Monday, December 31, 2007

Reflections on Anti-Racism

Pay attention, queer people: there's a lesson about the possibility of ending homophobia and why many blacks don't sympathize with the fight against homophobia/for gay rights in here for you, as well, though not specifically referenced.

Undoubtedly, anyone who does quite a bit of reading about race online has run into pieces by "Tamara Nopper" or Kil Ja Kim. I think she is a brilliant person in terms of her ideas and the fact that she's not black but is right on about a lot of black issues. Like me, she doesn't always express herself in the prettiest/most eloquent and composed way. She let's anger come through. Some would call her--and me--bitter, which I don't understand why people mean that as an insult when it's something that, given one's life circumstances, really should be more expected and understood than it is sometimes. Because of her straightforward manner and the anger/bitterness, I've seen several times on the internet that she has rubbed many white people the wrong way, including ones who claim to be anti-racist.

One of my close white friends read Kim's piece on "white anti-racist" being an oxymoron and agreed with Kim but also agreed with me that the piece sort of deteriorated halfway through when she showed her anger. However, my white friend is the seemingly rare sort who doesn't mind that and doesn't feel offended or defensive by pieces like Kim's, probably because she is likely the kind of person who doesn't automatically equate blanketed negative statements about white people with herself and is very objective.

I know that writing the way that she does sometimes defeats the purpose of what she says, at least somewhat, because, although I believe that the majority of whites and Asians would shut down regardless of how one puts many of the comments she and I make, there are many people who only turn off their minds when ideas are expressed in a hostile manner. Personally, neither are the kinds of people I'm necessarily trying to reach--Kim might feel the same. I think some of the things I'll write later in this post will explain more why I feel that way, other than the fact that I'm not into babying people and I express myself a certain way because watering down or PC-ness defeats what I'm trying to do, i.e. say things a lot of people think the way they think it but don't say it or don't say it the way they think it.

So for starters, it's always surprising to me when I find non-black people who examine race as it relates to black people in a way that is not stereotypical and/or negative, especially if it resembles an effort to align themselves with/defend blacks. Kim and Rachel Sullivan are examples of that, as well as Tim Wise, Frank Wu and my white & Asian friends. As I've written several times, I'm a lot like I imagine most people to be, i.e. as a black person, I don't tend to care about issues that affect non-black people, or don't care to the extent to defend them as much as I defend blacks nor become equally invested. I don't understand people who do, i.e. how they got to that point (even if they provide stories that explain how they got there) or what drives those interests, nor do I understand people who expect such a thing. Still, I like to read these people's works, and that's why I did an internet search on Kim, to find more of her pieces.

In the process, I found this. I'm familiar with Carmen Van Kerckhove, particularly the Racialicious site...there's really no particular reason I haven't linked to it on the right side of my blog, except that usually when I read something on any of the blogs she's affiliated with I've found it by accident or through a link from some other site I'm reading. Quite a few people in the comments in the link provided (i.e. white anti-racist parents) comment on Kim's thoughts, some saying they are offended (and, to me, demonstrate that they miss Kim's point). The topic and the comments really made me think about my perception of anti-racists, particularly white ones. Frankly, my knee-jerk reaction was that the concept of "anti-racism" is silly, and that, once again (without having re-read Kim's piece...I read it earlier this year), I agree with Kim, or, at least, think I see where she's coming from.

To flesh out some of the thoughts I was of my first thoughts was that "anti-racism" is such a typical white thing to come up with. It's funny--it's as if there's nothing white people think they can't do. I had to remind myself that it's not just white people who consider themselves anti-racist or do anti-racist work or agree with the concept. So I concluded that "anti-racism" is really for people who are naive. In actuality, it's probably just a difference of opinion about so many things, i.e. where racism comes from and whether or not it can be eliminated from society. It just so happens that I believe people who think racism can end are naive. My understanding of anti-racism is that one of the goals/desires is to engage in work/dialogue that will end racism. The reason I considered it a typical white thing, then, is that my initial thought is always that white people are the only ones who don't "get it," the only ones to have any positive thoughts about the outcome of a history of racism, because they don't experience ongoing [social] racism (just spots of it, usually). However, the truth is that nowadays, many minorities also don't experience much ongoing non-systemic racism or do but fail to recognize it, like my friend Nikki does when racist events happen to her. My belief is these are usually the minorities who agree with an anti-racist mindset--the ones who don't, in my mind, "get it."

I'm not an anti-racist. I don't believe that racism can end. I think the US is so dependent on systemic racism in order to operate that even people who experience the ongoing racism wouldn't like it if it ended since that would mean our society would change drastically. The idea of racism ending scares me simply because I can't imagine my life and the world without it--I have no idea what to expect. I think that scares white people, too, especially since they have more to lose. Part of me finds value in the racist experiences I've had. Another part of me just doesn't like the idea of everyone truly being equal, not that ending racism would mean other forms of inequality wouldn't exist. But first and foremost, this is life as I know it, and it is NORMAL to me. I'm not surprised when people act racist; I'm surprised when they DON'T.

Many of my black friends and I have talked about it, and I think this is one of the reasons black people are not activists anymore like they used to be. To us, racism is not a matter of right or wrong, equal or unequal, fair or unfair. It's life. And this is why I consider white anti-racists naive, because I don't think they have any way of understanding this "complacency" some black people feel--many don't really know such complacency exists. But to some of us, racism is something that just is. You either learn how to deal with it, or you let it destroy you, like I feel a lot of black men allow it to. You certainly don't take time out to fight it, because that gets in the way of daily survival, especially in the modern day when people view efforts to fight racism as completely unwarranted. Especially those of us who can rattle off story after story of being discriminated against--check for a few things among us.

First of all, we're rather emotionless when we do it. It's like it's no big thing, just another news story, just another day. We're not shocked. We're not surprised. We're not hurt. We're not really even angry. We're just telling it like it is. Second, we're emotionless when we hear about racism against blacks. Some of my black friends and I say, "Well, what else is new?" We think the black people who react are crazy. We've learned how to live with racism; why haven't they? Why haven't they learned that each new story of racism really is the same story over and over and over again? Why don't they understand these events aren't isolated or exceptions, but the rule? Why beg for empowerment from without instead of finding it within, i.e. why try to make people stop making you feel worthless by trying to eradicate "nigger" rather than teach yourself to believe that someone calling you a "nigger," regardless of the history, is itself worthless because you know that's not who you are and you cannot be made to feel worthless by that or any other form of racism?

Third, you'll rarely ever hear us say anything like "racism is wrong." For some of us, racism is unavoidable, real life--and that usually doesn't include white people. And for some of us, having these experiences puts us in an exclusive club, a "better" club that means we're not hopelessly spoiled, overprivileged, unaware and devilishly powerful whether or not we want to be seen as exceptions, anti-racists, "good white people" or what have you. And I think this was, at least, part of Kim's point. Whites can have the best of intentions, but they cannot escape their privilege. Even attempts to help blacks and do anti-racist work demonstrate an exploitation of privilege. Therefore, whites cannot engage in anti-racist work without, daily, undoing the work that they do because they cannot help but participate in and benefit from the oppressive system. She's not saying whites can't not be racist; she's saying whites can't not be privileged. White anti-racists, I'm sure, have no idea how much they'd have to give up or say "no" to if they tried, nor how little a difference a few white people doing so would make.

Anti-racists, as well as minority leaders, also seem to believe that they should be able to set out a few "solutions" and they can convince everyone to follow them or enough people to follow them to make a difference. Learn a thing or two about human nature. You'll notice that I point out a lot of problems but don't offer solutions. My blog and discussions with my friends are my solutions for myself. Whether or not anyone else decides that the solution to work on their prejudices is to admit them and discuss them with others and to work on checking themselves when they are being prejudiced is their personal decisions. Many people ultimately will not do it.

The point is we're all different and we do exactly what we want to do, so we're not all going to conform to one ideal. This is precisely why racism isn't going anywhere and precisely why group coalitions aren't possible. Some people are proud of being racist. Some people are racist but won't admit it. Some people are racist but don't know it. Some people are racist but do what I do. Some people are racist but use another tactic for addressing it. Your best bet for changing anybody's mindset in terms of racism is grabbing the people who are racist but don't know it. I'm in law school, and I believe that attempting to change people's minds about anything is generally a waste of time. I know that sounds odd since people think of lawyers as people who argue their side in order to sway people. But one thing I've learned in law school is that the only people who are swayed by arguments and opinions are people who are open to changing their minds and people who don't completely have their minds made up in the first place.

Anybody who is steadfast in their beliefs and takes nothing short of transformative experiences to change the way they think. Even judges often go into the courtroom with their minds made up as the two lawyers essentially waste time arguing their case. As we've been shown, experiencing discrimination yourself is not usually enough of a transformative experience...otherwise, blacks, gays, Asians and Latinos could work together on the whole rather than as a relative few from each group who happen to see eye to eye. If anything, I would say discrimination breeds discrimination. And going off on everyone who makes a racist comment does not help (I actually view this as harmful). All that does is alerts them that they should not say such things around you. This contributes to the "if we don't see it, it doesn't exist" phenomenon. Understand that just because someone is not saying racist things in your presence doesn't mean they don't think them, and that you and your words are likely not magical enough to make them change their minds from something they've probably believed the majority of their lives. Problem is not solved.

Another thing I've learned in law school, courtesy of Critical Race Theory and Tim Wise, is that most people who don't view racism as their problem or who don't see any benefits for them in eliminating racism only act if they are convinced something is in it for them. Thus, many pivotal "advances" in history in terms of race have not come from convincing people of the wrongness of racism, nor from activism (at least not directly) or people truly changing their minds. The US has long been, and continues to be, considered a racist nation from the outside. During the 60s, the reputation as a racist nation was actually threatening to hurt our status as a Superpower. In addition, blacks were rioting across the nation, and powerful whites such as JFK were afraid that they would physically destroy the nation. Are you starting to see now? In other words, unless you're offering someone a reason why they should be personally invested in anti-racism, they will not become so. But realize that many people will still not be convinced. When I was reading the explanations Tim Wise offers whites in his book "White Like Me," I was not convinced.

But another clear difference in thought between anti-racists and me--and between society in general and me--appears to be the belief that racism is passed down to others and, thus, anti-racism can be passed down to others. I believe that all forms of discrimination, from small to large, are human nature and that one does not have to be "taught" to be racist in order to be racist. And if it is taught, how do you explain where such ideas even originated in the first place? In fact, I would make an imperfect analogy between racism and sex--we feel/are sent messages that it's wrong, but we feel compelled to do it and we do do it while feeling some level of guilt about it, denying that it is part of us and natural because it doesn't quite make sense for something like that to be natural.

But if you think about it, it is in our nature to think something's wrong with anything/anyone that is different, i.e. not the majority. This is why even minorities internalize racism towards self and others. Early on (but not until we've developed such critical thinking skills), we look around, see we don't look like most people and wonder why/what's wrong with us/why can't we look or be like most people. Early on, whites realize most people look like them, see some people who don't, feel that they are normal because of that and others are abnormal because of that, and wonder why they look like that/what's wrong with them/why they can't look or be like everyone else. Race, sex, sexual orientation, class and the most obvious differences get the most attention and are the easiest ways to discriminate against people because they are the most obvious differences. But we do this is so many different ways. At the end of the day, who didn't get picked on in school for being different in some way? Who has ever gone through life without feeling alienated for being different in some way at some point? And who goes through life without ever being the alienator? All ways are not equally as bad or hurtful, but they all illustrate the same thing about how people interact with others.

This is also why racism isn't going anywhere. To me, we're fighting and criticizing human nature without understanding that it is such. If anti-racism is worth the fight, it takes knowing exactly what you're fighting before you know what to do about it. If I'm right and you're raising a kid, constantly telling him or her that it is wrong to think this or that but the kid can't help but think it...without knowing it, you're making the kid feel bad about himself or herself. I think this is partially why so many people are in denial about racism in the world and in themselves--because messages from society that something is wrong with having racist thoughts and the constant "I'm not like that, and no one else is supposed to be like that, either"s make people feel bad about themselves. People deny masturbating, except people who have gotten over the uncomfortableness of the idea of doing it or admitting it and realize it's human. This is not to say nothing's wrong with having racist thoughts. I would just advocate a different approach than the one most of us take when dealing with racism and trying to teach kids about it--or, rather, not teach them about it but dodge it by telling them only some people are racist or a flat "it's wrong" or "don't think this about people".

Even though I acknowledge other groups of people who can claim anti-racists, I still believe that the majority of the people who call themselves this are white. So I still believe there is a naivete among the bunch simply because there are things many of them just could not reasonably understand and/or admit. Among the comments to the anti-racist white parents post to which I linked, I saw many that demonstrated that many of them don't "get" some things that I feel are very important for anyone who thinks they're anti-racist to know/understand. One woman makes a comment that I have discussed here before, i.e. that she feels uncomfortable because she worries that blacks assume she's a racist. I've also read Tim Wise's book similar concerns from whites, i.e. worries about how they will be perceived/treated by blacks if they get involved in anti-racism work.

The white friend I mentioned before who read Kim's piece...I am pretty sure she would never call herself an anti-racist. For one thing, I'm sure she would read this post and agree with me completely, i.e. racism is innate, racism cannot be eliminated, political correctness and confronting racists are not necessarily the way to go, and we cannot get most--or even 1/4th of--people in the US to agree on how to view or attack racism when you can't even get people of the same racial group to view it the same or agree on methods of attack. Aside from that, though, she essentially is similar to whites who are really bothered by racism against non-whites, except I think she has a much more keen understanding that most well-intentioned whites lack.

Not only does she understand black people's suspicions of her as a white person, she expects it. It doesn't make her back away from black people, and she doesn't talk about black people's reactions to her as if they are wrong or "racist." She knows some black people, particularly black women, have a guard up and are defensive with white people. She wouldn't expect blacks to be treated like they are by white people and still approach every white individual with an open mind; it's unrealistic. She knows she has to make the effort, and she doesn't have a problem with that or think it's wrong--it is to her what racism is to me, i.e. life. Similarly, she doesn't throw her interest in race out in conversations with blacks when it's uncalled for. Not that she's perfect--she doesn't understand never to compare the difficulty of managing white hair with the difficulty of managing black hair, nor does she want to believe that she can look like crap and still have white/Asian/Latino men approach her all because she's a blonde with blue eyes (though I think she knows that black men will approach any white woman, regardless of what she looks like).

Another thing I noticed on that site is a lot of white women. That's not surprising. As little faith as I have in whites on the whole, I have almost no faith in the human decency of white males as opposed to believing that there are many white women out there who sincerely are interested in racism. Given that, I couldn't help but notice that white women were commenting on the site but claimed that their white husbands had the same interests they do in fighting racism or exposing their white kids to diversity. Well...where are their husbands? Why are they all the ones visiting and posting to anti-racism sites?

If ever I were to offer a solution, it would be that we should do the opposite of what we do now. In other words, the "if we ignore it, maybe it'll go away" (and, in the case of slurs and racist comments, "if we stop saying it, maybe those thoughts will go away") and walking on eggshells mindsets need to stop. After all, ask yourself in how many other areas of life does ignoring problems or walking on eggshells work?

Minorities should become more willing to "teach" other races & ethnicities, explain their experiences and viewpoints and things that they associate with their culture, as well as things they associate with other people's cultures. And whites should be more willing to say what they really think, regardless of how it's perceived, and stop denying that non-whites are really different from them or insisting that they don't think non-whites are different from them. However, these things should be said to each other, not about each other--and not just when we're angry or trying to be negative. Both have to listen and learn how to control their emotions so that they can focus on what the comments mean rather than how they make them feel. It has to be a free discussion rather than one where people jump down each other's throats for "offensive" and politically incorrect ideas. Both have to resist the urge to tell other people how they are rather than disregarding what the people who would know best have to say about who they are. And we have to stop focusing so much on how things should be--we should pay attention and admit to how things actually are.

My friends and I aren't close because we act like our racial differences don't matter; we're close because we acknowledge that our racial differences do matter. I know I can say how I feel and what I think about whites without my white friends taking it personally or getting offended, and they know they can do the same. I know I can ask them questions, and they know they can ask me. They know they can joke, and I know I can joke. I can inform them of something about blacks and they won't argue with me about it, and they can do the same for whites. Notice I said my white friends--in general, my Asian friends and I don't necessarily have this kind of relationship (and here, I'm including my part-white, part-Asian friend Angel). When I was in high school and had an Asian best friend, we talked about race but it wasn't as open as it is with my white friends and I. My discussions with my white friends would offend most people--we both would offend most people; in fact, we have offended some people.

I almost think the word "offensive" should be retired just as much as some people think the word "nigger" should be. But I accept that we can't make people stop saying words--and I think that's another thing we should work on. We have to recognize the battles that are necessary to fight and the ones that can actually be won. Even if we could make people stop using slurs, there are bigger battles out there that are ignored by the public. Blacks nowadays act as if rap music and slurs are our biggest problems, but they're not. In fact, most of the problems that existed in the 60s still exist today--education and crime are at the top of my list, and rappers are not solely, or even mostly, responsible for those problems. I also mentioned self-empowerment needing to come from within rather than from how others treat you. We can address and repair these self-esteem issues without fighting pointless battles just like we can put a dent in racism without coalitions with people who don't care about our problems--if many of us just worked on ourselves, that would be a big help not only to dealing with racism against us but also dealing with our discrimination towards everyone else.

Cont'd on Jan. 24th or so starting here

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reflections on Asian & Black Relations

For some reason, I have started to think more about experiences from my younger days--saying that makes me sound older than I am, but I mean things from high school and college that I have forgotten all about over the past few years. For instance, not long ago, I remembered that I went through this "Asian phase" for about 4 or 5 years. Now, I've written a bit about how I've dated several Asians, have a bit of a preference for them and other "brown" people romantically, and so on. But this was different. For one thing, my phase wasn't like that white-guy fetish thing.

No, I think there was probably a period of time where I kind of wanted to be Asian. There was never a moment in my mind where I consciously said this to myself, but there were so many signs. I remember writing a post a few months ago in which I mentioned how during my junior year of high school, the way I thought about white people started changing because of the AP history courses I was taking, to the point of affecting who I started hanging out with. I think that was the very beginning of my "Asian phase," because up to that point I had been subconsciously trying to fit in with white people. It wasn't like I'd never had black friends; I had definitely tried to. In fact, I would say my experience up until I was 17 was trying to fit in with both blacks and whites, and having more success with whites than blacks. In high school, I think I gave up on blacks somewhat and focused more on white kids. But during/after those history courses, I found myself socializing more with blacks and Asians.

When I went to college, the overwhelming majority of my friends were Asian. My undergraduate school was very diverse, though still predominantly white. In fact, being at my law school is more shocking to me because I tend to use the amount of Asians you see at a school or company as a sign of complete racial alienation. By that, I mean that if you don't even see a good representation of Asians there, then you know that this is a place not going in the right direction because Asians are the one minority group that whites allow to be everywhere that signifies success (and I realize that sounds like a stereotype or the "model minority" myth). Although I see and interact with markedly less Asians than in undergrad, I view it more as a problem of location--my undergrad was in a diverse city while my law school is in a white college town--and the failure of the legal area in general to be racially inclusive and open. But initially, it was very weird to not see as many Asians as I did in college. Still, I have realized that the university still has more Asians than any other racial & ethnic minority.

Would I still be close with Asians if my law school had more Asians like I was in college? I don't think so. Things really have changed with me, plus I view the Asians at my law school as more "white-washed," although I have been in the presence of one Asian male who talks about whites very badly, and my friend Nikki knows other Asians who have something to say about whites. It's not as if I don't have Asian friends now, but not very many and one of them has more solidarity with blacks than whites. My junior year in college, most of the Asians I hung out with were Southeast Asian, and some of them acted as if blacks and Southeast Asians were the same race--a race called "brown."

My sophomore year, it was a different group of Asians. My roommate was Korean and Spanish, and she clearly had issues with that--in short, she wanted to fit in more with Asians, although she was like so many Asian girls seem to be in terms of preferring white males romantically. But she and I became somewhat close, I suppose, and apparently she talked about me a lot when she went home on the weekends because her mother told me so once. A lot of the time, because of her, I would be surrounded by Asians. I remember one time--and this happened in high school and my junior year with the Southeast Asians--sitting at "the Asian table" with her (yes, some colleges have this, too, just like high schools) and being the only non-Asian there. I'd told her about having accounts with some sites that were really exclusively for Asians--I had them because the Asian guys I'd dated told me about them and wanted me to look at things like pictures they'd put on the sites, etc--and how I used to go into Asian chatrooms, chat with other Asians and pretend to be Asian, even learning/using some of the Asian slang and type (i.e. aZiAn PrIdE).

By the time the year was over, she had taught me Korean words and she could say something in Korean that I could understand, to her surprise (I guess because she thought I didn't remember). I'd tried Korean food (which I didn't like, but I am very unsophisticated in my taste in food, i.e. I like junk food). Her mother came to our room all the time, which I hated because I felt uncomfortable around parents when I was younger. Her mother, sensing my discomfort, flat-out asked me once if I disliked Asians!!! Hahahaha!!! I couldn't believe she'd said that, but it is so funny to me now. My roommate was just like, "MOM, she has Asian friends and boyfriends and an account on AsianAvenue!" HAHAHAHA!!!

I would say that things started to change again my senior year in college. Finally, I'd gotten my own room on campus. Two of my roommates before had been Asian. I remained pretty isolated my senior year in college because having my own room--and a TV in it and plenty of music--meant I didn't have to engage in forced interaction with anyone. I liked it a lot. Some of my friends from junior year also lived in the same dorm, but since I stayed isolated I didn't see them a lot. Besides, college wasn't the time I made friends I'd have forever; I think law school is more along those lines for me. And then I took a couple years off from attending school and didn't think more of it. Just like that, the "phase" was over and forgotten. I can't really put my finger on a reason why, other than, I guess, for three years I wasn't really around Asians anymore and out of sight was out of mind.

I also couldn't really say what brought that particular phase on. I mean, obviously I didn't want to hang out with whites that much, sure. But I didn't consciously set out to hang with Asians. I don't remember how I got started going into Asian chatrooms, but I'm thinking it had something to do with making Asian friends for the first time at school and becoming more curious about the people and the culture. I pretended to be Asian because I was talking to guys I liked online who were Asian and I subconsciously didn't feel like it'd make sense to be a black female in an Asian chatroom or that they'd like me if they knew I wasn't Asian like them. Everybody was "pinay"/"pinoy" (Filipinos) or "viet."

Doing the readings I've been doing from and about Asians has been one of the things, I guess, that has jarred my memory. I remember while I was reading "Global Divas" "pinay" and "pinoy" being mentioned, as well as other things I remembered learning back then, and I started remembering the chatrooms and the Asian tables and everything else. It seems like I always have some race-related question on my mind that I like to raise in my blog, so the one for the past few days has been--why, considering my past with Asians, don't I see them as "allies"? Or why don't I propose such a thing or attempt to build those bridges between blacks and Asians? Why do I now view Asians more in terms of blacks vs everybody else rather than non-blacks vs whites or any other combination that does not put blacks in opposition to Asians? And how do I reconcile this view with a physical attraction to Asians?

I've noticed that there are people and works out there who/that raise a history of coalitions between blacks and Asians or suggest that blacks and Asians--or blacks and any other oppressed group--should work together. Frankly, I don't really know the history, but I like to look at what's going on today. I've seen on some Asian sites that hate crimes against Asians in the US are increasing. Be that as it may, I do believe that blacks and most other oppressed groups are moving in different directions in the US from each other. At the very least, any unity that used to be there is drifting as many Asians, Latinos, non-black queers and so on are finding more and more acceptance and support among the white mainstream.

Though at times it looks as if blacks are also finding that acceptance, there are also many indications that signify blacks are moving backwards in the US for various reasons but including racism. The same complex dynamic is true for other groups, too, but in a different way. For example, while immigration might be under attack and hate crimes might be rising, the Asians and Latinos who were born here do have many white friends and are generally acceptable spouses to white parents for their kids (Asians more so than Latinos). In turn, it's very difficult to discuss who is progressing more than others because each group is progressing in different areas than others while falling backwards in others. Though some Asians such as Frank Wu and "Tamara Nopper" readily acknowledge that blacks are viewed and treated more negatively in the US than Asians are, other Asians still don't believe it even despite their own racism towards blacks.

This tug of war, the similar anger to blacks expressed by some Asians--not to mention the comparisons to blacks--and the insistence that Asians also experience racial discrimination & alienation are the reasons I have started doing this reading. Yet, except some major exceptions such as more recent hate crimes, I've yet to see much of anything about the Asian experience that approaches the difficulty of the black experience. I've read book after book, article after article, message board after message board...and the discussions seem to be similar time after time, with Wu probably offering the most depth of analysis and discussion.

To me, their major concerns in the US are not being considered American--which, as I've written in my blog before, applies to everyone except whites in the US, though in different ways, and is something Asians do to Latinos and blacks just as much as they say whites and blacks do to them by making the term "American" synonymous with "white" and only accepting whites as friends and romantic interests--wanting to fit in with whites and/or other Asians and balancing that with more traditional Asian culture, and occasional racial incidents such as racial slurs/actions and stereotypes.

So, to me, it makes no sense to say that Asians tolerate more racism from whites than blacks, especially if you're not black and, thus, have no real idea what blacks deal with. Similarly, I cannot definitively say that blacks tolerate more racism than Asians, just that I believe this is so. That's the point of my "research"--to try to learn more about what Asians experience in the US. But this minimizing of experience back and forth--the same thing that goes on between blacks and gays--is one of the reasons why coalitions of the past are, to me, impossible to form in the present. I think that people like Asians, Latinos and whites--including white gays--are tired of hearing from blacks...but I also think that's one of the reasons why racial incidents can happen to blacks and all kinds of people will react. It's not because they all think it's wrong; more like, "we don't want to hear those niggers' mouths anymore, so let's pretend like we agree with them to shut them up." Similarly, people don't respond to incidents against Asians because Asians are seen as not reacting and because Asian issues don't exactly make the front page or the evening news, especially since the white agenda is to convince everyone that Asians have no problems...which most black people believe.

But I also like to point out that we're selfish, all of us. Asians care about Asians. Blacks care about blacks. White gays care about white gays. We're not interested in coalitions because we don't believe and/or don't care if other groups have problems. Nearly every oppressed group in the US right now believes they are the only oppressed group or that they are the most oppressed group. It's not like the past when women obviously couldn't vote or work certain jobs, or blacks obviously couldn't frequent the same spots as whites. Discrimination is so hidden and subtle now that people not of a particular group are fooled into believing it's not there. So we'd have to spend time convincing our would-be partners against oppression that we have problems, too, I said, we don't want to hear about anybody else's problems.

Finally, just because one group is oppressed doesn't mean that they identify with other oppressed groups or don't play a role in their oppression. In fact, I believe that being a member of an oppressed group makes you more likely to discriminate against others, not less likely. We all want to feel like we're better than someone else in society. For whites, that's everyone else, except sometimes Asians. For blacks, it's queers. For queers, it's blacks. For Asians and Latinos, it's blacks and queers and "fresh off the boat" immigrants from their backgrounds. In other words, if we're going to get together to fight white supremacy, we first have to settle our own sh!t with each other...because, trust me, we all have sh!t with each other. But, as I said before, we don't want to settle our sh!t with each other...we just want to settle our own problems. Some people think that this divide between Asians and blacks is the result of whites using Asians against blacks as the model minority, which I did point out in one of my recent posts. But discrimination against "dark people" is also just a part of the Asian culture, i.e. it's there with or without white people doing anything.

Long story short--I don't believe in the possibility of coalitions. I do believe that it's "us vs them," i.e. blacks against non-blacks, and will continue to become even more so. It doesn't make sense to even me, as a black person, that Asians and Latinos and white queers would align themselves with black people when they are staring the opportunity dead in the face to advance by getting on straight white people's good side. After all, it's easier. It doesn't exactly allow you to be who you really are, I think, but that's a sacrifice that, particularly many Latinos and Asians, seem to take rather gladly. White queers don't have to do much of anything, as, being white, they are already much more accepted than they think they are. The same is true for white women who view themselves as still oppressed.

I say that anyone who wants to align themselves with another oppressed group or start such organizations should. After all, the more I learn about Asians and discrimination against Asians, the more I notice discrimination against Asians, the more I check myself on it, and the more I correct other people on it. Fighting for Asians is still not my priority, just like fighting for gay rights isn't--I still can't naturally help but to care most about blacks and black issues (although the argument is frequently made that you can't discuss identities in isolation, as I demonstrate quite often in my blog...but, for example, I don't mean that we shouldn't discuss black gay issues, but that we shouldn't be worried about building coalitions with white gays). Then again, fighting for Asians is not every Asian's priority, and fighting for blacks is not every black's priority. And I'm certain that fighting for blacks is not most Asians' priority.

What about romance? I've noticed something with blacks and Asians, that is mentioned somewhat briefly in the last link above in this post...and that is that neither group considers the other a suitable romantic option. But there are different reasons. For Asians, it's obviously more culture-driven. For blacks, given the comments I've heard from my mother and the surprise other blacks have expressed at my interest in Asians--particularly black women--many blacks just don't find Asians physically attractive and don't view them as date-able. It's funny to me how some do like white people do, i.e. try to paint blacks as the ones who are racist against them out of absolutely nowhere--Asians haven't done a thing to blacks, yet blacks just hate them.

Well, Charles Barkley has this book called "Who's Afraid of a Large Black Man?" or something along those lines that I read a couple years ago. In it is an interview with a Jewish man who, if I remember correctly, relays a joke of sorts that goes a little something like: "What do blacks think about Jews?" Answer: "They don't." I would say that, for the vast majority of blacks, the same is true of Asians. Sure, sometimes some blacks pull out an offensive Asian joke. But for the most part, Asians don't exist to blacks, especially blacks who have very little interaction with or see very few Asians. As much as the world is Asian and white to Asians, it's black and white to blacks. And from the way many Asians complain about being left out of racial discussions, I'd say they know that.

So if Asians don't exist to blacks, then dating Asians never enters their minds. So, pretty much any black I've mentioned that possibility to, it's out of this world. You might as well have said you're thinking about dating this puppy you saw outside--it's just as unfathomable. Puppies aren't things people date. They aren't romantic beings. They have no sex appeal. They are just there. And Asians aren't people anybody but Asians should date, to so many blacks. They aren't romantic beings. They have no sex appeal. They are just there. And they might as well be a completely different type of being than blacks are.

I worry about it because I know that my mother would not get it if I really did bring an Asian home. I'm not sure it'd be like how an Asian or white parent might react if you bring a black person home--it's not like, "you're dating beneath you" or "you'll be shunned in the community." No...more like total bewilderment. What do you see in this person? This person has those funny eyes--they couldn't possibly be attractive with those eyes. My friend Angel, who is white and Asian but looks more white...what would she do if I brought someone like her home? I've told my mother before that there are some Asians who don't look like she insists all Asians look, regardless of being mixed or not, and I told her Angel doesn't look that way. She doesn't believe it. Would she be relieved if I were dating Angel and she saw that Angel didn't look like that? And if she were, how would I deal with that? Because I don't think that's any better than being upset that she's Asian and "looks Asian." It's the same as how people comment that mixed blacks look better than other blacks or are prettier than everyone else, or that mixed people in general are good-looking. It's a "compliment," but it's still offensive.

I could almost hear my mother saying, "Oh, she's pretty!" about Angel in this imaginary scenario where I'm dating her and bring her home, and that pisses me off. Angel might look white, but she's also Asian, she knows she's Asian, she asserts that she's Asian (though not in an unnecessary, defensive, abrasive or I-have-to-prove-myself way, but I still wonder how my family would deal with her looking like she does but identifying as Asian). And I like that about her, and I wouldn't like someone as pretty and as great as her but with more typical Asian features less. Obviously, with the way I describe the kinds of features I like, if anything, I think more typical Asian features--particularly the darker skin color--are more attractive. I don't want my saying "Angel doesn't look Asian" to my mother to seem like an implicit statement that I wouldn't be interested in her if she does. It was one of the ways I have to nicely tell her that what she thinks is so true is really so dumb.

Aside from thinking about what it would be like to take her home, I'd love to date Angel if she were available to me. Although I don't think blacks and Asians have the best of relations, I just don't see her or my other Asian friends in those terms. I don't generalize or stereotype my friends the way I do people I don't know. I have never felt like any of them were anything but on my side; in fact, I almost think of us as having our own race because we tend to think so similarly on social issues. When I was angry at whites in general about the affirmative action ban in Michigan and didn't even want to see other whites, I talked to all of my friends about it. It really was almost as if they weren't even white to me because all that really matters to me in my personal relationships with people is how they think. It's the closest we get to transcending race, although we still acknowledge and discuss our races. Of course, I wouldn't be able to do it if I weren't lucky enough to sense when someone would make a great friend for me...I'd be in huge trouble, not to mention alone, if I couldn't do that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Reflections on Affirmative Action

I've been mentioning sports a bit in my blog lately, which I think is a very good topic to intersect with the topic of affirmative action. You see, apparently, along with missing the story about the trans sports commentator, I also missed a story about former NFL football player and current Stanford football coach Jim Harbaugh accusing the University of Michigan, his alma mater, of lowering academic standards for athletes--particularly in admissions and steering them towards "easier" majors. Another interesting thing, though, is several football players from several colleges have not and will not be playing in this season's bowl games because they are academically ineligible or are involved in academic scandals. This is not the first time, either.

These are big stories in the sports world, for sure, but how many people outside of sports who would claim to care about academics or fair admissions standards know about these stories (you see how I didn't know about the Harbaugh story?) or are up in arms about them, using them to say that this is the reason why we should stop admitting "dumb jocks" or lowering the standards for them? I mean, other than Harbaugh?

All I really want to know is--why is it okay for someone--usually black, but often white and occasionally Latino or Asian--who may or may not care about a good education to make 1000 (on the old 1600 scale) on the SAT I or a 17 on the ACT and have a 2.8 GPA but be given a scholarship to schools out of their academic league, such as Michigan, Duke, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, UCLA, UC-Berkeley, USC and so forth all because he can play football or basketball...but a black kid who has, say, a 3.7 GPA in an advanced curriculum, a 1250 SAT I (on the old 1600 scale) or a 25 on the ACT, has written a great personal statement about his or her life struggles, has strong recommendations from teachers, leadership positions in organizations, community service experience and such a strong desire to attend one of the best universities in the nation that he/she is willing to borrow $30000 a year...should be denied admissions to these same schools? And why do some of us complain when the latter student is admitted but we have nothing to say when the first student is, with a scholarship to boot?

The same can be said--and is more often said--with legacies, i.e. people with a parent who attended the school, often having donated money to the school or being famous. But I think using athletics sinks in better with people who are dead-set against affirmative action, because many of these people will not be sports fans and getting into schools that one academically doesn't deserve to happens more with sports or, at least, is more visible. Athletes play games, representing their universities, weekly for months, oftentimes on TV.

Sure, there are positives to the practice of admitting athletes who don't make the grade academically. But the same can be said for minorities who, by many people's very narrow standards, don't appear to make the grade academically. There are just different lines of reasoning to support each. Athletes contribute to the school. Their sports bring in a lot of money, and they entertain people. You don't get that with black students who don't play sports, sure. Indeed, most people don't really feel there is a benefit to them, personally, in having minorities at university--and that's what matters. Remember, everyone's selfish. The US is about "what does this do for me?" Okay. But minorities who attend universities contribute, too--to society. Nowadays, it seems that everyone has something to say about blacks and crime, blacks and hip hop culture, blacks and sexism.

Look--black people who attend and graduate from good schools generally don't commit crimes, generally don't fit in with hip hop culture nor become rappers, generally don't even agree with so-called hip hop culture and generally are more aware and understanding of gender issues. So, perhaps...if you really want this stuff to slow down, you'll want to make good education as accessible to blacks as possible. People love to generalize that education doesn't matter to blacks. Well, education doesn't matter, in general, to the majority of people in this country. But if you really knew, you'd know that racial & ethnic minorities take education for granted a lot less than whites do. That's because whites can spend their days as a teenager skateboarding and getting drunk, then spend college days getting drunk and hooking up, and still fall into a good job. The difference with blacks than with everyone else is that blacks don't see college as a possibility, not just because of admissions but because of affordability and--believe it or not--simple things that everyone else takes for granted such as knowing how to apply for financial aid, knowing all the different forms you have to fill out, knowing how to fill out those forms and then having to pay for many of those forms on top of everything else you have to pay for.

I saw personally when I was applying to law school--and continue to see now that I'm trying to figure out how to pay for the Bar exam and the Professional Responsibility exam (not to mention how I will get to those exam designations or how I will afford to live this summer as I prepare for the Bar exam)--that everyone else, but especially whites, take so many expenses and hurdles that are present in application processes for granted and are clueless that these things are not simple for everyone else. My brother-in-law's sister and brother could not get the help they needed in trying to apply for financial aid, and they have the kind of parents who refuse to help with those things and who don't know when their kids are in danger of failing until the last minute. But all kinds of people have bad and/or uninvolved parents, especially today, not just black parents. And it's hard to expect people who never went to college and never thought of attending college because they didn't have to opportunity to, to understand the importance of it or know enough about the process of applying to help their kids do it.

Yet, the obstacles remain, and non-blacks remain clueless or uncaring about them. Everyone should be treated the same in admissions, only we're not treated the same in every other aspect of life. We should forget the past, only the past still affects the present. Martin Luther King Jr says people should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin...only taking race into account in admissions is about judging people by their character, not their skin color. For so many minorities, their race shapes their character. Those admissions officers at Michigan or Harvard who read the personal statements blacks submit will tell you that, because a lot of blacks cannot write about the person they've become without writing about how race played a role in getting them there. It's not as if admissions officers see that an applicant is black or Latino and admits them on the spot just because of that. All the factors I mentioned above in comparing an athlete to a black academic student play a role, which means admissions officers look at the totality of the person--every person. It is society that still judges people by their skin, not their character...which is the main reason why I consider racial stereotypes and generalizations racist.

I realize that I am not discussing affirmative action and Asians & Latinos (or women and queers, etc), pretty much just blacks. I am also using "minorities" at times, but this is not really an inclusive discussion. As a black person, I know more how affirmative action affects blacks, and I do believe that it is more--if not solely--necessary for blacks than others. However, I do believe that "affirmative action" is not the correct term for what colleges and universities do, particularly the more prestigious universities. "Affirmative action" is the guarantee that those schools will not discriminate on the basis of race. Schools use a diversity policy. In using such a policy, I believe that it is absolutely correct to consider each and every applicant on an individual basis, using several criteria in order to assess each person's total background. I am quite familiar with some schools' admissions process, particularly Michigan, Michigan Law and Harvard & Harvard Law.

Before the affirmative action ban in Michigan, Michigan Law had the best admissions process of any program in the nation, because, the way they did things, a white or Asian student who had a compelling total package but a low LSAT score had as good a chance of being admitted as a black student who did--and, indeed, Michigan Law has admitted many white students with lower GPAs and/or LSAT scores. Michigan Law doesn't have perfect racial & ethnic representation, but they have really good diversity in the true sense of the word because diversity to them was not and is not just about race.

Unfortunately, now diversity will likely continue in every sense but racially--they will still have tons of white queers and white women, white kids who grew up poor and white kids who were adopted by minorities, white kids who are from places as diverse as Germany, Montana, Canada, Alabama and New York, and Asian kids, too...but they won't have that many black or non-white Latino kids. In other words, anyone can go to Michigan Law except blacks and Latinos, unless they're [likely] an (speaking in terms of social class) uppity black or Latino, many of whom will choose Harvard or Columbia instead now because Michigan Law will not be the best school they get into. This is not what admissions policies should be in the US; the way Michigan Law did things prior to 2007 is the way every school and every program in the US should do things.

I have a joke about schools like Michigan now, or schools in lily white states (or states I tend to think of as white) such as Idaho, Delaware and West Virginia: the only black people there are the schools' athletes (or in Michigan's case, I say "the only black people who will be there after a while are the black athletes"). It's sad, but that's probably not all that far off. As much as I love college football, if I could choose between affirmative action and great but academically unqualified athletes, I would choose affirmative action. I just don't know how it makes sense that a black guy who doesn't care about the school's academics, prestige or job appeal can be more embraced by the university and the entire country than a black male or black female who will work hard and give 100% to the classroom...all because the former can throw a ball but the latter didn't perform as well on a test made predominantly by white males with a historical purpose to demonstrate that some groups of people are superior to others. I believe that blacks who want to be in college for college's sake should be the ones who have the doors opened and the red carpet rolled out for them...not athletes.

I think this phenomenon picks up where I was starting to go before, which is that many blacks don't view college as accessible or helpful...unless you're a black male going to play a sport. Because, in truth, unless you're upper-middle class+ and black, and/or have parents with a college+ degree, college is not that accessible to most blacks. But if you can play a popular sport, as I said, it doesn't take much for a college to call you. Suddenly, you don't have to know anything about researching colleges, financial aid forms, application fees or how you might go about paying back college loans. Suddenly, you don't have to worry whether or not you can get a job upon graduation, because you have the chance to go Pro and make millions if you can just stay healthy and at the top of your game. Is it any wonder that paths such as athletics and music are such popular choices for black males? To many, they seem like the only paths for black males.

By the same token, is it any wonder that black females outnumber black males in college? After all, if black women didn't rely on college...there's not much else out there they can do. Going Pro isn't the same for us, and, as women, we're taught about needing stability and we're more practical than to run around trying to score record deals or an agent who will get us auditions for movies/TV shows, even if we can sing or act. hard is it to make a hit rap song, do you think? Now answer the same question for black women. Becoming a rapper might be harder than it seems, but I believe the reason so many black males want to do it is because they also believe it's not that hard. Still, more black women might attend college, but the best schools still don't see anywhere near as many black women as schools held in less esteem do--and, as I said, black females at schools like Michigan and USC tend to be from the middle and upper-middle classes+. Those schools still remain much more accessible to black male athletes whose application package would be much less impressive than the non-high-falutin' non-athletic blacks' application packages.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reflections on Trans Identity

I'm finally finished (for the semester)! Very happy to have some time to myself.

Okay, today's topic:

So, this time of the year has suddenly become even more heavenly for me. Why? Because it's nonstop football and even as much basketball as I can take (for some reason, basketball doesn't interest me nearly as much as college football and certainly the NFL and NBA don't, but I at least watch my school's college basketball team when they're on TV). Well, I was watching a game, and one of the commentators looked "odd" to me. Like...I couldn't tell what his or her sex was. Now, I know firsthand that sports is a sexist and "manly"-oriented world. So, I couldn't believe that they would have a female commentator (i.e. a female commentator the WHOLE GAME and not just intermittently during the game as she's down on the field annoying players and coaches...or perhaps they think of them as eye candy and, thus, not annoying...), and I most certainly couldn't believe that they'd have a TRANS commentator. I've never heard a female commentator an entire game since I've become a fan of sports, and I'd never heard of a transsexual person in sports.

So, I grabbed my lap top and did some research. As far as I can tell, the female commentator really was a female--although she looked like what we associate with transgendered and transsexual people, i.e. men in women's clothing and wigs, and women in men's clothing with short hair--and she even sounded like what many of us associate with trans individuals, i.e. a woman whose voice wasn't exactly feminine. Yet, during my search, I did come across a trans sports commentator. Now, I've been a fan of college football, at least, all year and I still missed this story...probably because I didn't watch Sportscenter and read sports news the way I do now earlier this year when this story broke. Still, this transsexual woman looks more like a "real" woman than the commentator I saw on TV did.

Anyway, finding this out got me thinking. I wrote months ago in my blog that sometimes I sit and think about my relationship to sex and gender. As I was finding stories about Christine Daniels, I would look at any available comments from the public. Some people thought it was great, but a lot of people used words like "sick" and "disgusting." I don't see what's sick or disgusting. And that sentence was my immediate thought...followed by "why not?" Why don't I think something that most people do, even some gays and lesbians and people who are perfectly fine with gays and lesbians? I'm not sure I can say that I've never thought anything was wrong with it. I don't really clearly remember thinking anything about it until I started thinking about what my own gender really is, which I think is key.

In other words, while men and women surely think about their relationship to sex, they never really think about their relationship to gender or question their gender. I think this is due a lot to the fact that many people don't know the difference between sex and gender. "Sex" means sex, i.e. the act, to people. But, put in simplest terms, "sex" really is what we tend to think of as a dual option, i.e. you're either a male or a female (which is not entirely true). While it's become more possible to change sex, sex tends to be pretty static without an operation. Gender is a lot more variable. In fact, I would say that terms many people apply to different queers, such as "butch" and "femme," are terms indicating someone's gender...I don't know what other people would say. Anyway, these things, never being a question or much of a thought to people until they're older (as opposed to homosexuality, i.e. you don't hear "Does your mama know you're a tranny" jokes at elementary school cafeterias), more people feel extremely strongly that there's only man and woman and that something is really wrong with "changing" one's sex and/or gender.

I believe what a lot of people would say about gender and gender roles, i.e. that it's socialized. However, for some people, socialization just doesn't work, and that's an important difference. In some sense, I have never completely accepted that I am a woman, i.e. I couldn't be socialized to fit general ideas about who women are and what they like. It amazes me that so many people make sweeping generalizations about what "all" women like, act like or are looking for, but then I realize that it goes back to socialization and a lack of realization. So I've gotten messages forever about what I'm supposed to be like, but it really just hasn't mattered...not that I don't have prejudices about gender variations, because I do. I don't understand "feminine" fact, they irritate the hell out of me. If a man doesn't like football, he's simply not worth a damn to me because we don't have much else to talk about, especially if they are [feminine] gay men (because I don't know anything about things like musical theatre and fashion, nor do I have any desire to). And I think that women are supposed to "look like women," i.e. long hair or feminine styles at the very least. But just as with my racial prejudices, I have to remind myself of some things, like not all women completely identify with those ideals or would even look right with long hair. As far as the football thing...hmm, can't help that one.

As far as not identifying, I should know better. In fact, being the kind of "woman" that I am is the reason why feminine men and I don't mix. We don't have anything in common. More stereotypical women seem to love feminine gay men, and I think the similarities between them are a huge reason why. But, for me, I've always been good at things that guys are usually good at, and I've always been more interested in "guy stuff" and hanging out with guys. I realize a lot of women are like this, including a lot of queer women. But, although I realize I'm not trans, I still feel a very strong disconnection from femininity and always have. One of my problems with feminine men is not that they aren't living up to standards of masculinity, but that I have a very strong anti-feminine sentiment, i.e. I detest most feminine things and characteristics. Consequently, I feel that I'm the best of both worlds, and I prefer women as friends and romantically who fit that description, as well, and tend to look at more stereotypical women with disdain.

Similarly, I don't understand transitioning from a male to a female, although I do believe the desire is beyond his control. For one thing, I don't understand being born a male with feminine interests. For another, I don't understand giving up the privilege of being male. But, to be sure and clear--I could never see myself trying to pass as a male in any way, and when I say "best of both worlds" I'm signaling that I think some very good feminine qualities do exist. It's just that, in my experience, the majority of stereotypically feminine women and men lack most, if not all, of those good qualities. Or, perhaps put another way, there are stereotypical qualities that aren't used in a good way, such as sensitivity and emotion, in many women. As the stereotype goes, women are too sensitive and emotional. And it's true, but in law school I have met more women than ever before who are sensitive and emotional but to a perfect degree. It's the middle ground of men not thinking about people's feelings at all or demonstrating that they care and women not being overly wrapped up in how they feel or being too mushy/clingy.

Another example is, I think it's natural for a lot of people to care about how they look, but sometimes it's too much...sometimes, you care too much, go too far, take too long, spend too much money, are bitchy about how other people look, let it affect your self-esteem and so on. There's nothing wrong, in my mind, with women who look very feminine and try to--quite the contrary, although it's just not totally right for me. Again, there's a middle ground to be had. The fact that ideas about what I'm supposed to be have always been put out there and I've always subconsciously rejected those ideas because I've never felt they fit me, although I could never know the experience for sure since I'm not trans, I think gives me a little bit better understanding of trans people.

Ultimately, there's nothing sick or disgusting, or even just wrong, about being who you are, even if people can't understand it. I also don't think there's anything "brave" or that much "difficult"--and similar sentiments--about being who you are, which some people commented in relation to Daniels. To me, it's harder to actively try and be someone else, and it's not as if you can change certain things about you--you don't have much of a choice but to be it. I can't help but be black, a female or queer, so I don't think people who are any of these things are brave (and the experiences can be difficult, but simply being isn't. Similarly, announcements concerning identity might be difficult, but I just don't think they're they don't have to be brave or difficult). But they're also not sick or disgusting, as being trans is no more of a choice than race and sex are, although revealing you are is more of a choice.

Although I say this, I've mentioned several things I don't understand in relation to sex and gender. But one of the things I stop to remind myself--and think other people should, too--is that those are things that don't work for me but work perfectly well for others. They're not for my personality or body, but they are for other people's. In other words, I could never have a short haircut or a TV show on which I "help" other people's fashion sense by, I feel, criticizing them and trying to tell them how they "should" dress or decorate their house. Sometimes, it's best to shrug off things you don't understand, or try to learn more about them, rather than deny they exist or respond horribly. That's probably the most useful thing I've learned throughout law school, and it didn't even have anything to do with the curriculum. I guess I can even accept that some men don't love football, but that's something I wish even women would love because it's hard having good female friends who don't want to talk incessantly (or even at all) about my favorite team.

But like I said about the best of both worlds, hey--my two biggest obsessions are probably college football and Celine Dion (which, most men I know who love Celine are gay...but, unfortunately, not really younger guys like the ones at my university...though they do like a lot of female singers, which is also what I tend to like...though not necessarily the same ones). It doesn't get more opposite-worlds than that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reflections On Skin Color

Ahhhhhhh! Woo. I'm finally getting somewhere--one more "final" left (it's pass/fail and take-home). And by the end of the week, I will be at "home." Good, because it's a change of pace and I can watch all the college football bowl games (not that I wouldn't have anyway). Bad, because I will still have work to do and will be fearing for my life for the next two weeks (and with this being the holidays, it's even worse anywhere). But on to the topic.

I've been thinking. People seem to think that only racial minorities, particularly blacks, have a race-influenced outlook or identify as a group based on race. The Nopper article that I linked to in my last post cites to this book (read the review by Jeffery Mingo, too) with research that essentially says as much. But this past year has convinced me that white people react to racial situations or situations that evoke the idea of race in much the same way as blacks do, except their opinions often are the opposite of blacks' opinions. But whenever whites feel that a white person is discriminated against or that a situation involving whites as the wrongdoers is unfairly characterized in terms of race, the reactions tend to be the same. Whites become very defensive, and sometimes they argue on the white person's behalf to the point of denying any role he/she had or making him/her the real victim. This is also what black people tend to do.

Interestingly enough, because Asians and Latinos aren't in the media the same way as blacks and whites are, what I've observed (at least in Asians) is that they look at these situations involving whites or blacks and take sides accordingly. In other words, race as it relates to blacks and whites divides Asians. For example, I was surprised to go to an "Asian American" message board and see Asians arguing that the Michael Vick sentencing was "racist bullsh!t," just as a black person might say. Of course, you also had Asians making "white" arguments on Michael Vick and against blacks in general, as well. In the few media situations that do involve Asians in relation to other races, I was surprised to see as much neutral language as I did, racially. Here, I'm thinking specifically of the hardly-publicized beatings of Asians by, usually, blacks or Latinos. Now, I was at a message board where a thread discussed beatings by blacks, and, clearly, while there was some racially neutral responses, some Asians did engage in group identification that resulted in an "us vs them"-type response.

On another message board where blacks discussed the increase of Latino-on-black hate crimes, a few Latinos showed themselves and seemed to do the opposite of what white people do while still "grouping" the majority of Latinos--they argued the attacks don't represent Latinos and that the majority of them align themselves with blacks (which, if you read my last post, I obviously question). Some blacks argued the same thing, although one black--as I mentioned in my last post--expressed the belief that immigration is part of a white plan to racially expunge blacks from the US. Although many blacks are suspicious of Latinos, out of all the non-black racial/ethnic groups in the US, blacks probably feel the most kinship with Latinos. And of all the non-black groups, Latinos probably have the most members who identify more with blacks and/or less with whites. So that peppers some of our group identification defend-and-blame games.

This is still not really even the topic of my post. What I'm getting at, though, is people tend to get defensive on a personal level even when someone they don't know, but look like racially, is attacked in any way...regardless of the racial group to which they belong, but most especially blacks and whites. Okay.

A question that has burned in my mind for the past couple years is why do white people get so mad about being called racists, even if a person is referring to the group and not specific individuals? After all, the "goes-without-saying" in the charge is that we don't mean every white person. Furthermore, my very simple logic is that we all think racist things, engage in racially alienating behaviors (i.e. strict same-race dating, eliminating only blacks as possible partners, same-race friends only, same-race neighborhoods, etc) or, at least, racially stereotype (which, when I refer to "degrees of racism" in all Americans as I did in my last post, I would identify racial stereotyping and generalizations as Degree 1 racism, i.e. the lowest level of racism. And, clearly, each higher level of racism encompasses each lower level, i.e. Degree 2 is something like engaging in these exclusionary behaviors, which usually entails doing so based on stereotypes and generalizations. Pure Degree 1 racists stereotype and generalize but usually don't let those ideas influence their friendships, relationships, housing and so on, while Degree 2 racists often do. My white friends are Degree 1 racists. Get my theory?) Now, every racial minority I know has no problem admitting this. But a lot of white people do have problems admitting to having a racist bone in their bodies or even that racism exists or is more than just the exception in the US. Why? And it's not just public criticism, as whites have no problem making racist comments publicly...just problems admitting the comments are racist or that they are racist.

Not too long ago, I think I might have come closer to figuring out the answer by looking at myself. As mentioned before in this blog, I'm biracial, light-skinned, many white features. In relation to other black people, there were a lot of things I didn't experience or completely realize growing up, much like there are so many things white people don't experience or realize about black people. I've used hair as an example before. Now, surely, many biracial blacks have issues with their hair. I never really did, not in the same way that apparently most other black women have. Consequently, I don't really understand the big deal black women make of hair--their own, other black women's hair and white women's hair (more so when they were younger)--or how much their hair has affected them. When I was growing up and other black girls were admiring my hair, I really didn't have any idea what that was all about. Other black females tell experiences about taunts or comments relating to skin color, but, for me, almost all of my black hierarchical experiences were in relation to hair. I don't think I've ever had a black person comment on my skin color or other features, aside from family members.

The fact that black people haven't really raised skin color with me probably contributes to the way I respond to statements about light-skinned blacks being favored over darker blacks. When black people try to point out that white people have all these privileges that blacks don't have, white people deny it, get defensive, don't want to think about it and so on. It's so obvious to us, but these are people who don't experience what we do and, so, don't have the context to think about what we go through. They usually don't know those experiences exist because they don't live it. Race-related comments that are maybe made to black people are comments that white people generally don't hear. When it comes to race, it often takes people telling you what they go through...which is something many blacks don't want to do, and it's a lesson many whites don't want to receive. Yet, it takes both revealing and listening. But that's not just true between blacks and whites.

When I have heard blacks say that black men and whites prefer light-skinned blacks...I stop. "Black men don't approach me," I think. "They pretty much never have. I've seen darker girls with black men who have been interested in them and boyfriends, and I've never had a black or white boyfriend. And pretty much every black person I know, all darker than I am, socializes with more white people than I do." I read stories about darker black women being told things like "you're pretty, for a dark girl" when they are talking about the skin color preferences. And I'm like, "I've never heard anything like this" or "no one has told me I'm prettier than dark girls."

Bam. The first instinct is to deny what is being said. And then when I calm down and think more rationally, I can recall times when black guys have been interested in me. And I can recall times talking to white guys who like "light or mixed black women." But am I still in denial when I turn around and say that I don't know whether or not skin color had anything to do with black men's interest in me, or that I don't think men "prefer" black women, period, but would rather be with white women? Or that white people generally are very uninterested in me?

On some level, I accept that what black people say is true. But there's another part of me that really doesn't want to hear it. Why? I can't stand the thought of being a part of something so silly or that crap like that is still going on. Although I know I'm not the kind of black person who runs around thinking they are better than other blacks because of skin color or thinking that darker blacks are unattractive, I still feel personally attacked sometimes when I hear stories about how bad black women felt growing up because of their hair or skin color, particularly when they mention light-skinned blacks or blacks with "good hair" because that's what I look like. The "goes-without-saying" isn't registering as a "goes-without-saying" to me, even though these women aren't necessarily putting down light-skinned blacks or blacks with "good hair"--they are just telling it how it is. When I hear or read these things, though, I just associate what they're saying with, for example, my walking around campus, passing some darker black women and their automatically assuming that I am that kind of black person. In fact, I feel pretty sure that some blacks do assume that.

And why would that assumption be unreasonable? After all, I'm fairly certain that some white people sometimes worry that blacks in their presence automatically assume they are racist...and they are not wrong. Hell, I do it. Unless I get a good feeling about a white (or Asian or Latino) person, like I did with pretty much all of my white and Asian friends upon first meeting them, I assume they are racist towards blacks. And, though I'm the kind of person who generally doesn't care what people think, I still can't help but not wanting something like what black people see when they see light or biracial blacks associated with me. For some reason, white people thinking I'm racist towards white people is fine--maybe because it's not altogether untrue--but blacks thinking I'm racist towards blacks is not...even though that's also not altogether untrue. I'm at least a Degree 2 racist, regardless of race, because I do let race color a lot of my decisions...decisions that ultimately are exclusionary--particularly of whites, but often times of blacks, too, as well as Asians (as mentioned elsewhere in this blog, I don't have much experience with Latinos in my presence).

For me, the idea that I'm racist and that racism is some big, bad thing based on history is not the problem...although I suspect it is the problem for a lot of whites. For me, the problem is that I am black. And the problem for me is that I think it's crazy for people to think they are better than other people based on things we don't have any hand in. I can control my intelligence and my maturity and my human decency, and, indeed, these are the main reasons why I tend to put myself above others. Still, although I don't place myself above or alienate blacks based on things blacks can't control, I arguably do it with white people--"arguably," because one could question whether or not whites can control their relative privilege and, thus, related experiences, whether or not you can blame individuals for their group's experience that is not put into motion by them, and whether or not the fact that their experience is beyond their control gives them passes to be Degree 2+ racists when there are other whites who are merely Degree 1 racists despite that.

But when it comes to black people, I don't like the idea that my being who I am can make other black people feel bad about who they are, or the assumption that I enjoy making them feel bad. Make no mistake, I'm not guilty about my relative privilege. I like my skin color and I like my hair--as far as the texture goes, anyway--and I even like looking like my "white" father's family. But I don't like the resulting racial dynamics.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Reflections on Immigration Part 1

Per my last blog post, I saw the perfect news story today (yesterday) about a shop owner (who himself seems like the offspring of Italian immigrants, I would guess) who put a sign out saying "This is America. When ordering 'speak English'." As I'm sure he wasn't expecting, his sign has caused an uproar. Even though I'm in the middle of finals right now and this is not how I planned to approach this entry (which is why I anticipate a Part 2), I felt like responding to the issue in the article and am also not wanting to neglect my blog as I have.

Here's basically where I'm coming from in relation to immigration issues:

I don't see what's wrong with the sign. The story repeats an argument that the sign conjures up the old days when "Whites Only" was explicit (vs the modern days when "Whites Only" is implicit). I don't agree with that. If he were trying to keep immigrants and people mistaken for immigrants, i.e. certain people of color, out of his shop, the sign would have more appropriately been, "No Immigrants." Now. Sure, as I said, these are the modern days when not everyone is openly prejudiced, and, sure, a legitimate argument can be made that specifying a language wipes out those certain people of color as customers. To me, that's an argument that assumes most Latinos and Asians, say, in the US don't speak English, which probably is just as offensive as some people find the sign. It also assumes that if an Asian or Latino or even an African/Island immigrant came into the shop and they spoke English well enough to be understood, the shop owner wouldn't serve him or her. We don't know that.

While we're talking about things I don't understand in relation to this topic. I don't understand why anyone who expresses concerns about immigration is racist. I don't know why wanting English to be the official language of the nation is racist. I don't know why concerns regarding there being people in the US who can't speak English is racist. What I do understand is how Asians, Latinos and other non-white immigrant groups can hear whites and even blacks argue against immigration, and suspect racism is beneath it all. After all, when I hear non-black people talk about how much crime black men commit or say anything else negative about blacks that blacks say to each other all the time about blacks...while I don't suspect it of black people, I do suspect the usually-white people to be racists. And I understand how some of the arguments made against immigration sound, and even actually are, racist. But I've never heard a reason why the aforementioned arguments/opinions automatically mean racism is at work, and, to me, it's not exactly like how "everybody" thinks black males are criminals anyway due to a history of racist anti-black ideology in the US...with saying things like that about black men, the suspicion of racism isn't a huge leap.

Another thing I do understand is having a problem with people saying, "This is America; speak English." That does sound, at the very least, borderline racist, because the tone of it is "English is superior, and American culture is superior, and you 'Mexicans' and your damn Spanish while you're eyeing me up and down makes me angry and uncomfortable." And I won't lie; I hate when people speak foreign languages around me, because I always view it as a way for them to get away with talking sh!t about me without my knowing it. Still, I would never say, "Speak English." Frankly, it bothers me a little bit more when an Asian or Latino doesn't at all know or care about the language of their ethnic origin, and it bothers me a lot more when they don't know or care about their Asian or Latino identity because of over-identification with white Americans. I absolutely believe that people who come to the US from other nations should maintain their culture and that even American-born kids of immigrants should be taught about their culture, instilled with that pride and demonstrate an interest in the language. Of course, that's a personal choice, and it's not as if I can say I speak perfect French or am hyper-into French culture, though I am very "proud" of that part of me. I do wish I could speak fluent French and am very interested in knowing more than I do about the culture.

So my thing is not that they're not American, not white and not trying to assimilate. You know what I think about assimilation if you read my blog--I say f*ck it. Keep your language, speak it at home and among friends, know your culture and who you are. But, at the same time, I maintain that if you're going to come to the US, you've got to know English. It should be required. Instead, the direction this nation is going in, we're all going to be required to learn Spanish, which I don't think is right. English is the predominant language in this nation, and people who want to come here should have to bend in at least that one area rather than us having to change...especially given that many of the Spanish-speaking people who come here do so illegally. It really does just blow my mind.

I was born into a predominantly English-speaking culture. I worked hard perfecting my English language skills and have always been proud of my writing skills in English. I've made 'A's on nearly every English paper. My writing has been praised by lawyers. I don't speak ebonics and don't want to; I love "standard" English and would prefer everyone speak it, not just immigrants. I was believing these strengths would put me ahead of so many people in the job market...and now I go to job interviews and am asked if I speak any foreign languages fluently...which would be fine if I wanted to work in international relations in some way. But I'm trying to get a job in the US where, to me, knowing another language besides English should be a choice, not a requirement. Yes, this rubs me the wrong way, because it's hard enough, as a black female, to get a job as it is. But I don't hate immigrants because of it; a lot of the changes that are taking place in the US in connection with immigration, to me, really are not directly immigrants' faults.

I think it's awesome that there are all kinds of people in the US, but I just think we are to the point, for several reasons, where we need restrictions on immigration. To say that immigration should be cut off completely, I think, makes the "racist" claims more valid. My number one problem with immigration is truly the language issue. Forget feeling uncomfortable when a pack of Asians are speaking Korean in your presence; my thing is pretty simple--understanding. How can the shop owner seriously be expected to serve people he can't understand and who can't understand him?? How is having that concern or that frustration racist? And at a shop or restaurant, not only is it frustrating to the's frustrating to people waiting to be served. What's wrong with saying people can come to the US, but they need to demonstrate an English-language proficiency for the sake of communication and even safety? Serving food is not the only issue; what if someone's life is in danger and an immigrant who can't speak English well is seeking help but no one understands him or her, for example? What if someone who speaks English needs help and the immigrant doesn't understand or can't communicate with others? At the very least, cheap or free English language courses can be offered by some of these Liberals who call everybody racist for worrying about this kind of thing.

Ultimately, I don't know why people get up in arms about this issue either way. Nothing we say will matter. I don't think immigration will be restricted, and I don't foresee English pushing Spanish out in any way, especially not as the official language of the US. Another thing you might know about me is I think Democrats are as full of sh!t as Republicans are. Well, a lot of these [white] Democrats who "stand up" for immigration and call people who don't racists, as far as I have figured out, are really about the economic benefits of it and nothing more...which is funny, because I vaguely recall this being the political party that is always harping on Republicans and money. As I've said before, white people will be white people; they don't truly care about any racism that is underlying the issue or how immigrants benefit the American culture. And since money is almost always at the top of white people's concerns, and white people being the ones who run the US, immigration really isn't in any danger.

So people like me who have concerns don't have a chance in hell of winning this debate. The arguments Republicans dish out are full of sh!t anyway--no one really believes that they care about how immigration hurts black people, for example. My feeling is, ultimately, immigration hurts white Americans, as well...and I think that's not lost on the majority of the whites who oppose immigration, so, once again, I can see where the suspicion comes from. However, I do believe that there will come a time when 1) whites become the minority because of immigration and interracial relationships, but they will rectify that by doing as they've done throughout history, i.e. opening up the "white" label to anybody in the US who isn't black, and 2) "others" will be running the US and/or serious job competition for whites. Now, Liberals make these arguments about immigrants taking the "menial" jobs no one else wants to do. The thing about that is immigrants don't come here to do menial jobs for the rest of their lives, and, indeed, many work their way up to good careers. More than it hurts white people, this hurts blacks. Again, this is not immigrants' faults. White people just do--and will continue to--use other people of color as pawns in their game of systemic racism against blacks...the "model minority" ideal is an example that even many Asians recognize as white people's game against blacks.

As a result, when people argue about all the various consequences of immigration for blacks, it's not necessarily coming from a place of racism. I've seen it while I've been in law school with law firms--if a white business wants to look "diverse" and the choice is between a black and an Asian, or a black and a many times, they will hire the Asian or Latino. In turn, their arguments go something like, "We're not racist; we hire minorities" or "Racism is not a problem today in hiring. Just look how diverse corporate America has gotten." And, in a pinch, it's that much harder to argue that blacks are being discriminated against, even though they're still being left out. Unfortunately, employment isn't even the worst of it. More and more racially-motivated hate crimes have been occurring against blacks in certain parts of the US, particularly by Latinos.

My reading tells me that some blacks feel that this is another of white people's games in pitting "other" people of color against blacks, i.e. use immigration as a method of white-man's-hands-clean racial cleansing of blacks in the US. I don't know how true that is, but I have spent months now reading about how so many Latinos and Asians hate black people or have a similar/worse struggle with lightness vs darkness as/than blacks do--I'd actually say theirs is worse than blacks' light vs dark dilemma. And I haven't been reading stuff by scheming whites or bitter blacks--these blatant acknowledgments of racism within the culture have come from pieces written by Asians and Latinos. The fact that so many blacks are ignorant of Asian and Latino culture adds to the harm immigration can put us in. The extra anti-black sentiment coming into the US, especially at a time when whites are once again becoming very vocal and active in their anti-black sentiments, makes the return to the 1960's and earlier that we're looking at three times as bad as before because, this time, 1) it's not just going to be whites, and 2) unlike white people, Asians and Latinos have no residual guilt from a racist history their ancestors perpetrated upon blacks to make them feel bad about having racist thoughts or engaging in racist actions. That is the only thing that has made many white people develop these "liberal" sentiments some of them espouse and keep a lid on blatant white racism for as long as they have before letting it all hang out in various ways throughout the year of 2007.

So when Asians and Latinos do start running America, it's going to be worse for blacks than it is now with white people running it.
I'm tired of racism, I think the US has more than enough racism without more racists entering the US, and some of the stuff that has happened this year in terms of race relations are things that I hoped I'd never see in my lifetime. My worry is that what's coming up for blacks in the next couple decades will be worse than what my mother lived through. And I realize there are Asians and Latinos who would like to build coalitions with blacks or identify with blacks on some level, and that not all conform to/will conform to what I've just expressed. Then again, the same can be said for whites...and, yet, look where blacks are.

Whether or not some people want to face it, some--if not all--of these racial concerns are valid. Because you recognize racial tensions exist between your group and others doesn't mean you're being racist by pointing them out. I'm certainly not arguing that these are reasons to end immigration. As I've said, arguments for or against immigration ultimately won't matter, and nobody cares about the racial concerns I've raised--blacks don't know they exist (with the exception of the job market and the relatively few blacks who know about Latino-on-black hate crimes), and white people either don't care or are happy they exist. My feeling is everything I've written is a done deal, so this is not a scare tactic, either, to spur blacks into action. Blacks are done with action, as far as I can tell. We're in a stage of settling for bullsh!t or denying bullsh!t exists in the first place. Nothing anybody says is going to make blacks get up on this or most any other issue that affects black people. As I've said, I merely have concerns.

For me, my arguments for restrictions on immigration if I were a politician or anyone else who mattered would go something like: 1) having a language in the US that everyone speaks at a necessary level of proficiency is essential, and not only do we need to see to it that immigrants can speak that language...we need to do better in US schools to ensure American-born students leave high school at that level of proficiency, as well; 2) the US simply does not have the resources for any and everybody who wants to come here to be able to do so. We already have enough homelessness, unemployment and a decreasing supply of irreplaceable resources, etc. My thing would be to somehow work having a compelling need/reason for admissions to the US into the equation; 3) what is the point of having immigration rules if we're not going to enforce them? Why say you have to go through XYZ process, then turn around and let everyone who comes illegally stay with no consequences? Why do Americans have to pay for breaking laws but no one else does? And, more importantly, why should anybody respect US laws after all this?

Final thought: anybody who knows me or has read enough of my blog knows I have no problem pointing out or admitting to my own prejudices, because I feel that nobody in the US is free from having racist ideals. If my problems with immigration had anything to do with the racial & ethnic backgrounds of immigrants, I would have said so. I'm not like those white people who say, "I'm not racist, but..." then say something totally racist. I know I'm racist. My friends know they're racist. The question, for us, is not "are you racist?" It is to what degree. We talk about that kind of stuff, and we're from diverse backgrounds. We just happen to be more comfortable with saying, admitting and hearing things that most people aren't, because we think it's more useful to the nation than just pretending like this stuff doesn't exist or trying to make everybody be quiet if they don't have anything nice or "correct" to say.

I'm telling you--none of the above has come from a place of racism. I'm not of the degree where I believe everyone in the US should either be white or black and everyone else needs to "go home." If I were, I'd argue for whites to take their @sses "back" to Europe before I'd try to send Asians, Latinos and Africans anywhere else--in case you haven't noticed, whites are the group of people whom I have the most against, as I suspect is the case with most blacks who have a group gripe. Immigration is not a huge issue to me, and it's not an issue that sways how I vote. I probably care less about it than GLBT issues, and if you know this blog you know I'm not all that into GLBT issues (not typical ones, anyway). For me, I just don't understand where people who are pro-immigration are coming from, for the most part, especially when it comes to illegal immigrants...and the little bit that I do understand has come from cursory reads on the internet and my "Liberal" law professors.