Thursday, December 22, 2005

Naked Paradise

Declare that America is not quite the ethnic paradise the prophets of assimilation claim, and from the responses in various quarters of cyberspace, will come obvious expressions of discomfort and an inability to face facts. Not a pretty picture for this alleged season of peace.

First come the unasked-for declarations of ethnic pedigree --- what's that about?

"All I gotta say is I'm an Irishman.. yes.. Irish and a Male.. Oh my what a sin that is." "I was born here, so am potentially dual nationality. Currently with a EU (British) passport." "My name is Steve and I am a WASP. Ok it's out there. I feel good..."

Second come the defenses --- denial, denial, denial.

"I am hispanic and furthermore I have dialogued with X for the better part of 3 years now and have not in my experiences with him found him to be racist." "while i will disagree with X on the topic of racism, i do not now, or ever, see X as a racist."

Finally tumbles the blowback --- the targets of prejudice are to blame.

"All one has to do is read through lenses that are hypersensitive to any racial or gender assumptions." "The Human Resouces Dept. that was by the way all 'African American and Female' came down and issued rule books to us all ... what a bunch of Politicall Correct BS."

Only one person had the good sense to ask the question, "Why?"

My first guess is that, deep down, discrimination and ethnic prejudice has to do with a combination of inferiority complexes, fear, and falsehoods transmitted as tribal myths or stereotypes.

The man who sarcastically voiced his sense that being Irish and male was a "sin" was obviously feeling put upon. He almost seemed to be saying he was left out of the great bonanza of being a target of discrimination and one can imagine his prayerful plea to Martin Luther King next January 15, "Martin, why didn't you talk about the woes of the white Irish male?"

Funny as it may seem, this man is in pain. He feels cheated and threatened, he feels somehow secondary and inferior for not sharing the spotlight of the discriminated. Perhaps he feels he was passed over for a promotion because they chose someone darker than the foam of the Irish Sea.

One man I know experienced fear in his adolescence, when open housing laws made his neighborhood accessible to middle class blacks. Some time ago I made a bet with him. I would attend one of his pro-birth rallies (he called them "pro-life") if he could go for three weeks without saying a word that begins with N; I have never attended a rally of that kind, call it pro-life, pro-birth or pro-breakfast.

Everyone denies fear of the seemingly inexplicable Other. Especially men. Yet you can see fear in prejudice, especially in positive prejudice. For example, it's common to assume that all Asian-Americans are smart and hardworking techies, to the point that, as some Asian-descent people have confessed, they feel they have to meet impossibly high expectations. Why does this prejudice exist? Because fear of the "inscrutable yellow peril" can be assuaged by convincing oneself that they're all really harmless ubergeeks.

Finally, there's the unfounded myth or stereotype. One group is shiftless, another is greedy, yet another is cruel and violent; and they're all out to wipe out those of our kind, who were so much gentler, more civilized.

In the United States, the prevailing positive myth is that Britain is a civilizing nation, that Anglo-Saxon culture accounts at least in part for American wealth and that all who have assimilated and subsumed their culture, language and traditions to ape the Anglo-Saxon are better off. The negative side of the coin is that all others are somehow flawed.

History tells a different story. But that's a whole other post. Until then, we can muse on why we are all prejudiced in some measure. Me, too.

1 comment:

Anne said...

A question instead:

Is there a place on earth where there is not prejudice?