Nov 7, 2006

Fun With Racism!

Ok, so I don't want prejudice, ethnic tensions, linguistic differences, or world politics to become the gimmick of this blog. I just want to have an outlet to talk about my travel experiences with people who care enough to read it while they drink coffee or something. So, between the mocking of various accents and the following post, I really don't want this to become a pattern. That said...
Last week I was chatting after class with a student that several other teachers have warned me about. "Don't ever get drunk with her," they said, "she gets really violent." Apparently I've yet experience this phenomenon (and I'm weirdly non-curious about ever doing so) but I'll refer to her as Drunk and Violent anyway.
So, Drunk and Violent has travelled quite a bit. She's been the United States, to Europe, to Australia, to Korea. You'd think that a person like that would have their eyes opened up, would be sort of liberalized by seeing lots of different peoples, cultures, languages, etc. Right? Those gallivanting world traveller types have to be pretty liberal, because they've seen how we're all one, big, happy world family, right? You know, like from some UNICEF promo material. Well, no.
We were looking at the map in my classroom, and she was telling me all about her travels in Europe. "Italy," she said, pointing to Italy, "France, Spain, Portugal. Latin countries, right"
"Yes," I said, smiling, "their languages all came from Latin." I thought, for a moment, that we were going to have a nice and interesting conversation about the evolution of the Romance languages or something to that effect.
"I HATE Latin countries!" she almost spat on me when she said it.
"Latin countries! I hate them! ITALY," she pointed at Italy again, "Italy is the worst! All Italians are thieves!" Now, one likes to think that when confronted with prejudice or ignorant shit like this, one would whip out some sort of verbal judo that will expertly disarm and shame one's opponent. No. Instead I just sort of stood there for a moment with my mouth open.
"My mother's family was from Italy," I eventually said.
"Oh. Well, some Italians are nice people, but most are thieves."
So, even though I have to teach her, Drunk and Violent is not on my "cool person" list. I'd hate to meet her when she's actually liquored up.


I've seen and heard lots of trucks buzzing around Okayama carrying big, annoying loudspeakers blaring things at the general public. These trucks generally have lots of guys in either suits or pseudo uniform-things riding on them, and are often adorned with a few Japanese flags. This is actually kind of odd- in the U.S., the flag is on everything. Cars, t-shirts, dogs, everything. In Japan, the flag isn't really on anything, so the fact that these trucks have flags is unusual.
"What's with the really annoying trucks?" I asked Hip-Hop.
"Fucking assholes," he said.
"Nani?" said me.
"Some of them are politicians, but most of them are crazy right wing groups who want to kick out the Koreans."
"You're kidding."
"Nope. They're a bunch of ignorant shits who disturb the peace. I think they should be banned. Okayama's got a lot of them, unfortunately."
For a few moments, I thought it was kind of unbelievable that a bunch of people would get in trucks every day, put on uniforms, a spout xenophobic rhetoric to people while everyone was walking to work and getting coffee. But back in the good ol' U.S. of 'Merica, we've got a bunch of self-appointed guys with guns and trucks who hang out on the southern border and watch for immigrants.
It's weird to think of racism as contemporary, even when faced with it. I've always thought of it as something that "happened" as opposed to "happening." That opinion is quite wrong, I'm afraid.
Ok, I'm ever so slightly depressed after writing that. Here's a nice picture of some koi! Pretty koi! Koi like everyone- Latins, Koreans, whoever! Right, guys? Pretty koi.


Anonymous said...

I am funwithmath and you turn it into fun with racism. OHHHH the injustice. Later, gator.

Anonymous said...

kori who won't log in on the school computer and risk exposing my idetity says...

yeah. racism sucks. it:s bad everywhere here. even some of my more 'enlightened' students will says, America is good, though a little bellicose. Japan is good, though we have some problems with sexism. All Koreans manufacture fake currency to undermine the Japanese goverment.

and all I could think was... oh my god, you lived in America for 6 years AND used the word bellicose correctly.

... moving on...

Sydney said...

I think racism and xenophobia in general are necessary in the construction of culture. (That doesn't man they're good, and I certainly don't advocate them, but I do think they're innate.) A cohesive social identity - who is "in" - must be constructed in the context of who is "out." I think that in the initial struggle of a culture's birth those sentiments must be vitriolically espoused to solidify the "who-ness" (if you will) of the new culture. As the new cultural identity is accepted by both the in-group and its surrounding out-groups (please, don't get me started on whether or not sovereignty can only be conferred by out-groups...), the "who-ness" and the "in"-status become taken for granted. Is it not a very subtle form of xenoism (as "race" is kind of a weird, hard to define concept anyway, and we're not really necessarily "phobic") to see oneself as a member of a culture and someone else as not a member? The fact is, we can't not do it, no matter how liberal we are.

Without a sense of "inside" and "outside," cultural, social and political boundaries disintigrate. As human beings, we naturally create these distinctions, though when they blur we can accept those changes as a new set of boundaries. For some of us, the only true boundaries are language and custom, things that cannot be ignored because they make communication impossible, make distinctions real and experienced.

I think that what is most troubling about the Strom Thurmonds, Jean-Marie Le Pens and crazy Japanese Flag Guys of the world is that they exist in cultures where the need to proclaim who is "in" and who is "out" is totally unnecessary. For them, the blurring of cultural, social and political boundaries threatens their personal identity. They see their culture, their way of life in crisis and attempt to return to the chaotic xenophobia of the first stage of cultural and social coalescence, to reaffirm to those around them who may have lost sight of what being a member of a social or cultural group means, namely, "I am 'in' and you are 'out.'" The irony, to me, is that true xenophobes seem to be the cause of more political ataxia than the clueless, boundary blurring by-standers for whom they're ostensibly trying to protect the culture.