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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Resigned Racism

Unfortunately, it's been something of a slow news week these last couple of days, unless you count the media whoring that is both sides of the aisle regarding Cindy Sheehan. (On Ms. Sheehan, I think it's shameless how she's been ascribed what I feel is undue authority on the issue of the war solely because of the death of her son. Why her? Why not the hundreds of other military families who have lost someone in Iraq? But then again, the conservatives are crossing a line when implying that Ms. Sheehan is killing the troops by disagreeing with the war. They call her unpatriotic and demoralizing, but I think it is they who are being treasonous by arguing against the freedom to speak out against the president. Either way, both sides are guilty of oversimplifying the issue and turning an everyday mother into a living martyr.) So, with it in mind that I think CNN, MSNBC, and other mass media are culpable in creating the story around Ms. Sheehan, I want to talk about something completely different: the racial environment in Tucson. Or, more appropriately, what racial environment? I had been paying attention to the Minutemen issue and border security for the past couple of months, and the strange thing I had noticed was that a lot of crazy political stories were coming out of Tucson. So, it was with some apprehension that I delved into the act of moving here. And, now that I'm here, I kind of get what that was all about. Tucson is a tiny spot of blue in the sea of red that is the state of Arizona. The conservatives have the mentality of a siege army: they surround Tucson and are determined to overrun it. And, as with anything in politics, when faced with opposition, say it louder and prouder. The weapon of choice in Tucson seems to be bumper stickers: "Annoy a Liberal -- Learn. Work. Succeed." meets "Pray to God to protect us from his followers". But, the red/blue face-off is hollow to me. I have never felt further from the ideals of either party here, for I cannot escape the basic fact that, in Tucson, we're basically talking about white people arguing against white people. Having been in Ithaca for the last six years, I took for granted the racial diversity of Cornell University; coming here, I'm reminded that Asian Americans are only 2-3% of the American population. Black people? What black people? I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of African Americans I've met here (and half that number live in this complex, the aforementioned pimp and girlfriend). This morning, I went to my orientation session, and I am the only incoming Asian female in the graduate program in my department. Asians and blacks are practically non-existent in this town, but what seems to be universal is Mexicans, not only in reality, but in mindset. What has disturbed me ever since setting foot in Tucson is the seemingly ubiqutous "they" that exists on both sides of the aisle -- they (a euphemism for the "border-jumpers" or the "illegals" or even the "wetbacks" though never is even the word "Mexican" heard) are blamed for the high crime rate, the impossible rates of car theft, the rent prices, the ever-present border patrol, and more. Liberals and conservatives alike have espoused a resigned intolerance for Mexican immigrants, and I have noticed it is so accepted in Tucson culture that the people I've met naturally assume I know exactly who's being talked about and agree. My community is invisible, but the Mexican question in this city is smothering. The problem is that, in some senses, it's true. This is a city that is only two gas stations from the border, and does have the highest rates of car theft in the country. The southern part of the city is the red-light district, and poor immigrants are forced into crime to survive in this country. But, nothing excuses this kind of distrust of the city's Latino population. Hearing my landlord tell me about how "they" had stolen another resident's car three times, I was reminded of similar attitudes towards my own people in other cities; places where we were blamed for SARS, dirty groceries, gang violence and a refusal to assimilate of American or Canadian culture. It makes me wonder if people naturally scapegoat and naturally create a social underclass based on any visible minority community. If it's not blacks in federal housing, it's Mexican illegals or Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan who are blamed for sounding their prayer bells too loudly, or even protesters like Cindy Sheehan, the liberal minority in this country, blamed for all the deaths of the troops overseas while doing nothing more than erecting a shrine to fallen soldiers. I recently spoke with a friend who argued that the South is an environment of resigned racism, where the minority, so beaten down on all sides by the endless, overt racist attitudes find themselves resigned to the racism, no longer able to stir emotions of anger against the bigoted majority. But for me, the fact that both sides of the aisle are so comfortable in their racism only angers me greater -- it only reminds me how much more must be done by both the majority and the minority and that the problem lies not in racist action, but racist thought so deeply ingrained, it seems unchallengeable. How's that for bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, youthful optimism?

12 Comments:

Blogger Sheldiz said...

hey, welcome back to blogging, jenn! anyway.... my comment is about the first part of the post concerning cindy sheehan. I hate to be a biatch about it, but at some point i've got to say, 'look, your son CHOSE to be in the armed forces. he wasn't drafted. get off your soapbox.' when you join the armed forces, you don't get to pick in which wars you serve. just looking at our country's history with war, there's about a 50/50 chance that you're going to end up in a war you don't agree with. her son knew this going in. is it terrible that her son died in a war that she finds pointless? absolutely. i can't imagine what its like to lose a family member like that. i am in no way saying 'told ya so!' or that she should have expected this outcome or been prepared for the death of her son. her grief is OF COURSE warrented and understood. that being said, we can only rally around her for so long before people stop taking her, and the issue, seriously.

8/18/2005 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

I agree somewhat with your statements, Sheldiz, but I want to add something here to put it in perspective. She seems to have been given, rightly or wrongly, the mantle of spokeswoman for those who have lost children to war, whether this one or any other one. As such, she's given the status to speak as if for them all, if even only by the media, who love this sort of thing.

Also, who are we to decide how she deals with her grief? It seems more and more to me, from talking to friends who agree and disagree with this war, that people deal with grief in their own ways, and this seems to be hers. Even her husband seems baffled by it all, with the divorce proceedings he's started, as he feels she's not dealing with their son's death in a rational manner. That's as may be, but how can we say either way? Sometimes people need to know that their loved ones didn't die for nothing.

Sure he signed up, but remember, the American public, as well as the rest of the world, was signed up to lies, lies, and more lies. I don't believe that anyone signs up to die. Sure they know that it's possible, but not 5 days after you get somewhere, and when you yourself haven't done anything against the person who's decided to kill you and everything/one you represent. Or, in the case of some of the soldiers from over here, not when you're trying to defend their (the attackers') fellow countrymen from attacks.

A good article to read can be found here:

http://www.livejournal.com/users/plaidder/

under the Wednesday, August 17, 2005 heading. Plaidder always has interesting things to say on the subject of the war and its effects on people. *is a fangirl of hers LOL* Comments from others are always interesting too. One of the things that I like about Plaidder's blog (as well as Jenn's) is that they both back up their opinions with sources of information for why they feel as they do, whether I agree or not.

8/18/2005 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

With regards to the other issue, of silent (or not so silent) racism going on, I believe it, not just of Tucson, but everywhere in the US. On our recent trip, we stayed in Michigan for a few days, visiting a friend. (Jenn knows what I mean) On this trip, we had occasion to visit one of the worst areas (by accident) of Detroit, that apparently you could possibly find. I didn't actually find it all that different from any of the deprived areas you'll find here or in Canada, actually so I didn't see what all the hype was about. I had been warned before to keep my son close to me, as the 'blacks there will steal anything not nailed down' (a comment which I found highly offensive and said so, which the woman concerned promptly disappeared) and again, there was none of that. It just seemed to me that it was yet another area where people who weren't white were being shut into to sort of.....well, these aren't the best words, but to sort of keep the issue hidden. It was as if they were confined to that one area, as we ended up on the other side of town (again, by accident) where it was as white and sparkly as if you'd scrubbed it with polish. It was something that my husband and I both commented on - the differences between the areas, and the attitudes. Beat up old Fords/'stangs vs the ubiquitous SUVs.

Another thing that really...kind of annoyed me about it, was my husband's attitude while we were in the 'ghetto' (what is so ghetto about deprived areas?). He was all jittery, nervous and in the end, was practically screaming at me to get the hell out of there. I honestly didn't see anything in the demeanor of the people there that yelled out 'criminals that are going to rape you and steal your kid' or whatever, but apparently he did. Is this the product of how you're raised? How the media portrays the people in these areas? what? I don't really get it. I went into a gas station (if you can call it that) in this area to ask for change for a (later, I found out broken) payphone, and the guy who came out said hi to me. All perfectly natural. To me, anyway. Hubby was like...he talked to you? and freaked out. *long suffering sigh* I really need to have words with his parents....

Anyway....can someone explain to me these attitudes about people who are not white? Cuz I really really don't get it. Maybe I am/was incredibly naive about the whole thing, but I really didn't see what everyone says is there. They didn't all look like drug dealers, hookers or whatever. They looked just like you or me. *shrugs* Is it because I was raised to be more tolerant (at least I think so) of people in general and to look past the colours (or lack thereof) of the skin?

It just seems to me that people would rather blame someone else for their problems than take the time to see who or what is really responsible and then deal with it. Yeah, naive coming out of my ears but....one can wish....can't one?

Oh, and someone made a comment that really struck me as racist, tho how to explain it...I don't know. She said the reason the guy said hi was because I looked like a 'wigger', to which I asked her what that meant. She said it meant 'white n*****' because I had my hair all done up in braids. (so what, I liked the look so I had it done, is that a crime?) She said that they leave 'w*****s' alone there....whatever that meant. I just found it really offensive, but *sighs* didn't have the guts to stand up for it....(sorry guys...flame me, cuz I deserve it...*hangs head*)

8/18/2005 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger phillyjay said...

I've been getting a little tired of Cindy Sheehan myself.I know part of the reason she's getting hyped up is because of the media, but still.She's nobody speical.And I have to agree with sheldiz.You get yourself enlisted, there's a chance you might have to risk your life for your country, even if you may disagree with a war.

The whole issue with racism, yeah it sucks, and sometimes people get fingers pointed at them.Notice very few fingers are pointed at poor, low income white people who suffer pratically the same problems your average poor latino,black or even immigrant area has.I don't hear to many complaints about mexicans here, from time to time I do hear the whole "they're taking our jobs" bit.If anything they're "taking jobs" that many americans may not even want.

kaede:
"Another thing that really...kind of annoyed me about it, was my husband's attitude while we were in the 'ghetto' (what is so ghetto about deprived areas?). He was all jittery, nervous and in the end, was practically screaming at me to get the hell out of there."

Has your husband ever been in a poor neighborhood before?He may just be paranoid.I can understand being on guard especially if you are in a unfamilar area, but you can't act like every black person could possibly mug/kill you.That just builds up resentment.And it also kind of makes you look silly.

"I honestly didn't see anything in the demeanor of the people there that yelled out 'criminals that are going to rape you and steal your kid' or whatever, but apparently he did. Is this the product of how you're raised? How the media portrays the people in these areas? what? I don't really get it."

Maybe.Many if not most of the images I see of blacks in the philadelphia ghettos are uneducated, drug dealers who will rob/kill you if you enter their "hood".There are people who have that mentality and will rob, steal, etc,etc.I should know I live in the ghetto.They however are not the majority, and you would think that would be obvious but not so for many people.I guess if you see a certain image so much and get discriminated against many times in the same area (like a east asian store owner) that image becomes the norm.Then you begin to assume EVERYONE is like that untill they prove to you otherwise.Which in turn builds even more resentment.

"Anyway....can someone explain to me these attitudes about people who are not white? Cuz I really really don't get it. Maybe I am/was incredibly naive about the whole thing, but I really didn't see what everyone says is there. They didn't all look like drug dealers, hookers or whatever. They looked just like you or me. *shrugs* Is it because I was raised to be more tolerant (at least I think so) of people in general and to look past the colours (or lack thereof) of the skin?"

You are not naive.You are just able to see the humanity in these people rather then grouping them all.That's a good thing.I guess you were raised to be more tolerant of people :)

"Oh, and someone made a comment that really struck me as racist, tho how to explain it...I don't know. She said the reason the guy said hi was because I looked like a 'wigger', to which I asked her what that meant. She said it meant 'white n*****' because I had my hair all done up in braids. (so what, I liked the look so I had it done, is that a crime?) She said that they leave 'w*****s' alone there....whatever that meant. I just found it really offensive, but *sighs* didn't have the guts to stand up for it....(sorry guys...flame me, cuz I deserve it...*hangs head*)"

I hate it when people say that wigger crap.You don't have to act talk or look stereotypically black in or to be treated well.You can be yourself and be treated fine.


P.S.
Welcome back jenn, and about badung, I didn't get a chance to be there (I was in LA at the time) but someone did record the talk between the blacks and asians there, and if you look hard enough in google, you should be able to find it.If it's still there.Just a heads up.From what I listened to, it was a very interesting conversation.
Sorry for the long post.

8/18/2005 01:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

My husband has never had to live really poor. Sure he was the stereotypical UK starving (yeah whatever) student, but he's never had to live like I have, with just $100 to pay rent, food, utilities etc. I think that's the difference right there. He's never been truly poor, so he doesn't understand it. And yeah, he's paranoid up the wazoo. *sighs*

Exactly my point (thanks) that these ppl are NOT in the majority and why everyone thinks they are is just incredibly annoying and pisses me off. And thanks too for validating my bitching about the wigger thing too. I just found it so outrageous I didn't know what to think or do. I'd never heard such drivel in my life. To me, it just seemed like he was saying hi cuz he wanted to, not cuz I had braids or whatever. I mean, come on. There ARE friendly people wherever you go, just the same as there are assholes everywhere you go. Maybe I got lucky, maybe I didn't. I just think that before you get all stupid like that, you need to think about your attitude and behaviour a bit. It DOES make you look incredibly stupid. I felt sorry for him, actually. He's never had the same experiences I've had and it shows. You'd think that after almost 10 yrs he'd learn a little...but I guess not.

8/19/2005 04:04:00 AM  
Blogger Melinda Casino said...

A bit off-topic, but in your piece you begin by saying "Mexicans" but later on use the term "Latinos". The terms are not interchangeable, to my knowledge. If you'd like to read more about it - this is what I consulted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hispanic

According to the above, "Latino" is more broad, and "Mexican" is one of the terms for "specific subsets of the Hispanic population".

Of course, I could be reading this wrong. ;)

8/19/2005 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

@sour duck: no, i didn't intend them to be used interchangeably. when i used the term latino later in the post, i intended exactly that -- i feel the attitude towards mexicans in this city is further applied towards latinos in general. but thanks for the heads up!

8/20/2005 04:45:00 AM  
Blogger Melinda Casino said...

Ah, I see now. Thanks, my mistake. It's just when I was reading your piece, it jarred me slightly when you switched to "Latino". Thanks for explaining. ;)

8/20/2005 01:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the movie Crash? (not the one about people getting orgasmic from car crashes, the new movie)
-Albert T.

8/21/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

to Albert:
yes, I have. It was a little too pedestrian for my tastes, and I was unimpressed with the one dimensional, stereotypical props that asians are in that movie

8/22/2005 02:09:00 AM  
Blogger Sheldiz said...

about crash: i will defend its one of my favorite movies i've seen in theatres in a long, long time. i thought it was absolutely beautiful -- i actually saw it twice in 24 hours. jenn -- if you didn't like it, that's cool, of course you're entitled to your opinion. but as far as the treatment of asian characters in the movie -- you're SUPPOSED to see them as a stereotype -- the point of the movie is that EVERYONE in it (black, white, asian, latino) is taken down to their stereotype. no one is any more or less 'stereotyped' than anyone else in the movie. its supposed to show what happens when an entire community relies on stereotypes. i just had to get that out. deep breath. haha. anyway -- random side note -- on your apiablog site, one of your bloggers (kim, i believe) posted a bunch of pictures of her recent trip to the baltimore aquarium and as i'm scrolling through the pictures i see my cousin! small world, much??

8/23/2005 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

hey shel, my thoughts on crash are complex. on the one hand, i'm glad they're making a movie that deals with race. on the other, i was disappointed that this was the movie that dealt with race.

the interesting thing about the asians in the film (although this is by no means my only gripe with the movie) is that, unlike every other group portrayed in the film, the asians, alone were played as existing only as the stereotype. The african americans, latinos and whites were offered some larger, humanistic context within which to place the stereotype (i.e., the white cop was a racist asshole, but here's why...) whereas the asians were played only as 1) the bumbling buffoon or culture-clashing, irreverant, non-english-speaking emigre 2) the shiesty dealer in illegal immgrants 3) the illegal immigrant 4) the greedy, money-hungry ferengi-type. I think there may have been more intended, to humanize the asians in the film (seeing as how daniel dae kim, one of the most influential contemporary asian american stars and one of only three any person could possibly name was in about 2.3 seconds of film at the diner) but the film, in its final state treats asians as, in every sense, nothing more than the stereotype.

that being said, given my initial reaction to the film (liking it, more or less, initially) i understand why you like it, and i don't knock you for your tastes.

8/23/2005 03:15:00 PM  

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