"I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember." -- Cullen
The other night when I got home from work, my sister-in-law (17 year-old junior, LHS) asked me to try to explain some things she had read on the Lowell Sun "online" that really bothered her.
It took me a second or two, and then I realized what she was referring to -- Topix. Sure enough, she had read a lot of online postings in the wake of recent events that were filled with hate-filled invective towards people of Asian descent. As she pointed out, there were no such comments directed towards white people after the Woburn policeman murder, and calls for deportation don't really make sense when you're talking about American citizens born here who've never come *from* anywhere else.
Still, I felt like she was looking for me to try to explain or at least make some semblance of sense of the Topix commentariat, whether because I was older, a blogger, a white guy, or because I was a mix of all the above.
I think I said what you might expect anyone to say..."That doesn't really reflect the way most people think," "None of those posters would be saying those things in person," "That's a very very tiny number of people shouting loudly but they don't matter," etc. Still, it's hard to take the sting away from out-and-out racism. As Countee Cullen relayed from his experience in Baltimore, words designed to cut against who and what you are, can really leave a lasting sting despite all the above disclaimers.
Racism is obviously a tough subject because it's like a political third rail. Criticize certain people at your own risk for fear of taking on the label. Throw it out against your opponents to instantly squelch all real debate and put them on the defensive.
One truly heretical thinker/writer on this subject is also one of my favorite authors -- John McWhorter. He's subject to endless straw man attacks from people who call him an Uncle Tom and a reality denier, but to boil down the entire book Losing the Race into two sentences, here's what he's saying:
1. Yes, racism in America exists, and it's widespread. However,
2. Racism in America is, in most cases, not a sufficient barrier to any one person achieving his/her goals.
Get it? So what he's saying is, if you are a person of color who dreams of being a heart surgeon, a judge, a Senator, a Fortune 500 CEO, etc. it's all possible. YES, you will unfortunately be subject to things like suspicious looks in certain quarters, stereotyping, labeling, etc. but none of those things is strong enough to defeat you as you pursue your dreams.
That sounds commonsensical to most people, but there are certain pockets of academia and professional victimology that lambaste him with some of the most acerbic criticism you'll find anywhere.
To personalize it a bit, I come back to a very McWhorter-esque stance every time the subject of nativism in Lowell comes up. I don't doubt for a nanosecond that there are plenty of people in this city who resent the whole "mills to martinis" transformation of downtown (even if the martinis side of that equation is less prevalent than sometimes imagined...look at the real stats and see). However, if I go back in time and look at my basic goals when I left Hampton Roads -- finding a place to join a community and *be someone* in it, and to settle in somewhere to eventually get married and start a family (moving every two years on active duty wouldn't have been too conducive towards either goal!) I'd have to say, "Check...and check." I will come and go for work, and possibly for school, but this remains the stake in the ground where base camp remains. To wit, I'm not denying that there's nativism (though I'll stick to my guns about how the people most conscious of who did or didn't draw their first breaths on the banks of the Merrimack are often us 'grow-ins'), but I most definitely AM saying it's not a sufficient barrier to people's basic goals.
But anyway, back to my original point -- that's the message I tried to instill in Paula when she asked the question....a few idiots who post on Topix may be venting their *real* feelings, yes, but that's not an excuse for selling your own dreams and hopes short!