Saturday, February 18, 2006

The "R" Word

This blog has been percolating in my brain for awhile now. It finally bubbled over when I read this post on Fat Red Ant's 44x365.

I wasn't sure I'd ever address the issue of racism on my blog. Some of you who've known me from other places on the net may (or may not) know I'm not white.

One of the reasons I like the internet is that I'm perceived by my words and ideas first and foremost – not by the colour of my skin. My writing and recollections sometimes have clear allusions to my ancestry and sometimes, they don't. I don't make a big deal about it, nor do I avoid it. It all depends on what I'm trying to convey.

Anyways, back to FRA's post. It clearly illustrates to me how far we (I'm speaking of the global we) need to go before racism is eradicated. It's hard for people, no matter how caring, liberal-minded and accepting to understand the deep pain and frustration felt by those of colour. I've come to hate that term, "people of colour" – but I guess there's no other term that fits.

I know there are lots of people like FRA who look beyond colour, but there are just as many like her boyfriend. The thing is, if you were to speak to someone like her boyfriend, chances are they'd be the first to say they aren't racist. I've heard all the denials and arguments: I'm not racist, but . . . . My co-worker is (black, yellow, green, purple) – we get along fine, but . . . .

See, you seldom hear racial epithets in polite conversation anymore, unless it's within the confines of a monochromatic gathering. And here, I'm not talking about whites only. Non-whites are just as guilty of racism. The problem with racism these days is that, more often than not – other than at skinhead rallies or drunken brawls - it's hidden, discreet, but nonetheless insidious.

For those of you who think, like FRA did, that it's all in our heads – that we're imagining slights that don't exist – may I offer just a smattering of some personal experiences:

  • Standing at a crosswalk with my two young children, waiting for the light to change, a man walks up to me; looks me up and down; and says, "Why don't you people leave. Go home where you belong." - I'm quite certain he didn't mean home to our house, two blocks away.

  • I'm in a hurry, rushing to an appointment and bump into a woman. I apologise. She just glares at me and says, "Watch out! You're not back home, you know." - because she's never bumped into anyone by accident.

  • I'm standing at a counter, waiting patiently for service. The counter person has seen me, nods acknowledgement – he's with another customer at the moment. A couple comes into the store. The counter guy finishes with the first customer, then turns to serve the newly arrived people first. – What? Have I become invisible? Isn't my money as good as theirs?

  • At a sporting event: I'm beaming with pride because the guy in front of me is admiring the play of my son. His friend asks him who he's talking about and the guy answers, "The Chink. Over there . . . "

  • And the one memory literally seared on my brain and psyche when I was seven years old: - having rocks thrown at me and being chased home by a bunch of Chink-calling ten, eleven year-old boys; the feeling of humiliation; the feeling there was something wrong with me that they'd hate me so much without even knowing me.

    Yes, it was a long time ago, but I often wonder where these boys and their parents are now. Are they still the bigots they were then? Have they changed? Or have they just gone underground?

You know what? I think, overall, we've come a long way from rock-throwing and outright segregation – but there's a lot further to go.

I just had to get that off my chest.


Anonymous said...

There is still a long way to go, unfortunately. I'm surprised those remarks were made in Canada since I suppose I have a higher opinion of Canadians than those remarks warrant. When I was involved with a black guy (I'm white) over a decade ago, people would ask if we planned to stay here in the South. I asked them where in the world was free of racism, and that we preferred to stay here where people knew us and we could tell who our friends were. There were no overt problems, but we did get "those looks" from some people. It's an interesting sociological study to see how ignorant some people can be. They need to get over all that as well as prejudice against gay people and concentrate on something actually important.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry these things happened to you. There are no excuses for this type of behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Joy, I think there is racism everywhere, some places more blatant than others. Coll, thank-you for your sentiments.

I don't want to sound like I'm looking for sympathy. These things happen in one form or another to many more people than we'd like to admit. One of the reasons I wrote this is to remind people racism still exists - it's just not as obvious as twenty or thirty years ago.

If we care about human dignity and believe that people shouldn't be judged by the colour of their skin, then it behooves us as individuals to guard against racism - starting with ourselves - in the way we treat others; what we teach our children; and not let others off the hook for racist remarks and behaviour.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Ell. I, too, am sorry that those things happened to you, and I agree with what you say: we have a long way to go. Thank you for being brave and writing about this topic!

Anonymous said...

I assume racism is ignorance. It's easy to hate and blame what you don't understand or know anything about. Sadly it's something some parents manage to pass onto their children. I knew a kid who found it amusing to create black characters in "the sims" and then let them burn in their house. Seing that display from a kid made me pretty sure that racism is still very real.

I don't understand why people can hate others based on colour or anything else for that matter. It's hard to be completely free from any kind of prejudice, I know I have some, but I try to become aware of what they are so I can correct myself each time I think that way. I've never really seen you as anything but white, I've never read anything to let me know different, and white is what I'm used to. Now I'm wondering if it has changed anything about how I think about you. My image of you has certainly changed, but I doubt my perception of your personality has changed at all. Question is if I would have formed a different perception of your personality if I've know from the first.

Colour only has as much significance as society lets it have, but sadly that is still a lot.

Anonymous said...

Hay, you bring up an interesting point about what your perception of me would be if you'd known from the start that I wasn't white. It's also one of the reasons I don't want it to be an obvious focus. I'd prefer that my words convey who I am before the colour issue gets in the way.

It's also interesting to note that the people who've picked up on my non-whiteness the quickest are not white themselves. I haven't quite figured that one out yet.

Anonymous said...

I think part of it is that when you are white you don't really give colour a lot of thought.

Anonymous said...

Ell, I appreciate your writing about racism. When I read of your experiences and of anyone dismissing your experience and denying the existence and pain of racism, I feel sad and angry and discouraged because I want to live in a world where we see each other so much more deeply and lovingly and I am reminded that we don't.