Sunday, January 03, 2021

More Remarks on Race, Revised & Extended

Downtown Portland from Mt. Tabor

The white African pictured above [Facebook] is of course Yolandi Visser. My parents moved to Lesotho sometime after Bhutan (from one mountain kingdom to another), which is surrounded by RSA (Republic of South Africa). 

Over the years, through many adventures, I've come to feel at home in that part of Africa. The idea of "white Africans" is nothing jarring or new. White refers to skin color yes, not race really. 

There's no "race" gene and conflating the world to "white brown yellow red black" is just comic book cartoonery. Fits on a brochure. Keep it simple, and stupid (KISS of death).

Tiffany doesn't identify as 3rd culture because she associates that with international schools, which she didn't go to. Fair enough. 

Her dad tells the story of how, when Tiffany was growing up in Japan, she'd talk about skin color very literally, as in RGB values. A person might be light pink, or tan, or... given her own dark skin, she'd of course know the difference. But it wasn't about race, yet. Then, after some time back in the states, Tiffany came home and talked about a "black" person, where you could tell the meaning had shifted, and literal color was no longer the meaning. That day was sweetly sad, a loss of innocence. 

The racist meme virus had claimed another victim in a way.

If hair, eye and/or skin color were a reliable indicator of ethnicity and personality then I could see where racism could keep a toehold. "White skin means you think as I do" -- that could work in some isolated setting, but fewer and fewer settings are that isolated.

The problem is, as Somalis repatriate in Tennessee, for example, you get ethnic tensions and rebalancings that belie the simplicity of "skin color" as the key parameter. People want to hate each other first, and look for distinguishing physical characteristics second.

In the language of the data scientist, skin color, eye shape, body type etc. have become less and less principal components in our model of the human persona.

Like, I am often seeking out ethnicity when I meet a person (say it's a date), which means everything from what magazines do they read (do they read), what profession and so on.

If, like an idiot, I conclude from skin color that I'm free to talk down or be rude somehow, as if I'm superior, then I stereotype myself more and more as a typical jerk. My reflexes are seeming more and more awkward as I'm surprised again and again by how sad and clownish I've become. Racism leads to awkward embarrassment, which is what is ultimately going to extinguish it, more than ratiocination, I'd hazard.

Case in point, my family, Quaker, once stayed at the home of then deputy defense minister of the RSA, formerly with African National Congress and now married into the Routledge family and a Friend.

That RSA would appoint a pacifist to the defense ministry was creative. On trips to weapons bazaars, where they'd wanna sell you every type of fighter jet this and bazooka that, the booth people would inevitably swarm around the little guy, assuming Nozizwe was the personal assistant. Imagine their surprise. 😀

Per my angle, "race" is hokum and a racist is someone who believes in races. That's OK though. Nationalists believe in nations, likewise social constructs and not unrelated. I don't expect either racists or nationalists to die out anytime soon, even if my own ethnicity takes neither too seriously.

My mission is to not force "true beliefs" on people, let them believe whatever crap they like and feed them anyway, don't hold their bodies hostage to meme viruses. Give everyone a fun life if possible. Waste less and we'll get there.

I do like "ethnicity" (over "race") for being plastic. Steve Martin raised black in the south in The Jerk comes to mind.

Given my high school in the Philippines and subsequent immersion in Asian cultures, plus my own studies and who knows what else, I have no worries identifying as Asian if people ask. Of course I know it's not my ethnicity they usually care about. The little check boxes are about my "race". I dutifully check "white" and inwardly sneer at my stupid ancestors and their superstitions.

Thinking of myself as Asian puts some distance between me and these other domestics around me, the ones who never left and don't share my 3rd culture expat upbringing. Feels right (to put some distance).

As to gender, I get from theater that we are able to play characters in movies, and it might get to where your "home character" is like a female even if your body is XY. A whole city, like Portland, might agree to go with that convention, that regardless of your body's XX or XY, you have a right to define a home base character of any gender.

But that's like a fleeting and fragile overlay in a subculture, like Vienna being sensitive to a special music. Outsiders are just gonna see it as weird, take offense, and think Portland is trying to export its idea of "life as theater" to the world (whereas in fact Portland is inward-turned and sometimes forgets there's "a world" out there).