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Thoughts Like Music
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Colourblind 
18th-Jul-2007 06:45 pm
-out of focus-
fabu linked to an entry by hth_the_first about the idea of racial colo(u)rblindness. She speaks specifically about portrayals in film/TV, but it has wider implications.

I have to say that race relations, ethnicity and nationality are topics that I think of on a weekly, if not daily (or hourly!), basis.

As someone living as an ex-pat, I'm very aware at times of my nationality. Anyone seeing me on the street in Aberdeen would not pick me out as an American.
I simply don't do the things that are seen as stereotypically part and parcel of the 'American abroad'.

This illusion lasts until I open my mouth. I might be red headed, freckled, and paler than whipping cream, but I'll never master a Scottish, much less a Doric accent.*

But, the reason I fit in while silent? It's because of those physical characteristics that were passed down through my family.

While I was back in the US last time, I was struck by the sudden return of diversity of ethnicity. Living in Aberdeen is pretty mono-chromatic.

I performed a very unscientific, random survey of people walking along Union Street** while I waited for the bus one morning. Because it was a long wait, I saw about 400 people go by. I noted the number that appeared to be of colour.*** That came to about 35. That's less than 10%.

So, as far as colour goes, I should feel like part of the majority. I really don't. I feel like an impostor.

The UK doesn't seem to have as much of a colour racism problem as a nationality racist problem. Whether it's the semi-good natured 'hatred' of the French or the critical problem with racism towards members of Islamic countries, it's more about where you're from than what you look like.

But, even though a good majority of the people in Aberdeen are white Scottish, we're all part of some minority or other.
For example, I'm part of a minority...Seventh-day Adventists. Yes, I'm a Protestant, but most Protestants look a bit askance at us. At best we're 'odd' at worst a 'cult'.****
There are ~300 Adventists in Scotland. We comprise 0.00006% of the population. (In the US, 0.003%.)

Does it hurt when someone asks if I'm a member of a cult? Yes. But, I can choose to just not mention it. To have no control over disclosure of the thing that makes you a minority and causes people treat you badly must be heavy to bear at times.

That's all fine and good to say, but what should we do about it? hth_the_first mentions the idea of forgoing this blindness. Because it's so easy in today's world to say 'I won't see the differences, and I'll treat everyone the same'.

That's sheer laziness.

Think of the stereotypes that come to mind when you think of someone who is Christian or pagan or black or white or old or young.
For all of those, there will be many people who are 180o opposite from them. Treating everyone exactly the same will offend more people than it will help. Courtesy should be universal, but its application will, and by nature, must variety in form from one individual to the next.

I know we don't have time to get to know the intricate workings of the minds of everyone we come into contact with*****, but it sure would be nice if we gave it a try.

I'm part of the colour majority, but that doesn't mean that I don't know how racism feels. That doesn't mean that I don't have physical scars from encounters that went badly when I was told that I needed act 'more white'.
I can't know what it's like to be something other than myself. But, I can try to understand. Intentions may boil down to nothing, but I would hope that my actions far out pace any intentions.

I don't know where I want to go with this yet, but I'm trying to learn to stop hitting the 'delete' button and actually post the things I think of.


And believe me, I wish I could. I have a few phrases down, but anyone concentrating closely on what I'm saying would burst that façade.
** Aberdeen's main street.
*** Remember how I said this was an unscientific, random survey?
**** I invite you to take a look at the definition of cult before lumping me into that label.
***** I'm not telling you that I'm some sort of on-pedestal example.
comments 
18th-Jul-2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
While I was back in the US last time, I was struck by the sudden return of diversity of ethnicity. Living in Aberdeen is pretty mono-chromatic.

OMG yes. And my cousin-in-law said about twenty seconds after we met up in Edinburgh, 'where are all the black people?'

Seriously, things I miss about the states include sassy black women who work at the post office.
(Deleted comment)
18th-Jul-2007 06:26 pm (UTC)
You're much less likely to encounter any hatred of the French in Scotland than in southern England. :) It really is 99% pretty good-natured in a 'teasing your brother' kind of way down here though - we're not actually still mad about the Hundred Years War, for instance, although that's the rationale given for much of the teasing. We love their wine, their cheese, their handy proximity for 'foreign holidays', and most of their cultural foibles. Ex-pats buy up old chateaus and cottages like anything, because it's cheap and warm. But you won't catch us admitting we like them, like little kids won't admit to loving their siblings...
18th-Jul-2007 06:29 pm (UTC)
Exactly. :)

I'm always amused at how the Londoners that end up in Aberdeen talk about 'Frogs'. Most of the time, it seems to be while drinking some lovely Longueville cider. Ah, the irony.
18th-Jul-2007 06:32 pm (UTC)
The stereotypical American look seems to be
-big camera slung around neck
-obnoxiously ugly footwear
-being loud, demanding, and unsatisfiable
-making small differences out to be huge ones

And other less definable qualities. Basically, the thing that gets you pegged fastest is being loud. :)

Last names won't get you pegged as French here. There's too much overlap in surnames.
I like your 'est. 1607'. That's hilarious.
18th-Jul-2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
All the "comfortable walking shoes" which end up being translated to "trainers" for Americans, somehow. I would rather wear my chucks and not stick out.

I always wanted to cringe when I'd see people out and about in their t-shirts, torn jeans, ugly trainers, fanny packs bum bags, baseball caps, talking loudly about "ALL THE DIFFERENT WORDS THEY USE OVER HERE OH IS THAT THE THAMES?" And smiling. Smiling with their teeth all the time. "Please allow me to show you my dental plan."

Loud and unsatisfiable. I am so often embarrassed to be American when I am travelling abroad. It's sad that I even get reactions like, "You're nothing like most of the tourists I have in here; you're polite and nice and soft-spoken." And then I usually have to apologise for my fellow country-men. :\ But I also know that it doesn't help issues for me to go, "Oh, I'm not American" because then who is going to break the stereotypes?

I'm not particularly looking forward to the conversation with the car rental place once I arrive. *fears a lecture about remembering which side of the road to drive on*
18th-Jul-2007 06:38 pm (UTC)
So what is this look of the stereotypical American abroad?

Brightly colored Gore-tex jackets. Seriously, tourists (not necessarily Americans, granted) stick out for a mile. You can just tell they read the part of the Edinburgh guidebook that said, 'IT'S GOING TO RAIN! MAYBE! IT RAINS A LOT BUT NO ONE EVER KNOWS WHEN! SO YOU'D BETTER PREPARE FOR RAIN!'
18th-Jul-2007 06:45 pm (UTC) - no flag, no country, those are the rules!
I have what appears to be a French surname, but it's actually Spanish. It's got and -ier ending, too, so I hear so many people try to pronounce it as though it's French (an understandable mistake). It's great, though, when people try to tell me how to pronounce my own name - because there's no way I would know or anything. It doesn't help that I speak French near-fluently.

My grandfather was born in Barcelona; I'm pretty darn sure my family's Spanish. With my pale skin, freckles, hazel eyes, and reddish/auburn hair, people think I'm Irish. I get so much disbelief over my ethnic makeup. Just because I don't have dark hair and dark eyes, I must be lying!

And then there's the real shock when they find out that despite being from a Spanish family that I was raised Presbyterian (though I am not really one anymore). That would be my mum's Scottish side coming through.

Anyway, this has sort of taken off at tangent, but oh well. :D
18th-Jul-2007 09:56 pm (UTC)
So what is this look of the stereotypical American abroad?

Oh, time to drag up this awful article again, I think!

;-)
18th-Jul-2007 09:59 pm (UTC)
When I was in Aberdeen, everyone, including the cab drivers, were really nice, and not in the fake polite way that Minnesotans, Iowans, and some Southerners have. They seemed generally interested and amused that this American was asking them questions, wanting to get to know the area. They very obliging.

I've found the same thing, especially when I was there in the autumn of 2005 and was purposefully talking to a lot of Scots about daily life in Scotland, explaining that I loved the country, wanted to move there, and was interested in finding out as much as I could about [whatever town I was in at the time].
18th-Jul-2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
this is part of why i'm so obsessed with and repulsed by identity politics -- it's so impossible to talk about identity without falling into certain traps, like the temptation to be difference-blind, or to see everyone as so different any sense of coherence collapses.

it's so complicated
18th-Jul-2007 10:18 pm (UTC)
Agreed.

Every thought process I have about this has so many mental footnotes and parenthetical remarks that it's a wonder my head doesn't explode.
18th-Jul-2007 09:50 pm (UTC)
The UK doesn't seem to have as much of a colour racism problem as a nationality racist problem. Whether it's the semi-good natured 'hatred' of the French or the critical problem with racism towards members of Islamic countries, it's more about where you're from than what you look like.

I'm not positive, but I think that perception comes from your living in Scotland. There's a fair amount of skin-based racism in England, where Black footballers used to routinely have to deal with opposing fans throwing bananas onto the pitch at them. And sadly it's nto a thing of the past.

I think I understand the point that hth is making, but that poster perhaps needs to keep in mind that the idea of colourblindness arose as a reaction to the previous state of affairs, which was that all nonWhite people were automatically be treated poorly. Yes, it's good to try to take people's individual natures and personalities and experiences into account, if one ever gets to that point, but how many of the 400 people you say while waiting for the bus did you get to know in that way? I still say the basic premise ought to be to treat everyone (as far as possible) the same: with courtesy and respect until they demonstrate they are undeserving of it.

The more complex issues are all very well, but until we can convince most people to simply treat everyone they meet politely, I think getting worked up (as I perceive the OP in the other thread getting) over making sure you carefully differentiate all sorts of responses to people's individual natures is silly. IMO
18th-Jul-2007 10:17 pm (UTC)
I had no idea about the footballing problem. (The only footballer I can name is Beckham, and only because I see his face 80-11 times when I'm queuing at the Co-op.)
Horrible.

I do agree that colourblindness is preferrable to the state of affairs previously, typified by the South in the 50s and 60s. However, I do think that moving on to a level better than that is possible.

Of the 400? None of them. I should point out, that because of the diversity among my parents' friends while growing up, I don't notice skin colour until I'm making a point of it...for silly statistics, I suppose.

I definitely wouldn't advocate getting worked up over differentiation, but I suppose that this is an open letter to myself as much as anything. I may not judge on skin colour, but I do judge on well-spoken-ness and the ability to articulate thoughts with correct spelling and grammar (though, ybunny is breaking me of that prejudice! ;) ).

You've basically said what the other half of my mind was saying, so I'm agreeing with you, even if it doesn't seem that way. :)
19th-Jul-2007 12:17 am (UTC)
While I was back in the US last time, I was struck by the sudden return of diversity of ethnicity. Living in Aberdeen is pretty mono-chromatic.

I had a similar experience when I came back from Holbrook and went to a graduation at La Sierra University. There were just too damn many white people there. It was kinda nerve-racking.

Because it's so easy in today's world to say 'I won't see the differences, and I'll treat everyone the same'.

I agree with you, that is terribly lazy. Also, most people I know want to be different in some way. Children's stories are all about a person seems perfectly ordinary, but turns out to be extraordinary. I know my kids at Holbrook generally wanted to be identified first as Indian, not the same as everyother human. OK, recognizing an identity and treating someone differently because of said identity are not the same at all.

I was told that I needed act 'more white'.

I'm curious, umm... in what ways did you need to act more white?


And ending with a lovely quote from my dad, "Just because someone opens the White Guilt Bag doesn't mean you need to jump in."
19th-Jul-2007 01:06 am (UTC)
I think about this kind of thing a lot, too. Australia is hugely multicultural, although "white" seems to be one of the most dominant groups. I would be considered "white", and I've lived here all my life so I guess I'd be classified as part of the "dominant" too. But I'm also part Indian. And yet the family of the Indian guy I was seeing treated me like crap because I'm Australian. So I guess I know how it feels too.
This was an interesting entry. :)
19th-Jul-2007 06:51 am (UTC)
Very interesting article and comments! I think the UK has both a colour and nationality racist problem. A lot of it come from 'harmless stereotypes', I can't speak for other nations but the English do like to put everyone is a box- Americans are fat, stupid and lazy, the French are arrogant and smell, The Scots are tight fisted and drunk and so on. People joke without thinking about it.(These aren't my opinions obviously!!)

Being white and totally English and have always lived in the UK I've probably never experienced the prejudice others here have, but I then went and married a Muslim!!
A few years ago when we were flat hunting my husband called several people in response to adverts and was told each time the flat were taken. I don't know why I was suspicious but I called them all back myself. All of a sudden they were vacant, obviously my nice middle class English accent was far more desirable. I won't repeat what I said when I was asked if I'd like to see the flat!! My husband is Algerian so I don't actually think many people would have recognised it specifically, obviously a case of 'Eeek dirty foreigner, don't want him.' And this is London, probably one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world.

And don't get started on the nonsense we had to put up with when I announced I was marrying him.... 'will you have to walk 3 feet behind him?' was my favourite question!
19th-Jul-2007 09:43 am (UTC)
Wow, that's ridiculous!

Has he found that it's gotten better over time or worse?

And, ha! 3 feet behind. Everyone knows it's 5. *collapses in giggles*
Silly stereotypes.
20th-Jul-2007 04:32 pm (UTC)
Well for Muslims in general it's a lot worse since 9/11 as you can imagine, but he actually looks Italian or Spanish and is not obviously Arabic so doesn't really experience the same looks or suspisions his friends get. I've heard stories of Arab men with rucksacks sitting alone on tube carriages because people are too scared to sit near them in case suicide bomber...
In terms of our relationship now my family and friends know him they know he's a pretty feeble Muslim (sorry, I think non-practicing is the word I'm after)and also twigged that I'm not the kind of girl to submit to the traditional quiet demuring wifey role!!
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