28 August 2006

Exploring Racism, Vol. 2

Maxjulian stopped by today and left a comment. He got me to thinking about the "rich kid," who happened to be black, who resided in the "ritzy" section of the small city I grew up in. I can't even remember the kid's name. He was nice enough, I suppose, but I thought he was "snooty," a common perception of the residents of the seeming-mansions in Cramer Hill. I never thought of him as feeling as isolated as me.

We were solidly working-class when I was a kid, much to my mother's chagrin. She had aspirations. She had plans. They were not to be met without a great deal of blood, sweat and tears, mostly in the form of whipping my drunk dad into some semblance of middle-class shape. My mother instilled in me, despite my fervent protestations and revulsion, a snobbishness about class.

I think that's a big part of the reason I never felt as if I fit in anywhere, in any group. My mother had installed in my subconscious the belief that I was "better" than poor people, even when we were "poor people"ourselves. I grew to understand that I should seek out the company of the more well-heeled, even though I felt I had little or nothing in common with them. The subliminal message my mother taught me was racist...that poor people were not to be respected and valued but reviled and avoided. Well, since most of the "poor people" I grew up with were black or Hispanic, the message translated into avoiding and reviling people of color.

I don't want to paint my mother as a card-carrying, hood-wearing racist. She's basically a decent human being who's just never sought to understand the beliefs she holds or the feelings associated with those beliefs. I simply want to point out how closely related racism and classism are and how innocently and insidiously racism can be instilled in an individual, without any overt racist overtones. We were forbidden to utter "the 'N' word" or "the 'S' word" when I was a kid but we still got the message that people of color were "other," "differenet," less than."

I mentioned Barack Obama's Dreams from my Father in my response to Maxjulian and recommend that everyone read it. Obama touches upon bi-racial, racial and class issues with a surprising depth for someone who was then a young law student. Look at this man and what he has done, that he moved to the poor neighborhood on the south side of Chicago to help and ultimaltely represent the people who need him most. He's the Cory Booker of the Senate. (Aisde: I am so proud that Cory Booker is in/from my home state of NJ. There was an excellent documentary last year about Booker and his fight against the political machine in Newark in his mayoral campaign. Look for a rebroadcast of Street Fight
, the POV film, on a PBS station near you.)

In a recent post on thefreeslave, Maxjulian wrote about the African nation of Chad. Chad's president has demanded that the oil giants, Chevron and Petronas, cease operations and leave the country. Apparently, the government of Chad would like to exercise more control over its natural resources and the money those resources bring in. The audacity. The nerve. How dare they?

While there, I clicked on the CNN link and found an article about Barack Obama visiting his family in Kenya and being treated to a hero's welcome in the country. As well he should. What disturbed me was a link to a video in which you can watch "Obama's grandmother and others sing and dance in celebration." I did not watch it and am not going to link it here.

Tell me, please, what that's all about? Why is that noteworthy enough to warrant a video on CNN? It seems to me the American public is being invited to once again open up the cover of National Geographic magazine to ogle the breasts of native Africans. Must we titillate ourselves with the culture of others? Let his family celebrate as they will in privacy and please don't plaster the internet with this patronizing crap.

It's different, people, that's all. It's an expression that's equally valid, it's just different. And "different" is not "less than " or "other" or entertainment. It is not a freak show. This is.

tags: classism / life / racism / US politics

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