So, on Come Round (a party/promotion thing), a group photo won first prize for an Indian food feast. In the photo are 3 women dressed in lovely approximations of Saris, a dude with a sombrero on his head (okay…), a guy doing a cartoon facial approximation of an Indian man, complete with giant bindi (which makes no sense, as Indian men generally don’t wear bindi, but whatever), a guy who browned up with a bald cap and round glasses for a Ghandi look, and a woman in a Pocahontas outfit. Yeah. Wrong Indian.
Anywhoo, some dude on Monkey’s f-list just didn’t know what the problem was, and that everyone nowadays was way too sensitive, blah, blah, blah, and I immediately thought of the recent brilliant essay by John Scalzi, where he defines life as a game, and that Straight White Male is the easiest setting. This guy happens to be gay, but we’ll let the premise stand. In the game of life, certain people get bonus points right off the bat for having a certain parentage, nationality, etc. Now, whether they choose to acknowledge the leg up they got is irrelevant; the fact is, they got it. Fact remains, other people didn’t. What bugs me is when people like this dude try to gloss over stuff like this in an effort to minimize the yuckiness that comes from it.
Fact is, I used to do the same thing – put people and situations in little boxes in an effort to not have to think about them. Gays were gross because they went against God. Then in college I met a girl named Trinity, who happened to be a lesbian. She was a nice girl. Studious. Funny. She wasn’t gross at all! And from that moment on, things became more difficult. I was forced to look at how other people were treated, and their history, and that stuff is hard, and made my head hurt. It’d be easier to just pretend that pre-conceived notions were correct, that everyone is equal (except the ones we don’t like, like the gross gays, or the lazy blacks and Mexicans, or the shifty Jews, or the power hungry Chinese, or…), and that if everyone was just as cool about shit as we were, then it would all be okay.
And here’s the eventual problem with that kind of thinking. Just because *you’re* cool with a picture like that, doesn’t actually make it okay. As I said to the fella who said it wasn’t fair that I was assuming that they were being racist, and they could just be getting into the spirit of the Indian food party:
“Historically, in the US, white people have not blacked their faces in an effort to seem authentically black, hispanic, indian, etc. They have done it in a long standing effort to mock, belittle, and in many cases in the south, threaten. Perhaps, however, here in the UK whites have been far more advanced, and blacken up their faces, slap a MASSIVE red dot on their foreheads, and put costume facial hair on in an effort to truly understand the history, dignity, and commonality of the Indian people. But somehow, I doubt it. I’m willing to bet if you asked the bloke on the right about his bindi, for instance, he would probably not be able to tell you that it is a sacred symbol representing the most holy of chakras. Maybe, he would. But I doubt it. And maybe the lady on the far left, in the outfit 4 sizes too small, could tell you the history of the tribe of First Peoples of the Americas that she fashioned her outfit from. (fun fact: Pocahontas was of the Algonquian tribe). Or, and this is more than likely, she would say “Oh, it was Indian food, so I went as an Indian. HAR HAR”. So while I *could* go out on a limb and say that the fellow in the bronzer with the bald cap and sheet is going in order to bring awareness of Mahatma Ghandi and his nation’s non-violent resistance and eventual overthrow of one of the most powerful armies in the world, Occam’s razor would tell us he’s more than likely an asshole who thought it would be a larf.”
As expected, his argument followed that I should be just as upset if a Brit put on a beret and pretended to be French, etc, conveniently forgetting the fact that he was describing another predominantly white, first world nation. In his mind, because no one has ever lorded any kind of power or influence over him in an effort to take away his dignity, it no longer happens. Black face? Just a way to get in character. Making a slanty eyed face around an Asian person? All in fun! Because he has never been victimized for his skin tone, everyone else should just get the fuck over it. (I do wonder what his reaction would have been had they all been dressed in unfair gay stereotypes – the fey ‘faggot’, the pedophile, the butch lesbo, the early 1980’s dude rotting from AIDS. I wonder if he’d have gone to bat for them so quickly then…)
I think it’s this type of self-enforced ignorance that bugs me the most. It’s one thing to never pay attention in class, and not understand the history of blackface/using the Asian features as a vehicle of fear-mongering/zeroing in on a ‘lower’ group in an effort to further push them down/etc, it’s quite another to see a complete representation of that, and then brush it off as someone else’s problem, and if they get upset, it’s them being over-sensitive. It’s pathetic.
A month or so ago, Monkey met me at the door with some news. Seems he and Baby Alex were playing alone in the grass, when our drunk, racist as fuck neighbour yelled from inside their home “FUCKING CHINKS”. Classy. I wanted to go over there and rip their faces off, but Monkey stopped me. He’s been called Chinky so many times, it doesn’t even surprise him. Hurts him, yes, but doesn’t surprise him. So you can say, “‘We’ve moved on”, but I know better, because I live in the world where this stuff still happens. Where assholes haven’t “moved on”, and where only slightly less assholish people make excuses for them.
I’m sure the guy I got into it with today over the photo would make excuses for my neighbour as well. He’d probably say that because they were in their house, yelling outside to my husband and child, (who were alone in the garden), that I can’t be sure what they were yelling about. Maybe they are Renaissance faire enthusiasts who accidentally ruined their chain-mail armor, and now needed to resolder the individual chinks in the pattern. Maybe they were doing some DIY home renovation and found a fissure in the undercoating of the wall, meaning it was now structurally unsound. Or maybe, just maybe, the neighbours who are historically known for making horribly racist jokes and being drunks, were combining those two, and called my baby a fucking chink. Because in his world, it doesn’t happen. To him. So, it doesn’t matter.
I accept that it’s a crooked game, but the only game in town. You accept Occam’s razor.
I’ll get over it, when you stop doing it.