Saturday, January 27, 2007

Racism and Regionalism

Everyone hates each other. And there is no one more hated than the people right next to you. It always fascinates me when people act like the world is divided into homogeneous groups (like Southerners, Conservative Christians, or Mac Users) when, in my experience, all of these “homogeneous groups” bicker and constantly threaten to tear themselves apart.

In college, I went to China, and one of the things that continually shocked me was the fact that everyone was so blatantly racist. The people from the Southern provinces hated the people from the Northern provinces. The people from the Northern Provinces hated the people from the Southern provinces. And EVERYONE hated the Japanese.

One of the Chinese nationals even told us how frustrated he was with our group because, after meeting us, he had no idea what a typical American looked like. In our group we had tall and short people, different facial structures, and at least four different types of hair color. It baffled him, because he prided himself on being able to tell you everything about a person based on how they looked. He would point out people on the street, telling our group what province each passerby was, saying things like “That person is Cantonese – he eats dirt and bugs! HAHAHAHA! Dirty, dirty Cantonese!”

And then he would spit.

I chose to find it a cute, almost endearing, idiosyncrasy instead of giving the guy a lecture about how it is what is on the inside that counts, and how you should judge a person not by the appearance, but by the content of character. I do remember this, though, whenever anyone refers to “Asians” as a homogeneous group.

My wife’s former boss is from Queens, and is very dismissive of everything South of the Mason-Dixon line. He is known to call states by the wrong name and follow it up with a, “Virginia, Georgia – what’s the difference?”

To which my wife usually responds, “Queens, Brooklyn - what’s the difference?”

And then she sits back and listens to a 90 minute rant about the difference between the radiant glory that is Queens compared to the festering hellhole that is Brooklyn. Sheesh, New Yorkers are all the same.

When traveling outside of Dallas, it always fascinates me how people think of Texans. (My favorite came from a 80-year-old grandmother of a friend who said to me, “I’ve never met a Texan before… Is it true you kill all your coloreds?” Old people do not have time to mince words, apparently.) Dallas has a relatively low cost of living, so a lot of people new to the country get their starts here. There is a thriving Romanian population and a Laotian population and strong Ethiopian population. This aspect of the city never seems to make it past the city limits.

Dallas isn’t the only city with this problem. I’ve been working in Detroit and found out that Detroit has the largest population of Middle Eastern people outside of the Middle East. Of course, I have not saddled up next to someone and talked about politics with someone, getting a Saudi perspective and comparing it to a Lebanese perspective, but I have had some truly excellent lamb dishes at some Hallal restaurants. And it is always interesting to see Army recruiting billboards written in Farsi.

I remember talking to someone one time about the strange quirk about racism in Dallas, and talking about how most of the bile I have seen seems to be directed towards the Black community and the Hispanic community. People from any other part of the world, tend to get treated nicer. (That’s the entire premise of Borat – people from Eastern Europe are treated very politely in the South, so people like Borat can take advantage of everyone’s good nature to ridicule them.)

“Why do you think that is?” the person asked me.

“The closest idea I can come up with is that we grew up with a certain ethnicity, so they’re like family. And there is no one we feel we can openly hate more than family. Everyone else, we have to treat like a guest.”

So there you go. Be kind to strangers, but hurt the one you love. Sounds like the moral of a South Park episode.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Oh dear, I hope that wasn't my grandmother.