Monday, June 8, 2015

Growing Up In the Race Divide (part 7)

Which brings us to today. Sort of.

It's not that there aren't other things I could talk about...

I could talk about the race riots in Shreveport in '88 just after I'd gone off to college. Guess what they were over. The shooting death of a black man by a white person (a woman in this case). I could talk about my friend who was also from Shreveport (he was black and from the Cedar Grove neighborhood where the riots were taking place) and how worried he was about his family. He was a sophomore and, theoretically, had a lot of friends but, when it came down to it, I was the only one he could talk to because everyone else was too busy making fun of "all the black people burning down their own houses." They said that kind of stuff to him without any regard that they were talking about his home. It didn't help when it made national news and even Leno was making fun of the situation.

My friend couldn't even find out what was going on, because the phones were down and he couldn't get a call through. [Yeah, that sounds so weird, now, but there were no cell phones at the time.] He spent days worrying about his family, eventually got someone to drive him back (I didn't have a car my freshman year), and, pretty much, didn't come back to school after that. I don't even know what happened to him other than that I found out that he came back at some point and moved his stuff out.

I could talk about how in 1991 David Duke was almost elected governor of Louisiana. David Duke who had been a member of the KKK, was "famous" for wearing Nazi uniforms during his days as a student at LSU, and was involved in inciting several racial incidents during that same time period. There were three candidates, and Duke captured, basically, a third of the vote, so there was a runoff between Duke and previous (but not incumbent) governor, Edwin Edwards. Edwards won the runoff, but Duke still took more than half of the white vote in the state. Yeah, that's the state where I grew up; I'm not proud of it.

I could also take about my black friend who went to D.C. for for a work conference during the mid-90s and got the reverse treatment that I had received when I'd been there. One day, when out to lunch with some friends at a rather high class restaurant, she was completely ignored by the staff. The host shut the door in her face when they were going in. She was with two white coworkers, and the host, then, only offered them a table for two. Upon being corrected by one the white male of the group, they still only set two places at the table and had to be prompted to set a third place. The waitress did not acknowledge her presence and left after only taking the orders of the two white people she was there with. When the waitress came back, the male, again, had to place her food order for her while the waitress made comments about how someone must be really hungry to need to order two entrees.

Or I could talk about how just a few weeks ago during a report about the Nepal earthquake that killed nearly 9000 people and wounded almost 25,000 more, the reporter called special attention to the five Americans who were killed. Five! She spent almost as much time during the report talking about the Americans as she did the rest of the report about the earthquake. I kept thinking, "Why should I care about these five people who were killed in comparison to the thousands of Nepalese who were killed?" Why? Because they were white? And I have to assume that they were, because in our national consciousness American=white.

As far as I can tell, nationalism is just a more insidious form of racism. All of the immigration stuff going on, right now, revolves around nationalism and how we need to "keep jobs safe for Americans," but what they really mean is that we need protect white people and their jobs from all of these brown people who keep crossing our border and who will worker cheaper.

I think all of this comes down to some mistaken idea that we somehow "defeated" racism back in the 60s with the death of Martin Luther King and, eventually, giving him his own holiday. While I would agree that we took a step forward back then, by the 80s we'd decided to sit down. "Oh, yeah, we did all that racism stuff back in the day. We're all through with that now." Unfortunately, part of the problem is what was once part of the solution. For instance, that we refer to black people as African Americans rather than just Americans. Sure, it was, at the time, a way of respecting the roots of black people but, now, it's a way of setting blacks apart from whites. They're not "Americans;" they're "African Americans," just a subset of actual Americans and an inferior one at that.

Why do we need to have African Americans and Asian Americans and Whatever Americans at all? White people are not Caucasian Americans or European Americans or anything other than Americans. And that's not to mention that we don't include South America or Mexico in "Americans." That's a thing that has bothered since I was in high school.

Honestly, we won't have dealt with this issue, the issue of racism, until we don't have Americans at all. Or any national identities at all. What we need to have is Earthlings. [And, when it comes down to it, we may eventually need to include more than just humans in the description of Earthlings.] One planet. One people. That, really, is the only way forward.

16 comments:

  1. Funny that you should mention the Nepal earthquake. I was thinking the same thing about a report I saw. The reporter was going on and on about the Americans who were killed when there was massive destruction there. It was offensive!

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    1. JKIR,F!: I agree. It's all "Some Americans died; don't you feel bad," rather than "9000 people are dead and 25,000 more are now without a place to live. Do you think you could help?"

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  2. That's an interesting point about Nationalism. The stuff never sat well with me, and maybe that's why. Something to chew on.

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    1. Alex H: We have been a world heavily invested in nationalism for a long time, and I think it's time to move beyond that.

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  3. I don't mind the Nationalism, but we are all Americans here, regardless of color or heritage.
    As for Nepal, it's about the people who were killed, not just one tiny group.
    What's funny is they say by 2050, whites will be a minority. No, it's not blacks who will outnumber them in America. It will be Hispanics. And it will be interesting to see what happens then.

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    1. Alex C: We are all Americans, except when we make people point out that they are "not quite" Americans.

      Just to point out: by 2050, we will consider Hispanics white. The Irish used to not be considered white. And, already, when dealing with race categorizations (at least in CA), we have two categories of Caucasian: Hispanic Caucasian and non-Hispanic Caucasian.

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  4. Actually I can understand how the media reports would highlight the number of Americans killed because of that fact of where they were from. I wonder if other countries covered the earthquake deaths from their own countries in the same way. Anytime there is a major disaster we here the separate report of Americans killed. Actually most of what I heard reported was that ongoing tally of how many people were reported dead and I didn't hear reports about the Americans until a few days after the quake happened.

    As for the African-American designation I've always thought that was absurd, but I don't think any white person or group started using that label. I'm not sure of the origin but I'm pretty sure it was a black group that was trying to pull away from the term "Negro". Most people who think of themselves as African-American have probably never been in Africa and likely have no near relatives who have been either. If we went that kind of route then I guess I could call myself Irish-American, but I see no reason to do so. The last ancestor I had from Ireland was in the mid-1700's.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Road trippin' with A to Z
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Lee: I can understand why they do it (because they think it will make the news more interesting to us Americans or make us care more about it), but that doesn't make it right.

      You used to be an "Irish-American" back before the Irish became accepted as "real" people.

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    2. When the real anti Irish sentiment started in the United States in the mid-1800's my ancestors probably weren't even considered as Irish since they had long been entrenched in US society and a part of federal, state, and local government for sometime. They had found places as senators, representatives, governors, and judges. Some had fought in the Revolutionary War and had extensive land-holdings. I'd say in the 1800's they were considered as American as any of the citizens of the early country.

      I do think they faced prejudice in England which was probably why they settled in North America. I don't know enough about all that other than they came here. But after they got here and settled in what would become the United States some of them were associated with those who became the Founding Fathers.

      So bottom line, there were those who came from Ireland to establish the new nation and then later came the waves of the reviled Irish immigrants. And mostly the anti-Irish sentiment was aimed toward the Irish Catholics. My ancestors were Protestant so they probably fit in better with the other early Americans and it's possible that they might have disliked the new Irish Catholic settlers as well though I've heard nothing about that in our family history.

      Arlee Bird
      A to Z Challenge Co-host
      Wrote By Rote

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    3. Lee: That's true. It's generally large waves of people that cause a reaction. And the Irish still have issues in England. Not like it used to be, but it's still there.

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  5. Slightly related, but I find it weird when something like a huge plane crash happens (take that one in Germany where the co-pilot intentionally crashed) and our local news outlet will form the headline as something like "Two from Denver on plane that crashed in Germany!" And then they'll report on two people who kinda lived in Denver about 10 years ago, and get interviews with people here who used to know them and said they were so friendly and didn't deserve to go out like that, etc etc. Almost like the other hundred-something passengers didn't really matter.

    I don't know why news outlets think that kind of reporting makes the story more interesting or somehow more relatable to us, but it doesn't. I think it's stupid.

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    1. ABftS: I agree that it's stupid, especially since it trains us to not believe events are important unless Americans are in some way involved.

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  6. I feel so awful for your friend. All that was happening and the way people responded! Plus that waitress, literally ignoring the woman who was sitting right there. Two entrees, yes, because it's not like there's another person sitting there or something.

    Sigh...all this is getting me really ticked off.

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    1. Jeanne: I know. It makes me mad, too.

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  7. We don't count Canadians as Americans, either, but they're North Americans. A Canadian friend called that to my attention years ago, and I try to keep that in mind and not use the term Americans at all, when I can help it.

    The phones being down doesn't surprise me. When we evacuated the Waldo Canyon Fire, all circuits were busy. I couldn't reach my husband from my cell phone to his cell phone. It was more than an hour before I knew he'd even made it out. It would have been far more stressful to go as long as your friend probably had to.

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    1. Shannon: We don't count them, but we kind of do. I don't know anyone who doesn't consider Canada some weird extension of the US. It's like we're just humoring them and allowing them to pretend they're not really part of the USA.

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