Friday, September 26, 2008

JACKology: Racism begets Racism

This promises to be a long post. Longest ever I’ve written. And if you choose not to read all the way to the end, I understand. However, if you live in Indianapolis, I hope you stay the course.

Whenever I have explain to people my upbringing and how life was for me as a kid, I am usually met with some version of, “I don’t know how you survived it.” But the reality is that it was my life – I knew nothing else apart from it all and so it was my normalcy. Only in hindsight do I recognize the dysfunction. At least I wasn’t like my friend across the street whose crazy ass grandmother would beat the fuck out her in broad daylight, once with a telephone cord and another time with a broom, for all to see and admire. I felt at the time that it wasn’t that bad.

I remember my first semester of college at a predominantly White, rural University. I really didn’t go into it expecting any type of culture shock, but there it was. I suppose if you anticipating it, then you can’t really term it “shock,” but whatever. It wasn’t so much in how I felt as it was in how I was treated. It was underlying, never overt, and hard to pinpoint or describe. But I knew everyone thought I was different, that my music was odd (at the time I was into old Spanish ballads – as in from Spain) and I was actually pretty sad a lot.

The more I got to know people in that Fall of 1993, I found myself dismayed a lot. When I learned that MANY of my fellow freshman had never even SEEN a Black person in real life, I really didn’t know how to react or feel. How the fuck do you get to be 18 and never SEE a Black person?!? I couldn’t comprehend it, coming from New York City and having attended a High School of 5,000 that was 1/3 Latino, 1/3 Black, 1/3 Asian. I went from a place where less than 5% were White to a place where less than 3% were minorities. And it took me a while to settle well into that environment. But, you know what – I did it.

Hereto forward, several incidences in my life stand out re: subject issue.

• When I told my mother that I wanted a car, she accused me of becoming too Americanized. Apparently, whatever I had done having learned to fit in among my peers at college was distancing me from my own culture. And my mother was more than happy to scold me for it, because my expectations had change. By this point, I had begun to see the dysfunction in my upbringing and chalked it up to the nature of being a first generation American.
• The head of the minority student office sat me down one day to tell me that it must be interesting to be such a light skinned minority because I could fit in with Whites easily until they realized that I was Latino and then it would become a little weird. And that I could fit in with Blacks because I was a minority, but there would always be the issue that I was light skinned and perceived to partake in White privilege. “How do you feel about that?” he asked. I hit the ceiling and told him he was crazy and left abruptly – but the reality is that he opened my eyes to a fact that I was not then ready to face … the fact that he was right.
• My roommate of three years tried to tell me that the apartment that we shared was his. It was a big argument – but it ended with him mocking me for thinking it was just as much my apartment because I could go to the minority student office and “nah nah nah,” he said shaking his neck. My roommate was White (I’m sure he still is) and I can honestly say that my being Latino was not even an issue in my head during this discussion – I froze. I totally just didn’t know what to do. I simply said, “you know what Dan – I can’t believe you just went there. This conversation is over.” And I left the room. Eventually that day, unable to express the type of frustration I was experiencing, unable to release it and unable to fix it … the tears welled in my eyes and I had to just cry it out and let it go.
• My boss in Indianapolis takes the cake. My first week in that office, I put up a picture of a Jazz scene, you know the ones where all the figures are black shadows dressed in ethnic clothing and some play instruments and others dance in skewed poses, with a picture of my then girlfriend and I. He walked into my cube, bent over and stuck his face up against the 10” X 6” picture frame, inspected it for a while and then left. He never said a word.
• The same boss, when I had lost some weight and bought new clothes, told me that I was dressing sharp lately. “Lately?” I asked. And he said, that, well, I had always dressed well but that lately I had put a little “salsa” in my wardrobe. He meant the dip, not the dance.
• Yet again about the boss … he was wont to walk around the office whistling the theme to the Mexican hat dance … and when walking by me one day, I pointed and said, “The Mexican Hat dance.” I expected to bring it to his attention and hopefully make it stop … instead, he threw his hands over his head, snapping his fingers and danced a circle around me as if I was the sombrero. And then he kept walking down the hallway. I stood there and just watched him leave … I totally forgot what I was up for .. and turned around to see that another coworker had witnessed it and looked at me like he was crazy. He is.
• Same boss – he used to tell me that when Castro is ousted that he was going to take me to Havana to sing in night clubs and be my manager and that we would make millions. Of course, I’m not Cuban and I felt like he wanted to pimp me or something.

These are just the highlights and I bring these up because a very good friend of mine told me recently that she and others have had a hard time with this character I’ve invented, JACK. What struck me is the following:

• My blog isn’t even pro Latino – it’s anti-White
• Which one is the real me? The me they know – or JACK?

I struggled with this for hours after that call – the idea that I am a racist. And since then I just accepted that to some extent I am – in that the experiences above, and many, many others, have impacted my world view as a Latino, a Latino with bi-racial kids. For the sake of protecting myself, I do just try to accept that my “Latinoness” is an issue for people – and when I find that it’s not, it’s a relief. That has been much easier for me than assuming that my ethnicity doesn’t matter in this country and then finding myself with those vacuous feelings that I cannot describe well … with those feelings that hurt me really bad and having to pretend they don’t … when I encounter head on the fact that it does. To that extent, the real me is somewhat racist, I suppose.

It’s caused me to put up a wall and become very observant of and thoughtful about people. I don’t trust too quickly, but I will engage in pleasant conversation with everyone. And the wall is usually it’s thickest when I deal with Whites in business, especially Presidents. Can you image why?

The thing that really bothers me right now is that the two people that had this conversation about me are so close to the top of my list of favorite people that if they were to disown me, I would be a mess. Yet, how would I feel if they started blogging about those damn wetback Latinos that aren’t worth anything but to scrub their toilet?!?

So, I get it – I know how you feel. All in all – the reality is this … I don’t in real life discriminate with a broad brush stroke (unless we’re talking about people in power in corporations – then I discriminate against them all) … and this is because my life has taught me how to spot a racist … it’s akin to Gaydar. I can spot another gay man without a problem and I can’t explain to you how … I just know. It’s in way he holds his head up, in the way he walks, in that tiny little mannerism that only “we” can see. And so it is with racism – when it’s there, I can spot it.

For the longest time in Indianapolis, this issue never came up, and I can understand your frustration with the racial undertones to this blog. But the reality is that that is MY fault. My fault for succumbing to the same temptation as every other minority in Indianapolis and pretending it doesn’t exist. I did that … and it was part of my frustration with that city. My broad brush strokes on JGC do not apply to you – to the scores of people I know who do not possess not an ounce of the racism that causes others to, say … dance the Mexican Hat dance around a Latino.

I wish so badly that I could say that I’m not a racist because I have White friends. (That was supposed to be hysterically funny, btw) But there is a little bit of racism in my assumption that White people are racist until they prove otherwise, fine. But JACK takes every opportunity to exploit anything he can

even spotlighting Mr. Jackson as an asshole when he threatened to castrate our next President.

Or when I called “c” a damn Mexican

or wrote about Kwame and called him a train wreck

or just shook my head at ghetto bitchez

or called my daughter a little Heiffer

If there’s one thing I can say about JACK – it’s that he’s equal opportunity.


clnmike said...

Wow, I was trying to just get past the part of that boss of yours, man how you not wind up shooting the beating this dude sensless lets me know your a saint.

A lot of what people of color go through in this country with whites shape are out look of the world and them.

What can you expect if it's one negative experiance after another?

And the same I guess you can say is the same for whites,the thing though with them is that they have the comfort in being the dominant culture they can fade in and out when ever they want.

I know I have bias opinions so I try not to say "white" at all in my blog but hell man when the F-up ish that I write about happens to be caused by whites what do you want me to do?

Put a disclaimer over every post saying "this in no way is to say that all white people are like this", I dont even do that with my own.

I didnt start my blog to baby people's feelings, way I see it they can love it or leave it alone.

The Jaded NYer said...

Don't apologize... you know I'll call a fool a dirty Mexican in a minute without remorse!!

And don't even get me started on The Wigger Council...

Besides, you're right- "They" are all racist in my book until they prove otherwise. So far only two people have proven otherwise to me, and that's why they're still my bestest girlfrinds.