Thursday, May 30, 2013

Required Viewing for White People

My wife saw the video below, immediately posted it Facebook, and then told me I would love it.  No surprise, I did.  

As I've said many times and written here many times, modern racism can take some unusual forms, and it doesn't always come from where some people expect it to.  Just because you vote the *correct* way and you know when to use "Asian" vs. "Oriental" -- even though your grandmother blurs the two -- does not earn you immunity here.  

Having mostly lived in the Northeast Megalopolis, I am far more familiar with the type of commodifying/exoticizing brand of racism being parodied here than I am with the more old-school, "traditional" racism that remains a dominant theme in our popular culture, yet is far more rare than what this video spoofs.  

Every white person who watches this probably laughs and says, "That's not ME!" but maybe at some point, during some conversation -- if even for a fleeting moment -- it was.  

For what it's worth, my belief is that the *secret* to cross-cultural communication is to remain true to your original self.  Just be you.  If YOU equals a Waspy, 32 year-old white male, then just BE THAT.  People are way more accepting of that than of someone who meets a person of Cambodian descent who instantly starts apologizing for other Americans' lack of sensitivity or starts to disown Nixon's bombing campaign in nineteen-seventy-what-was-it...which no one ever said they owned in the first place!  

If you're truly interested in another person's heritage or culture, you can show that by asking them about it.  No one cares about your five words of Mandarin.  But ASK someone about their thoughts on Sino-American cultural differences, actually listen to their answer, and you might make a friend for life.  

And one last thought before you watch this:  Do you find yourself constantly describing every person of color that you meet as 'inspiring,' 'amazing,' or 'awesome'?  If you do the same for white folks, you've earned a free pass on this...but you don't, the hard truth is that YOU ARE this guy.  


Renee said...

Do people really say 'where are you from' in terms of ethnic ancestry?

People just ask, "What's your ethnic background?"

I do notice many recent African immigrants just say Africa, instead of country of origin. Why? Because most people know so little about African geography/history.

Is it OK to assume someone is Khmer based on the shape of their nose?

The New Englander said...

I think it mostly comes down to this: curiosity is good, condescension is bad.

Asking someone about where they're from, or their culture, or whatever seems pretty laudable (but of course the video is spoofing the guy who asks that of someone who is obviously a native English speaker).

But white condescension is a real thing. I just saw an amazing stand-up routine a guy did about how the Oscar winner for "The Help" (Af-Am female) got a standing O, but not a single other winner got that.

What exactly are they trying to say?

I also find it funny that people find it okay to say "You go, girl" about Dr. Condoleezza Rice -- a child prodigy figure skater/pianist who got her Bachelor's at 19, became Provost of Stanford, Nat'l Security Advisor, Secretary of State, etc.

Why exactly is it okay for people to say "Oh, you go girl!" when referring to her rise to prominence?

C R Krieger said...

I loved the video.

But, wait, are you saying I shouldn't apologize because I didn't do a good enough job bombing the Khymer Rouge back in 1973?  I slung a lot of Mk-83s at the ground and Pol Pot still won.  I failed.  Sort of like the French in 1940.  I tend to apologize.

Oh, and this "white boy" really detests the term.  I go with Caucasian.  I do get a vote, don't I?

Oh, and Condi Rice worked around the corner from me (D Ring, 9th Corridor) and I never once said "You go, girl" to her.  She work in the Nuc/Chem Division.  Who knew what evil she could visit on me.

Yes, I may ask questions some consider insensitive, but I am trying to learn, to add to my store of knowledge.

As for the woman in the video, she lives in San Diego.  She has no cause to complain about anything—anything.


Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...

Cliff, Fair enough. And never mind all the historical revisionists on either side of the SEA issues in the've got first-hand experience and an original perspective.

W/respect to questions, I think your point is good -- and there is such a thing as oversensitivity. I don't think anyone can go wrong with honest curiosity. Commodificaiton happens on a different plane.