SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA - THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES!
My earlier blog post sparked a rich discussion about racism and discrimination on the Boulder Media Women listserv. I’d like to discuss here a few of the important issues that were raised.
A topic related to our specific locale is whether there is much racism in Boulder, Colorado. Some felt that the Boulder community was fairly homogeneous and therefore relatively free of it. Another member provided detailed history on racism in Boulder. She also confirmed what I’ve learned in various anti-racism workshops in Boulder—that many people of color have left the city because of racism. Another member said racial profiling goes on now in Boulder. And related to this, media coverage of racism, as well as anti-racist efforts in the community, remains slim, so people unaffected by it tend to think it does not happen.
Another issue is race versus class and whether race issues are really masquerading as class issues. I agree that class divisions have grown worse in the U.S. (and worldwide), but I disagree that most or all of what gets called racism or relates to race can be explained by other social divides such as class or culture. As another woman said, racism has gone underground, so those who aren’t targeted probably don’t see it. So, what is still driving person-to-person prejudice as well as institutional racism?
So-called reverse discrimination is another issue under discussion. This perspective lacks historical weight. Although some individuals in dominant groups feel that in specific situations they are discriminated against (i.e., for scholarships or a particular job), they ignore the preferential treatment many whites, males, and middle- and upper-class people have received since this country first formed.
Preferential treatment changes over time, favoring or disfavoring different groups. For example, Jews were “out” and later “in,” but, in general, European Americans dominated most social, political, geographical, economic, and religious structures during the formation of our country. Among other things, this heavily influenced our current social codes, divisions of land and resources, our language, and cultural products (books, movies, histories, etc.).
Geographically, our country, including major cities, was divided up according to racial differences. Our economy grew out of a system that relied on the slave labor of a particular group—African Americans. This legacy is rooted in our material surroundings (which relate to class), as well as all the structures mentioned above. This leads me to the conclusion that these forces of history, embedded in all of these structures—as well as our very personal habits, language, etc.—are what still drive racial discrimination today.
Although those of us who are members of a dominant group did not set these structures or systems in motion, it is important we understand the historical moment we were born into. Those of us with white skin, whether we like it or not, possess a skin color that can give us advantage in many of these systems.
For more, see Peggy McIntosh’s article called, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible knapsack.”
If anyone in Boulder wants to discuss these issues at greater length, check out the YWCA of Boulder County programs.
Thanks for the great discussion! Christine Weeber, http://www.christineweeber.net/
ENJOY OUR "SNAX"--SHORT BYTES--IN BETWEEN ISSUES OF FEAST!
Between issues, read our blog posts as we and our special guests share thoughts, ideas, and recommendations about books, art, food, film, and travel. We love to hear from our readers, so please post a comment! Thanks-- Rosemary Carstens, editor
SNAX ONLINE is moving during the first quarter of 2011 -- stay tuned!
See you in 2011!!
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
SOMEWHERE IN AMERICA - THE DISCUSSION CONTINUES!
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Guest blogger Chris Weeber generated a lot of discussion in her recent post about racism and discrimination and how it can sneak quietly into so many arenas without our being aware of it. I've invited her back to write more on this topic and hope you will watch for it and add your thoughts to the conversation.
When I used to teach, one of the things I often told students before we'd watch a TV clip or film was "Think about WHO made this film or wrote this story. What were they trying to achieve? Did they intend to present a biased point of view or did they try to keep it balanced? Did they tell all sides of the story?" Throughout history, there are many versions of wars, elections, motives, and various events. It has been said that the history of any war is the winner's version. They often portray themselves as not only victorious, but honorable, heroic, fighting for "right," on the side of GOD, and so on. Maybe this is something for all of us to be thinking about now -- RC
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Sometimes it seems as though we look for differences between peoples as a means of making ourselves feel superior, set apart, better than. To fail to seek similarities as a means of uniting us as humans leads only to war, discrimination, and, for many, lives of unimaginable despair. Our guest blogger CHRISTINE WEEBER introduces us to a film based on a novel and a novel that deal beautifully and thoughtfully with the topic. Thank you, Chris! -- Rosemary
Racial and ethnic divisions and hierarchies separate people all over the world, not just in the U.S. We increasingly recognize these as barriers to overcome and not simply accept but, in public conversations about race, we tend to get stuck in the racist/not-a-racist dichotomy. Two works that successfully get us beyond this dichotomy are Nowhere in Africa, a German film written by Caroline Link based on the autobiographical novel of Stefanie Zweig, and Small Island by the Jamaican Brit Andrea Levy.
Both of these stories are set in the context of World War II. In Nowhere in Africa, a Jewish family escapes Nazi Germany in 1939 to live in Kenya, then a British colony. Small Island traces the story of two Jamaicans who migrate to the Mother Country, i.e., England (Jamaica was a colony until 1962), in 1948. In both, the authors capture the complexities of migration, displacement, and loss of home, as well as the day-to-day grit of racial and ethnic oppression. In addition, we get to know people who are “racist.”
In Nowhere in Africa, Walter Redlich and his wife, Jettel, move to an arid, rural farm in Kenya with their five-year-old daughter, Regina—a far world from their middle-class life in Germany. Walter learns Swahili and humbly works alongside local Kenyans—a position he didn’t have to accept as a white man, given British dominance. Young Regina forms strong bonds with the cook and local Kenyan kids, becoming more and more Kenyan as time goes on. Proud Jettel despises the locals, tries to keep her distance and distinction from them, and attempts to force them into subservient roles.
Jettel is a privileged, prejudiced European woman who looks down on the “dirty” Africans. But through arguments with Walter and ever-worsening news from home, she is forced to confront the irony and vulnerability of her position as a Jewish refugee. She is forced to search her soul for a different identity than elite, white westerner.
In Small Island, the two main characters have no choice but to deal with the racial box they are thrown into. Hortense and Gilbert grew up in Jamaica learning the King’s English but, in moving to post-war London, they are surprised to find England does not want them. This, despite that Gilbert fought in the British Royal Air Force and Hortense is a schoolteacher.
Queenie, their white landlord, is the only one in her neighborhood to take in Jamaicans. Her neighbors despise her for it. Bernard, her husband, is away serving in the Royal Air Force and takes a few years to make his way back home. When he does arrive, he says, “I didn’t defend my country to give it over to them.” Unlike Jettel, he resists change. As for Queenie, she has a greater surprise in store for Bernard than simply her rebellious room renting to “coloured” people.
Through both of these stories we enter the lives of people who inhabit different sides of the racial divide—and some who have lived on both sides. We get to know people forced to navigate racialized societies. And we get inside the heads of so-called racists—and, in the case of Jettel, to watch her work her way out of that label.
By walking in these people’s shoes, we can feel the almost gravitational pull of race and ethnicity, and it becomes clear that this pull is maintained by more than those few we might call racists. Neighbors, bosses, and government employees are among those who enforce racial codes in England. In Kenya, British settlers and government officials uphold the country as a British colony.
Our conversation deepens. We are forced to ask ourselves, when confronted with change, with “difference,” and with power inequalities, how will we react? Will we cling to a real or imagined status quo? Or will we change, grow, adapt, and learn new ways of being? How do our choices affect us and other people?
CHRISTINE WEEBER works as a freelance writer and editor. She holds an MA in cultural anthropology, a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies, and a BA in English Literature and Philosophy. Her master’s thesis focused on white South African immigrants in Colorado. She recently won the Great Lakes Story Contest for her piece Breaking Skin (see her website). Her essay, “An Unladylike Journey,” appears in the popular anthology Solo: On Her Own Adventure . For more, see http://www.christineweeber.net/. In the photo, Christine is teaching her nephew one of her favorite pastimes.