Let me just say how much I appreciate you saying these things. A few weeks ago Obscene Wish posted a link to this article by Colm Toíbín from the New York Review of Books http://www.nybooks.com/articles/21930
. The subject matter of that article concerns the experiences of the author, James Baldwin and the President, Barack Obama of race outside of the United States.
It is all too easy for Americans to forget that we live in one of the only cultures (I don't say the only culture) in the world where the black / white racial divide has been lived so vividly. Obviously, I know that there are other cultures where race and caste are lived in a very vivid way.
For all of our problems, and those are certainly plural, we live in a society that is in the middle
of the race problem. While we are no longer at the beginning we are certainly not at the end.
Tonight over supper with Italian friends, I was explaining the wrath of the nuns at Episcopal school in San Antonio Texas if any of we pupils used the words "nigger" or "wetback". Even then, in the late 1960's and early 1970's the nuns taught us to go home and tell our parents that using this kind of language was unacceptable. One of my vivid memories is of being the 5 year old language policeman in our house.
Another vivid memory of mine, from about the same age, was hearing Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet on television. Confused in my excitement I said something like, "mamma that nigger
sure can play the trumpet". The curious thing is that my mother, an unsophisticated woman who often used this epithet herself, surely didn't like hearing it from me. This is one of the very few occasions when I can recall having been punished with a belt.
Separated by one or two generations my perception of race is fundamentally different than that of my much-older brothers or parents. Living in Europe, however, my understanding of race is radically different than my European contemporaries
My partner and I are a relentlessly out GAY couple. We have close friends who live not too far away who are a bi-racial and bi-national couple (Black/White/Swedish/American) whereas my partner and I are German and American. One major thing that we have in common with our friends is how we are affected by provincialism. Superficial friendship is readily available to both "atypical" couples because our friendship confers a certain cachet of sophistication upon people who aren't really sophisticated.
However, we are both couples keenly aware that this veneer of "friend-hip" is extremely delicate and easily scratched. Alas, once damaged those "relationships" cannot really be recovered; and who would want to?
More than ever before I see racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, and xenophobia as a seamless matrix of "otherness". For what I have seen in my 44 years of living, the difference is nominal. Neither do I find the existence of this matrix particularly shocking anymore.
What I do still find shocking is how readily disposable my friendship is. It has happened more than once that I have participated in friendships, work relationships, or other close associations that have for one reason or another reached a point of crisis. My counterparts in those relations have an easier time writing me off for what I have come to understand as prejudice. My opinion counts for less and I can be seen as less important because there are less apparent consequences to dumping me. The distance between pseudo friendship and "who cares what that faggot (nigger) (kike)
thinks" is sufficiently short as to be effortless.
One thing of which I am keenly aware is the high cost of my relative freedom. The word relative
serves to remind me that what I have is not freedom, just a facsimile. Many people, Gay, Black, Jewish, Asian, and Other have suffered to bring race relations to the point where they now stand. To honor their sacrifice I refuse to allow my ambitions or my expectations to be smashed by the status quo. Neither do I find it acceptable to waste my life waiting for a sunny day.
It was still the twilight of the 19th century when William Gladstone said that "justice delayed is justice denied". Now we have to ask who delays justice and why? In circumstance just or unjust I have only so many seconds of life left to live. The real sin, going back to my Episcopal nuns, would be to waste even one second more than absolutely necessary on other people's prejudices.
The Japanese, in the case of the the original posting, are merely expressing their typically cockeyed affection for what they interpret as being quintessentially American. It is awfully hard to work up being offended at that (even while being painfully cognizant of the Japanese isolation and xenophobia that lies somewhere not far behind in the shadows). The Japanese wouldn't have let New Orleans drown because they like jazz and a nice bourbon. Our former President had no such strong feelings. (I edited the word shitbag out of my post)
DCEric points out, as I know too, that the Indians are clueless about how race is lived in America (even our country is a massive abstraction to most Indians - as India is to most Americans).
It seems doubtful to me that many of us would take real offense at the bewilderment of cultures genuinely foreign to our own.
Rather, what I intend to spend the rest of my life concentrating on is the middle-class bigotry of otherwise well-meaning progressives in my own American and European cultures. The rule that says that having me as a friend because I am Gay (insert Black, Jewish, Asian, etc.) shows that you are cool, is not OK. Neither is the disposability of this "pseudo-friendship" acceptable. Surely I would like to see us combat this insidious curse.
Dr. Heywood R. Floyd
Zero Gravity Faggotologist
DCEric saidDifferent countries have different taboos.
I had to explain to my South Asian partner that it is not appropriate to refer to African-Americans as "n****ers". Yes he actually said it. My mouth dropped. He didn't get it at first, that is just considered acceptable in India. (Granted there are no American-Americans in India to counter said thought.) None the less there is no negative connotation associated with the word in various Indian languages. I also had to explain to him that when differentiating the two kinds of Indians, "red" and "brown" is not the best choice of words. "American Indian" and "Asian Indian" tend to go over much better.
Not to mention the name he though it was ok to call me. "Yid" doesn't go over well in the Jewish community.
On the other side, mention the darkness of his skin, or caste to many Indians and everyone starts shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. (Including muslims who aren't in the caste system, and Anglo-Indians).