they'd get from defending or attacking such a vile character.

MSNBC's Ed (sounds a lot like, and looks a little like, a leftist Rush Limbaugh) is outraged that Glen Beck (an alarmist from the right) said that Barack Obama is a racist.

It's a topic worth talking about and I think it gets to the difference between race and racism.

If you grow up Latino or Asian in this country, you have a different experience than someone who grows up white or black. If you grow up poor or rich and you have a different experience from someone who grows up middle class. If you grow up in an Italian or Jewish family that clings to its ethnic or religious identity, you have a different experience than someone who grows up Mormon.

Race matters. (As does ethnic group or religion. Without race, religion and ethnicity we'd lose about half our jokes.) Plus, it simply isn't true that a government composed only of Latino Catholic females would be the same as a government composed only of White Protestant males or Asian Baptist transvestites. Race is part of a person's experience and it'd be foolish to discount it.

Racism is the conclusion that members of a particular race (or races) are inferior. Racism settles for less for a swath of humanity.

Pretending that race doesn't matter is a stance only slightly more sophisticated than racism. (Which is like saying that the service at a restaurant is only slightly more sophisticated than waitresses on roller skates).

Believing that race, gender, and ethnic or religious orientation matters and that a community's representatives should roughly match the community is very different from racism. It seems to me that missing this point requires willful ignorance.

3 comments:

Lifehiker said...

I spent a good part of today with a long term friend who's a good guy and pretty successful. I enjoyed his company except for the 15-20 minutes he spewed his fear and hate for "Muslims" and his angst about what the "Mexicans" are doing to our country.

I asked him to tell me specifically what Muslims and Mexicans had done to him or anyone he knows. He had no answer. In fact, he has virtually no contact with individuals in either of these groups.

I surmise that his racism comes from his early life in rural southern Ohio, where provincialism reigns. Such a pity.

I wonder what spoiled Glen Beck?

Anonymous said...

You said, "Believing that race, gender, and ethnic or religious orientation matters and that a community's representatives should roughly match the community is very different from racism. It seems to me that missing this point requires willful ignorance."


It makes sense until "that a community's representatives should roughly match the community". What is left unsaid, is "in terms of their race, gender or ethnicity". Placing race in such a spotlighted, trump card position, dehumanizes the humans underneath the cloak of their race.

A community is made up of people knit together by common humanity and a host of features, of which race is one, gender another, etc. Who the "representatives" are differs according to circumstance, but to think that it has to match the racial makeup of the community in order to be effective is flawed thinking. I am an Hispanic woman whose Asian husband represents me in some circumstances. I represent him in others. We have multiple representatives of multiple communities of which we consider ourselves members, few to none of whom match our races. My mixed race daughters - who are their representatives?

Race does matter in that it is real, at times obvious, apparently concrete. But if a society is civilized, then what brings each together humanly is stronger than the ethnic or racial features that differentiate one from another. To think that one race cannot relate to another is generalized elitism. Men and women may not completely understand one another, but then again, two men might not understand each other either. At some point we have to let go of the self-absorbed naval gazing that demands everyone else understand and accept ME, and get on with an imperfect world and our place in it.

The representatives of a community should be those with proven ability to best represent. Race is only one (often superficial) factor - unless the community in itself is consumed with race to the point of it being its only means of defining itself. And this, of course is sad and shallow indeed.

Jen aka Pinky said...

The comment immediately above mine is brilliant.

Absolutely spot on!

We say that we want to be free of racism, but we continue to place race in a position to determine our identity. I am not my skin color, or my income, or even my successes and failures.

Ron, I think that we can agree that family heritage, culture, and life experience all play into who a person is. It's possible, if not likely, that race factors into this equation. However, I don't see any long-term benefit of placing one's race in a preeminant position.

We are first and foremost, Americans. I'm not Irish American, or German American, or Native American. I'm not a Christian American. (Have you heard of the organizations for Muslim Americans?? Yep)

I am an American. I happen to have all of the above, but it's not how I identify myself.