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Op Ed

So Above It All

Do not tell me you are above the social racial norm.

Please.

Do not sit there and rattle off the number of Black friends, Latin amigos, Arab habibis. Do not go on and on about how you were raised in the urban area of EthnicCity, USA and at this point you don’t even see color.

Stop.

And welcome to Phrases That Ought to Stop Existing Now. The:
“I don’t think the social narrative applies to or affects me. I just don’t think that way.”

I don’t believe you.

To an extent we all fall victim to the storyboard. It has become a social reflex to claim indifference to a person’s otherness. Even in the face of the millions and billions of dollars pumped into the social machine, we refuse to believe in its efficacy. It may be tweaked and oiled to perfection by sociological studies, media consultants, nightly newscasts, and casual urban myth, the individual remains immune. Nope! Never gets to me!

The proof of this marketing is easily detectable within this society. Even though many will tell you they don’t even, like, care, the obvious lives on. See, if marketing and status were not effective, McDonald’s would have ceased to exist about 2 years after they served their first hamburger. 550 million Big Mac’s sold per year (yes, really) is a testament to how susceptible we all are to being programmed.

That even though I know a Chicken McNugget will neither satisfy me or bring me happiness, that crispy, golden brown skin swathed in ketchup makes me want some McNuggets bad. Even if logically I realize that not every piece of chicken should taste the exact same year in and year out. Even if half of the ingredients in that nugget I wouldn’t see fit to feed my dog with. Marketing and branding is far more powerful than most in the Western world are willing to give it credit for.

Considering this reality, to be a person who believes in real human equality needs to become less of a thought and more of an exercise. I’m damn tired of hearing about principals that are rarely practiced or voiced when publicly confronted.

So if, perchance, you find yourself walking down a city street and the Angry Black Woman stereotype finds its way into your musings, it is then intellectually lazy to think, “Whoops me, that’s racist and wrong.” Such a shallow chastisement is the moral equivalent of a used Band-Aid. The response ought to go deeper. “Why does that phrase exist the way it does?” is a good place to start. “Why did I look at a woman in distress and instead of wonder if she is alright, reduce her?” is better. And maybe even a, “What in my life is encouraging these stereotypes? Who taught me that her emotions were worthless?” could be added to your list of questions.

I think it is imperative for us to realize that every day we might need to fight off a force to “other.” That every day we might need to check ourselves and examine our thinking. We need to be able to call ourselves out on our own thoughts, and examine their origins and not just half-assedly police our words when caught with our feet down our throats (or shoved into our thoughts).

I know people who will earnestly claim freedom from such influences and in the next breath complain about “The stupid Mexicans that hit on me outside the 7-11.”

“No,” they will tell you, “It’s not racist, it’s just a fact they are raised with machismo. I know. I dated one.”

There is, of course, some truth to all cultural generalizations. Latin and Arab men are generally raised with a level of social machismo that young men in, say, Nepal are not.

The issue is not to pretend we are so apathetic and colorblind that all culture loses inherent meaning and worth. The point is not to avoid the discussion of race. That’s just a convenient farce that will lull you into arrested development.

See, the issue, I’d argue, is not policing jokes about Americans wearing shorts with socks, Arabs yelling on the phone or women being emotional. We do these things and are these things. All the time. On the phone and especially during dinner. It’s using one’s ethnicity to describe a negative trait that is not exclusive to that culture/gender/sexuality or race.

In my life, some Mexican men have yelled untoward comments in my general direction. However, if were only Mexican men yelling, life would be much simpler: avoid Mexican men. Done and done. But I’ve had my space disrespected by almost all men, regardless of genetic makeup. And here is the biggie: misappropriating blame removes any real social culpability. Sexism, not ethnicity, is the actual problem being swept under the rug. Men being taught in almost all cultures (including American) that a woman’s right to say no should be influenced and relegated by their level of desire is the real issue. And when we chalk it up to simple machismo, or Black men being more forward, or frat boys being sex maniacs or Arabs being undersexed, we slowly excuse away our own rights to private space.

Nobody is above prejudice. Nobody is above making generalizations and lazy stereotypes. If the movies didn’t show you how evil Russians and Arabs are, the 24-hour news cycle no doubt has. If token Black actors in movies didn’t show you that People of Color were expendable, then another unpunished police shooting did. And if Asians weren’t shown through the media how auxiliary their presence in society is, their numbers in government most certainly will. Our society and how it reacts to race teaches and influences all of us. From six-year-old Black girls who think the white doll is prettier, to my brother being told to “go the fuck home” in a grocery store, two blocks from his house.

To remove oneself from racist, sexist, homophobic and all forms of “othering” is, and should be, a daily exercise. But to admit that in American or Western European society is to meet with horrified stares and proclamations of, “Well, I’m not a racist!” We like to assume that we are all above physical stereotyping when it comes to color, and yet we all know that deep down, this isn’t true at all. We claim to be uninfluenced by the ethnic physical, and yet we freely admit our brainwashing when it comes to stereotypes of woman’s bodies. It is a schizophrenic confession.

It doesn’t work, and modern culture in America and Western Europe makes that abundantly clear. We need to see color. We need to recognize what it means to each of us. We need to challenge it; we need to think on it. But first we need to stop burying our heads while claiming to be so above it all.

By Olivia Marudan

Cad. Boondoggler. Swindler. Ass. Plagiarist. Hutcher. A movable feast in the subtle culinary art of shit talking.

7 replies on “So Above It All”

“I know people who will earnestly claim freedom from such influences and in the next breath complain about “The stupid Mexicans that hit on me outside the 7-11.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people shy away from really questioning why they think the way they do and just accept the platitudes that they tell themselves, even if it doesn’t match up with their actions or their day to day thinking. It seems that people have an image in their mind of who they are, and that’s who they’ll tell you they are, and then they kind of mold their ideas, beliefs and behaviors to shape that image by explaining.

They’ll tell you all the good reasons why when they said “stupid Mexicans” it didn’t mean what you thought it meant, and that they didn’t mean it in the same way that a racist would say it. It’s different.

I find people do that for a lot of subjects, and almost always in regard to subjects that if explored would pull the lid off of the small lies they’ve been telling themselves about who they really are.

I wish that people weren’t like that. Self exploration is a worthy endeavor, and the more honest we are with ourselves, without judgment, the more authentic we can be.

I don’t think there’s anyone who has been raised in the Western culture of America who is without prejudice, myself included. But it is questioning those ideas and why we actually believe them; questioning if they do have any truth and being honest with ourselves if they do, but most importantly adjusting the lens and looking at the broader picture and all the reasons why those racial stereotypes are true, that’s what I believe makes a for a real, down to Earth authentic person.

This has proved to be very thought provoking, thank you. It’s spurred me to look up some figures (demographics) that i’ve been meaning to and reminded me to consider how we tackle race and ethnicity with our pre-schooler, even more so because where we live, we rarely see colour (the figures i found gave the black population as being 0.16%).

Thank you so much for this post.

I have to say that one of the most important assignments I’ve completed in my graduate program was a self-identity paper for my Multicultural Education Methods class.

Our instructor wanted us to really examine our beliefs (racist, classist, etc…) and WHY we had them. She was the only one who saw the paper and I really took the assignment to heart. Obviously, I’m not perfect, and I find myself thinking in terms of stereotypes at times but I really do try to examine those thoughts. I know I can always improve myself though.

I think it’s really important to examine why you’re having these thoughts, and acknowledge that that thought pattern is not acceptable.

I have an example from today, not on racism but on fat-phobic thoughts, which for me is tied up in self-loathing and not wanting to look like my mom. There was a woman on the bus who was large and was having trouble walking up the steps, and she kept repeating, “Help me Jesus, help me,” as she was ascending the stairs, and I just wanted to roll my eyes. I didn’t get to the point where I started thinking disparaging, articulated thoughts about her, probably because I didn’t allow myself. If people could read our thoughts we would probably work harder at erasing these vestiges of our society.

I didn’t get to the point where I started thinking disparaging, articulated thoughts about her, probably because I didn’t allow myself.

I really think you should have let yourself think them, and then go down the road to where it would have lead you. I think you might have learned a lot about yourself, and come out from the other side.

Hell fucking yes to this. I keep thinking about a piece I read earlier this week that talked about the call out factor in feminism ( but really applied beyond). No one said this shit was going to be pleasant, especially if it colors your every day existence, move, breath, people’s expectation of you and likewise, everyone like you. How else are we going to learn anything and move forward if we don’t realize what is wrong or stereotypical or insensitive. Pleasant discourse is often times moot.

I think people deeply fear the repercussions of “them” being called out as racist , instead of looking at 1. what is shaping their views 2. listening to what the person they are interacting with is saying and why they are saying it 3. Realizing its not all about them.

I worked in advertising.I hated it. But you know what it taught me ? That you have to be media literate. That there is so much money, more money than most people even imagine, being thrown around to keep creating the same stereotypes, narratives – to keep with the way it has been. Why? because the same people in power are still in power, the people who have had the most money are the same people with the most money. So much of our racial stereotyping may come from privilege and our experience, but a lot also comes from what we are exposed to as ” the norm” through images, voices, and media representation – both the visible and the invisble. Its the snake that eats itself , buried in our psyches whether we know it or not.

Great piece. I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

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