Polimicks

Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

Surprised by Racism

Every once in a while, chilling in ultra-liberal Seattle, something just floors me, utterly and completely.

I ran into an old co-worker on the bus this morning. She was my first boss at the University. And we were chatting about what was going on in our lives, and how we dodged a bullet by getting out of having to transfer to Children’s Hospital when our old department went. We had been laughing about the coporate blame culture that permeated all of our interactions with Children’s staff when we had to deal with them, and all of a sudden she said something that just completely floored me.

“I couldn’t work somewhere where all the signs are in Spanish and English. That’s disgusting. This is America.”

I faltered, but said, that since Children’s is a charity hospital, that they were pretty obviously trying to make themselves more friendly to the largest immigrant population in the area, the people most likely to need their services. Her follow up response kind of took me aback as well.

“It’s not like those people who come up here can read.”

*head meet desk*

You know, I’d like to say I jumped up and read her the riot act. But I didn’t. I pretty much just sat there in dumb amazement. I mean, she is older, but still…

I just don’t understand when otherwise intelligent, rational people evince such amazingly irrational, stupid thought processes. Do you know what I mean? It’s like a decent, relatively well-mannered person, who came in behaving very nicely, suddenly dropped trou and took a shit on your coffee table.

And I realize that my viewing racism like this is a luxury I have because of my super, pale honkey-ness. But still… I expected this shit in Eastern Washington (and was frequently surprised when it didn’t happen), but in Seattle?

I’ve never understood racism, as in, I’ve never understood how anyone could fall into that mindset. It’s just so… dumb. I mean, I do understand the underlying pathologies intellectually, but practically…? Maybe my folks did a better job with us than I usually give them credit for.

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35 comments on “Surprised by Racism

  1. cochese
    August 19, 2008

    ran into this a lot when working with the elderly. Some of her clients were very progressive and open minded, and then would lose their shit over something that seemed trivial. Like having a black man doing contracting work in their bathroom unsupervised.
    I think some of it is just what you’re surrounded and conditioned by. I catch myself reacting to things sometimes that speaks more of being raised first by my grandparents and then in middle-class suburban Kent than any progressive ideals that I believe in.

    Like

  2. garpu
    August 19, 2008

    I think the clincher is “It’s not like those people who come up here can read.”
    *sigh* Shame she couldn’t have met the electrician at CalArts…guy was a published poet back home.

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  3. qweerdo
    August 19, 2008

    God that shit pisses me off.
    I’ve never understood how anyone could fall into that mindset.
    I’m gonna try and get something out here, but, I’m not sure I’ll explain it well.
    It is my belief that it is almost impossible to be white in America and not be racist. Now, I don’t mean “calling all black people the ‘n’ word” racist. But, just the kind of clueless “I grew up white with white people and I don’t know any/many POC” kind of racist.
    And, maybe racist is too strong a word. Or, maybe people just think it’s too strong a word. I don’t mean that many of these people are racist with any kind of malice. I mean people like myself who have never experienced what it’s like to be a POC and even though we try to stay aware we still get caught being/thinking like a someone without a clue.
    So, in this way I consider myself to be kinda racist. I am often clueless and as much as I try to learn, I am mostly learning when to keep my mouth shut and listen.

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    • kurosau
      August 19, 2008

      I’d like to ask you for some clarification. In what way does being raised in a single race environment mean that you’re a racist? Are you saying that by default, if I didn’t grow up around any black people, I’m racist just because of that fact? Because last I checked, racism was more about thought and action, both on the active side rather than the passive.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        It’s all about being white in America. Unless you are completely isolated you’re going to be exposed to some of it. I think it’s very easy for us to think we know things about black people or any POC when we really have no clue.
        The news makes it very easy to think that black people are criminals. Things like that are very difficult to combat if you aren’t even aware of them and are not exposed to POC.
        When I say “know things about black people or any POC” I mean things about their experience mostly.

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      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        But I’m still not seeing how that equals racism. That equals inexperience, in my opinion. Racism is the actual act of prejudice against someone on the basis of their race, or embracing an opinion to that effect. I can’t agree that having no clue about someone else’s race/culture/sex constitutes prejudice when ignorance is your only factor.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        So, it’s just “inexperience” that causes white people to think black people are gonna rob them?

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      • polimicks
        August 19, 2008

        Sweetie, where did Kurosau say they thought black people were going to rob him?
        You can have no or little experience of POC and still not think they’re all criminals. It does happen.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        Not what I’m saying at all.

        Like

      • polimicks
        August 19, 2008

        That may not have been what you MEANT to say, but it is what came across to more than one person.
        Remember, interwebs, no inflection, etc…

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      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        See, there’s the miscommunication. In your previous statements, you’ve been saying that if you grew up with white people, you’re a racist. Not because you think black people are criminals, not because you think asians are all hyper-intelligent, simply because you grew up around white people.
        That’s why I asked you for clarification.
        Now you’re falling back to saying that you’re a racist if you think that a black person is a criminal. Yes, that definitely is racism! But that’s not at all what you’ve been saying so far.
        So, pardon all the questions, and the excitement, but please state your opinion more clearly next time. That’s exactly why I asked you to clarify what you were talking about in the first place.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        Now you’re falling back to saying that you’re a racist if you think that a black person is a criminal.

        That is just a very blatant example. I think there are plenty of white people who have less offensive but just as wrong ideas about POC.
        I do think it’s almost impossible to escape all the subtle racism that is thrown at us everyday if you’re white and not even aware of it.

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      • polimicks
        August 19, 2008

        To quote Avenue Q, “Everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes…”
        But you did come off really aggressively sweetie. I’m used to you, and it took me off guard.
        Yes, there are shades of racism from “Kill all N_____” to “All black people are fabulous dancers.”
        But… when you tar the clueless “fabulous dancer” comment people with the “Kill ’em all” brush, it’s both disingenous, and more than a little fucked up. I think folks of any stripe should get a little credit for trying, at least.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        I get really frustrated. And, like I said, I have difficulty explaining it.
        I think the “fabulous dancer” comment is a lot more fucked up than people allow. Those are the people that don’t have a racist bone in their body. And, those are the ones that scare me. They don’t believe their racism is even a possibility. So, they can’t even see how it affects decisions in their everyday life.
        I also get tired of people that might want to call it “inexperience” when in the real world it equates to actual racism at some level.
        White people get so offended at being called racist. They rarely look at themselves to see if it’s true.

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      • sirriamnis
        August 19, 2008

        It’s a frustrating thing, sweets.
        I have my own issues with this. And I see where you both are coming from, and it will probably get it’s own post. It’s one I’ve tried to write multiple times, with limited success.
        Really, I think the best any of us can hope for is to just treat people like people and not their skin color, disability, age, gender or anything else. Just people.

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      • sarmonster
        August 19, 2008

        Anecdote:
        I’m in Lewiston, Idaho, 1993. The Friday night cruise is going on, a bunch of high school kids(myself included) are hanging out. I overhear one of the people in my group “Man, I hate N_grs. Stupid N’gers.”
        Me: “Dude, how many black people have you MET?”
        Him: Uh, well, LaTanya
        Me: “You don’t like LaTanya?”
        Him: “No, I didn’t mean her, she’s cool.”
        Me: “So you’ve met ONE black person and you think she’s pretty cool. What’s your problem?”
        Him: My dad says they’re taking all our jobs.
        Me: REEEEEALLY. Who’s job? Where?
        Him: I guess that’s kinda dumb.

        Like

      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        That sounds like a reasonable anecdote, but the racist elements and the ‘I didn’t grow up around black people’ elements still aren’t the same thing.

        Like

      • sirriamnis
        August 19, 2008

        I had a similar encounter with a “neo-nazi” that I went to college with. He was railing at the Zionist agenda and Jews and blah… And I looked over and said, “J, where are you from?”
        J: “Othello?”
        Me: “So, here, Ellensburg is the big city to you, yeah?”
        J: “Kind of.”
        Me: “Have you ever even MET a Jewish person?”

        Like

      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        I think what might be better said is that experiencing the world around you, traveling, seeing other cultures, generally has a liberalizing influence that tends to steer us away from racism.

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      • sarmonster
        August 19, 2008

        It’s a ‘sound bite culture’.
        I agree that living in a homogeneous community doesn’t mean you’re going to be racist, but living in a homogeneous community with racist people -especially racist people in positions of authority- is a big factor.
        Same seems to go for politics.

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      • qweerdo
        August 19, 2008

        but living in a homogeneous community with racist people -especially racist people in positions of authority-
        That is exactly what I meant when I said “growing up white in America.”

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      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        Yes, I concur. A friend just pointed out to me that ignorance is no help in an environment where you’re stuck with racist stereotypes, so in that case you’ll end up racist.

        Like

    • spisce_hot
      August 20, 2008

      seems to me that there are plenty of white people that grew up with people of color ( “non-white” or “mixed” neighborhoods, same group homes and orphanages0 as well as people of color growing up in situations of limited contact with people of different racial back ground ( the rez comes to mind)
      I do hope you not implying that rez members a racist do to not having much interaction with people of other races.

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      • qweerdo
        August 21, 2008

        I am only speaking about white people.

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  4. dangerous_beans
    August 19, 2008

    I can’t tell, quite, if it’s racism, bigotry or statement of fact when people say things about the Native population here in Northern Alberta.
    Is saying something disparaging about an entire people racism if it’s mostly true? If they provide a caveat that it’s “most” and not necessarily “all” that they’re make snide remarks about?
    I’ll provide examples when the Boy gets home since I can’t think of anything off the top of my head.

    Like

  5. loree
    August 19, 2008

    I’ve had similar, albeit milder, episodes of racism crop up with my mother from time to time, which is especially disturbing because she sure as fuck didn’t raise me to be like that. I’ve had to get in her face about it on more than one occasion, which is doubly disturbing — she’s not even 60, and yet I have to act like the parent.

    Like

  6. euterpe35
    August 19, 2008

    people will catch you off guard…
    Oy. good on you for keeping your cool. I don’t think getting in her face about it would have changed anything for her. sheesh.
    And: color me surprised as f*ck when:
    My dad, who supervised African-American troops as a US Army Sergeant Major, who had actual card-playing, go-fishing-and/or-drinking Black friends, who once talked a suicidal Black private down from a ledge then *brought him over for supper*… Beat the living shit out of me at age 15 when he found out I had kissed a Black kid. I mean *beat*. I mean *bloody* I mean “NO Daughter of MINE is going to date a N*word!!”
    I was so surprised by that that I almost didn’t feel the pain.

    Like

  7. kurosau
    August 19, 2008

    I too wonder where racism and other forms of prejudice come from. I’ve always presumed that it’s a matter of rejecting the other in favor of the self and the like.
    Also, have you ever noticed how many people are prejudiced against poor people and how many people excuse it? Because, after all, poor people are OBVIOUSLY POOR BECAUSE OF THEIR OWN LAZY FAULT.

    Like

    • sarmonster
      August 19, 2008

      I think its instinctive xenophobia.
      My theory is these are the same people who want to kill off any bears, cougars, or coyotes in their area, are generally afraid to go camping without a gun, and feel illogically threatened by anything they don’t identify as their ‘herd’.

      Like

      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        I don’t agree only in that I think racism is a much larger problem than the sort of people that would ruin a camping environment.
        Additionally, there are also plenty of people that would go camping with a gun not because they’re afraid, but because they’re sensible. In some places, it’s important to do things like lock your food up in bear boxes and carry a gun just in case you run into a really bad situation.

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      • sarmonster
        August 19, 2008

        Sorry, lemme qualify that: People who go camping with a gun in Western Washington.
        Kodiak island, sure. Sierra Leone, yeah, bring your gun.

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      • kurosau
        August 19, 2008

        ::nod:: I’m inclined to agree. I can’t think of anywhere around here where I’d be going armed if I went camping. Maybe the rainforest? Maybe?

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      • sarmonster
        August 19, 2008

        Nope. I go up the Quinault valley several times a year: There are cougars and black bears out there, but they’re afraid of people. Young black bears will raid your food if you leave it out, and have approached us, but you’re not going to get attacked by one.
        I’ve run across scat, but I’ve never even seen a wild cougar.

        Like

  8. oldviking
    August 20, 2008

    The thread i picked up in the comments,is it really isn’t about race at the deep core..It is the economic threat.Fear of loss of econo
    mic/social status that has manifested it self against the wave of immigrants of the moment. Be they Irish black or brown or whatever.And seems to last for a century or more.
    When one is struggling to keep in on the good side of the man you sure don’t want to have your daughter marry a whatever.. I live on a racially mixed block( black,white, Alaska Native,Latino,Polynesian) and there is near unanimous negative neighbor chatter about “those Russians” who are moving into the hood.

    Like

  9. lisatheriveter
    August 21, 2008

    A few years back in Chicago, I was on Michigan Ave hailing a cab in the middle of the afternoon. I’m a little white girl, and if I recall correctly was probably wearing jeans and a t-shirt that day. Standing on the same corner, also trying to hail a cab, was a businessman in a suit. He was black.
    After I watched three cabs flagrantly pass him by, I got pissed. So I finished my cigarette, hailed the next cab, held the door for him to get in, and wished him a nice day.
    Not three days later, I left a nightclub and flagged a cab. I get in, he pulls out, and I tell him my neighborhood. He promptly stops the damn car and refuses to take me, claiming that my neighborhood was too dangerous to drive to.
    No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

    Like

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