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It's never just black and white... [Aug. 8th, 2009|09:15 am]
Which is a horribly cliched way to title this post -- but yardwork calls and no one's paying me by the word here, so go ahead. Judge me.

Been pondering on a post, where a lovely friend was worried that she was prejudiced for being surprised that a Hispanic worker she deals with spoke some Chinese. And at first, I thought, well, you're carrying the same prejudices I am, except that I don't think it's racist, so much as classist. Sorry, but put you in a suit and tie with a briefcase and I'm going to assume that you are more likely to speak a second language -- especially a non-common second language -- than someone in jeans, a ratty t-shirt and mud on his boots. Actually, I would be suprised to find anyone I knew spoke Chinese. Except for a Chinese person. Although, I would STILL be surprised to hear Chinese out of someone's mouth, because I automatically assume that the Asian person in front of me is American, anymore. Or maybe Korean. If they're older.

(By "American" I mean you were probably born here, have been speaking English your whole life/long enough that you don't have an accent and now, in my head, you're Korean, or French, the way I'm German or Danish.)

But that comes from living where I do, I guess. Twenty years ago, it would surprise me to hear an Asian-looking person speak "American". Growing up in my part of Connecticut, Hispanic meant Puerto Rican, almost exclusively. In DC, it's a whole 'nother melting pot. Took a guy to task for calling his seasonal workers "Mexicans". Since I'd talked to them and knew they were from El Salvador. The A-hole I took to task, of course, said "they're all Mexicans to me". Which was outrageous, but really, years ago, when I was making fun of a fellow chef who'd come from a restaurant and was trying to make it as a personal chef and I said "Well, I think he's finding a bit harder now that he doesn't have little brown people to do all the work for him." Ack! Did I really just say that? But the kitchens I was working in, dishwashing, prep work, clean-up...all done by Hispanic workers. And okay, I did tower over all of them. In another time, they all would have been Irish. So was that racist, classist, does it matter? F-ing lazy thinking, that's the crime. Another ten years and the chefs will be Hispanic and it will be some other ethnic group working their asses off to get ahead.

I am more frightened, walking alone at night, to come across a bunch of black teenagers in "gangsta" attire hanging around a stoop, than a similarly dressed group of white kids. Is that racist? Because to me, the white kids are automatically poseurs. Or stupid. Or both. I think "Oh, I can handle THEM." Whereas the black kids may well be smart and competent, but just grew up in a bad environment. So, am I back to being classist? Or just playing the odds, because white kids can be smart and competent, but grow up in bad environments too.

I would hire kids at gourmet-store-not-to-be-named and I'd often hire kids who had spotty employment records. If they were black. I figured, hey, they might not have had the same chances. Is that also racist, just in reverse? Or is it classist? Because, really, it wasn't just the color of their skin, it was where they were born, how they dressed and acted. Because the black kid who'd grown up on Martha's Vineyard and was going to Georgetown (and from his clothing, NOT on a scholarship)...I didn't cut him a break for having too many employers in a short time period, one of whom was quick to tell me that the kid had "showing up when scheduled issues". Was I overcompensating for white guilt?

The day I had to fire a black kid for stealing...a watermelon. Do you think THAT day was fun in my head? The comedian in my head was DYING. The concerned, WASP-liberal in me was thinking "you couldn't have stolen, I dunno, shrimp? A zucchini? Peaches? Anything?" This was not his first theft...more the last straw, but still.

Just this morning I was at the farmer's market and the guy running his vegetable stand -- native Marylander skinny white guy, dressed in his ratty t-shirt, mud on his boots, does carpentry work and farms during the week. He's in the middle of a transaction with an older Hispanic couple. And he totals up their stuff, should be $13, he gives it to them for $11. And the husband of the couple says "that's not right" to the wife, so she calls the stand owner back and says "wait, how much were the potatoes, and the tomatoes" and makes him go through each item, until he says "so, it should be 13, but I'm giving it to you for 11". And she blushes and she and her husband laugh and she says "okay, I'll go now, before you take away my deal." And we all laugh, although now the standowner is rolling his eyes and when they're out of earshot he says "You know, them people always think you're trying to rip them off." And I think oh, god, here comes the redneck...

But then he looks flustered and says "By them people I mean foreigners...er" and looks even more flustered. And continued "I mean, they're new here and they're so used to people tryin' to take advantage of 'em, that they're still surprised to find an honest merchant. That I want them to like buying my stuff and want 'em to come back. Damn, we just don't treat people right just cuz they talk funny."

So, who's more wrong -- him for making a lot of assumptions? Or me, for being surprised that this person I would have labelled -- and might still -- a good ol' country boy redneck, was that thoughtful. I mean, I just expected him to insult them, frankly. Which sort of makes ME the bad guy....

[User Picture]From: thatliardiego
2009-08-08 02:37 pm (UTC)
Nobody likes to be the bad guy. The problem is, it either causes guilt (tolerable) or defensive resentment (not so good).

It's probably going to happen; the question is how one deals with it.
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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2009-08-09 12:19 am (UTC)
Years ago I had a boyfriend who lived in a frat house at the U of W. As we were going into the house one sunny day I noticed some of the guys sunbathing. One guy had this awesome tan. "Wow, nice tan," I say. "Thanks," he says. "It's natural." ? My boyfriend says, "He's part Japanese." He acted like I should be embarrassed but you know, I wasn't. I simply hadn't noticed that his eyes were slightly different from everyone else's- I just thought he had a great tan. I'm not sure if this is applicable to what you wrote or not but it just came to mind.
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[User Picture]From: terribleturnip
2009-08-09 06:32 pm (UTC)
I was covering a friend's store while she was on vacation. And a couple came in, he was white, she was black, with their baby. Even I thought he was cute as a button. And after they left, I remarked that white babies always look like they weren't left in the oven long enough. Sort of larval-looking. And that I couldn't wait until we were all mixed racially enough so that we'd all have good looking kids and stop being so hung up.

And the girl, whom I'd been working with, on and off, for almost a year, said "Well, thanks." And I said "For...?" And she said, "well you know my Mom is Jamaican and my Dad's white, right?" and honestly, I didn't. The only thing I'd thought about her appearance was how damn pretty she was. Which unscientifically proves my point about improving the look of the human race. Plus, of course, I'm all about hybrd vigor.

(That last part is a joke. Maybe.)
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[User Picture]From: ferlonda
2009-08-10 03:49 am (UTC)
"Hybrid vigor-" yep, I'm with you there. One of my favorite horses growing up was Arab-Thoroubred-Morgan. Talk about gorgeous, smart and willing! And I've always thought children of mixed background were beautiful, too.
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[User Picture]From: lowlandscot
2009-08-10 06:30 am (UTC)
You need a cure for all this white-guilt schtick, have Dallas Valley do his routine about being southern/South Korean for you (in particular -- his bit about his tricked out Hyundai named "General Li.") When you pick yourself off the ground from laughing so hard, you'll realize we can't even keep up with all the stereotypes anymore, so we might as well just laugh at ourselves about it all.
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