Thursday, May 27, 2010

Backsliding


Although I am reasonably sure that The Broadmoor doesn't actually flog employees when they make a mistake, the pretty blond woman in front of me was visibly shaking nonetheless. A ribbon pinned to the blazer of her uniform declared her to be "in training" and she had told us earlier that she had been there for two weeks. Sheila and I were quickly shaping up to be nightmare customers for anyone in the service industry as we attempted to check-in for our spa getaway. Oddly enough, we were trying our very best to be exceptionally pleasant. The young woman's distress being readily apparent, we only wanted to lessen it. I think that's what most people do, as most adult possess empathy.

"You left your credit card," the clerk said, in an accent I assume hailed from the Baltic states, as she handed over a sealed credit-card-sized envelope.

Every year at the start of the high season hospitality workers from all over the world land at the Broadmoor, many in pursuit of hotel management degrees. I've hit that window of training before, and although the service at the hotel is stellar, there are occasional stumbling blocks with the trainees. For whatever reason, we had been making this young woman perilously anxious since we'd appeared before her. I have no idea why, Sheila and I were actually two hours early for check-in, and knew it. That one of the rooms wasn't ready was rather to be expected, and far from pitching a fit, we'd both assured the clerk that it was fine that there would be a delay before my room was ready. She promised to call me when the room in question was prepared, and off we set, to tour the grounds on what was a beautiful day last week. The clerk had started shaking when she was unable to spell my rather straight-forward last name. It's generally my first name that plays merry hell with the ability of people to interpret it. However, when you think about it, for her it isn't usual, is it?

By the time we returned, the poor woman clapped delightedly when she saw us. Her joy was short-lived as the proffered credit card was actually not mine. There are a couple of things I've managed not to do in my life, although I've great faith in my own idiocy, and leaving behind my credit card happens to be one of them. So when I opened the envelope, it was with a flash of irritation directed towards myself, not the clerk. The Gold American Express card bore the name of Joe Somethingorotherski.

"This isn't mine," I said, and realized a fraction of a second too late that the young man next to the blond was evaluating her. A look of barely repressed anger flashed across his face, the blond began shaking again, and whereas I did everything I could to deflect that by making a rather large show of saying it was fine, checking my wallet and saying with relief that indeed my credit card was there and that Joe was not in possession of it, the anger persisted. In fact, I wasn't sure if I was making it better or worse, and again too late, decided to shut up before the manager beside her stuffed the woman in a larger envelope and shipped her home.

We had a lovely time, ate great food, were pampered at the spa, and came home relaxed, and ready for more of the same. That's exactly how the weekend played out, but Monday contained something different. Something we seldom talk about because approaching the subject is a sticky proposition.

I have long since known that my ethnicity is a question for some. Anyone who reads here regularly likely knows that I am actually a rather bland mix of Scottish, English, and German. There may have been a swarthy milkman somewhere in my genetic past, but I doubt it. It was just a genetic fluke that I inherited my Scottish mother's exceptionally pale skin, combined with my father's dark-brown-nearly-black hair. If you've a burning desire to know what I'm talking about, please feel free to check this post for a closeup of my avatar picture.

From the nice Norwegian man who declared that I couldn't be American because I spoke English too well, to the woman at the auto-mechanic's who asked me where I was from when standing next to a Pakistani friend, because "you have such beautiful skin" and then was visibly shocked when I replied, "New Jersey...oh! Scottish, that's the origin of the pale skin." my perceived ethnicity tends to be influenced by the context within which it is viewed. It's no coincidence that when hanging out with a Japanese friend I'm frequently mistaken for being part Asian myself. Although most of my ancestry is decidedly WASPish, I tend to trip the "Otherness" meter for some. The most common question does have to do with being somehow Asian. People from India ask me if I'm part Indian, people from Iowa sometimes assume that I must have a more exotic mixture somewhere within me. It used to be more frequent, back when I wasn't covering up any gray, and my natural hair color is actually a shade darker.

It had been an odd, but pleasant day. Sheila had to attend a conference in town, and would be checking into her hotel on Monday evening, before flying out again on Wednesday. She's not from Colorado, and therefore I wanted to make sure she had a chance to see one of the more impressive sights in the state: The High Plains. Climbing up through the Rockies, heading towards Breckenridge on 285 you round a bend and there they are. Vast beyond the telling of it, incredibly beautiful, and incongruous considering that the elevation is close to 12 thousand feet.

Of course, there were some challenges. We've been having insanely high winds, and we were accompanied by the sound of wind howling throughout. Just as we reached the plains, a small snow squall descended, plunging temperatures and proving that the old, "If you don't like the weather in Colorado, wait a minute." tends to be true. Breckenridge turned out to be having some extensive road work done on their main street, so we decided to have lunch back in Fairplay, on our way back down the mountains.

Fairplay has exactly two claims to fame, and one of them is only mine. That's the town I drove to pick up my dog Puddles, and it is also the town upon which the creators of South Park based their show. It's not big, or impressive, but it's there, and it has two readily accessible restaurants. We stopped at a cafe, hungry, wind blown, slightly chilled and in the middle of their smallish lunch rush.

The food was neither good or bad, simply filling and welcome for that. At first we both admired the rustic interior, the mountain-ambiance, and the low ceiling to keep in the warmth, hold out the cold. By the end of the meal we were both glad to be shut of the place as one patron there was attempting to kill us both dead with the power of her stony stare. Unfortunately she had plenty of company in that endeavor.

She was an older woman, and from the moment we walked in, she had a new hobby: giving us the hairy eyeball. The stink-eye. An uninterrupted, affronted concentration of disapproval. What was worse was that as we sat, the cafe filled up. There was no waiting area, the waiting diners lined the walls, and three other people joined in staring in as unfriendly a fashion as possible at our booth. We weren't the only out-of-towners there. It was apparent that there were several other people thwarted by the construction in Breckenridge. The hostess hollered at people to get out of the way of the kitchen, and as locals joined the waiting throng, more unfriendly stares joined the older woman's. It was bizarre, they barely gave it a break. On the rare occasion that I looked up and She-of-the-Stony Glare was actually engaged in eating, I needed only to move my gaze a fraction before I found somebody else had taken her staring place.

For once in my life I was cowed into silence. I know how unlikely that seems, but at that point I had only one hope, that we could get the hell out of there before Sheila noticed the seething stares around us. Sheila's Filipino. Although born in the U.S. and as much a citizen as I am, with a Masters in French Literature to boot, I knew exactly why we were on the receiving end of the death glares.

As we left, the woman who had started the glare fest was departing before us. Evidently only aware that there was someone behind her in the doorway, she held the door open, and I had a moment of hope. When I thanked her, and she saw who she was holding the door for, that woman yanked her hand away as if the door handle was red hot.

Of course it turned out that Sheila had been well aware of what was going on. When we got to the car she mentioned wanting to get out of there, a feeling I shared.

Every other time in my life when someone has clearly questioned my ethnicity it has been in a friendly fashion. An attempt at inclusion by the people who have asked me if one of my parents are Indian. A simple curiosity from the people who have assumed that somewhere in my veins runs a tie to another land. It was the first time in my life I had experienced hostility. When Sheila brought that up, I said, "Well, that wouldn't explain why they were staring at me, I'm about the whitest person most people have ever seen." indicating my skin color, but my eye color and hair color have raised questions before, and I knew. I think my friend did too.

There is something ugly happening in American. A reemergence of overt racism. Jan Brewer passes into law things in Arizona that will have people within the United States forced to present their papers. A person running for Governor in the South declares that one of his goals is to have the driver's license exam given in English only. People protesting actions taken by the president carry signs depicting him in the most outrageous of racial terms. We all know this to be true.

I set out to show my friend what great beauty my state contains, and accidentally showed her the ugliness that can exist side-by-side with that.

I'm not sure what can be done about this, but we have to admit it is happening. We have to have the bravery to have the conversations. To bring up the subject. To admit that this cancer still thrives within our borders. It may have been in remission, but that is no longer the case.

Do you know why I tried to divert Sheila from believing the Cafe patrons had been staring at us due to racial factors? I didn't know what else to do.

This post is an attempt to rectify that. I knew, Sheila knew. It was such an ugly thing, I wanted to look away from it. Pretend it wasn't there, pretend it could have been anything else. It was my turn to be shaken. I was the hospitality ambassador worrying that the guest I was caring for would be having a less than optimal stay. I wanted so much for it to be anything other than what it was, that I tried to pretend it could have been.

Therein lies the road to ruin if we continue to let this grow. This isn't really about what happened in a roadside cafe in an almost absurdly small town. I should have glared back. I should have stared that first woman down. I'm actually quite good at that.

I didn't because more than anything I wanted to believe that I was mistaken. That it wasn't happening. That in 2010, we were simply better than that by now.

It's one time. One occurrence, right? Does it really matter?

As much as I want to say that it does not, I fear that it really does.

45 comments:

Nancy said...

This is a chilling post. I feel this cancer spreading in my family, my friends, or I should say ex-friends. What you felt in that cafe is exactly what is being spewed from Fox News to feed the fire of ignorant, mean, and frightened people. They are projecting their anger on anyone they can. I fear what might happen if it is not curtailed, but for the life of me I don't know how to accomplish that. I do know I will eliminate anyone with this attitude from my life, but what scares me is the numbers are growing.

Cricket said...

Well, that's the thing isn't it? It isn't one time, one occurrence. And of course it matters. I know, the question was rhetorical. Still.

I can't fault you for trying to make your friend's visit as pleasant as possible, though. Would it have helped anything to glare back? Sometimes, the best response is to act as if you completely don't give a damn.

Or maybe not.

What to do about it is a difficult question. I don't know what the answer is. People talk about education, but I don't think it's that simple.

My neighborhood is around 1/3 black, 1/2 white, the rest a mix of "other." My next-door neighbor and good friend Phil is black, My kids adore him because he rides, and lets them sit on and fool around with, a motorcycle. They call him "Motorcycle Man." So far, so good.

A few days ago, the doorbell rang. Older son answered, and yelled to me "Hey Dad, there's some black people at the door for you!" Cripes.

They were some Jehovah's Witnesses who stop by maybe once a month. I always take a few minutes to talk to them. Why not? I admire what they do, even if I disagree with some of their theology.

Anyways, after they left, I asked my son "Would you have told me there were white people at the door?" No. "If it had been Phil, would you have told me there's a black guy at the door?" No. "So why didn't you just tell me there were people at the door for me?" I dunno.

I dunno either. It's not like we don't live in a well mixed neighborhood. A fairly friendly one, even: we share stories, power tools, and beers. And yet...

I talked to him. I let him know what I thought. It seemed inadequate, though. Like it wasn't really the right response. Like I could have done something better, if I could have thought of it.

I dunno.

DUTA said...

Your story reminds me that I'm often mistaken for a south american because of my latin accent ( romanian, my native language belongs to the group of latin languages and resembles spanish, italian, portuguese).

Once, a south american guy asked me whether I'm from Chili. Why do you ask Chili, said I , why not Columbia or Mexico? Oh,no he replied, that would be offensive. To be polite, the question must refer to Chili which is more respectable and its people more nice than in the rest of South America.
I was quite surprised, even a bit shocked by his explanation.

Tabor said...

I never see this stuff and I really hope that you are wrong in that it is re-emerging. That whole area of Colorado depends heavily on tourism and I cannot believe that all the skiers are blonde and blue-eyed and come from Sweden. I remember a loooong time ago have dinner in a small restaurant on Guam with a young, good looking Guamanian work college and getting, not the evil eye, but definitely the curious eye. What was I doing eating with him? Were we an 'interracial' couple? He was very uncomfortable and I was embarrassed.

Tabor said...

I forgot to add that a response might have been "I'm sorry, do I know you? You have been staring at us for quite some time."

Land of shimp said...

I agree, Nancy. All this talk of "getting back to the real America" and deeming certain areas of the country, certain types of people (professionally, or otherwise) "real Americans" is deeply horrifying. I don't think it is just a political separation that is being referred to.

There will always be bigots, that's a sad truth of the matter. It's been a long time since I've seen someone, let alone several people, react so openly. Seemingly no fear of the condemnation of others.

There will always be racism, and we have to accept that we also do it. We all engage in prejudice of some kind. When I was told a friend was dating an Islamic man, and my reaction was to worry about what that meant towards his views of women, without any specific knowledge of that man? That was me, engaging in prejudice. I don't like it, I'm deeply ashamed of that moment. But I'll never fix that within myself until such time as I admit that it happened. That's the starting point.

It happened, I realized the second afterward that it had. I was appalled with myself, and wished for a time machine, but that's what happened.

The thing is, we all do that. All of us. The key difference is in recognizing that it isn't right. It isn't our end goal. That it is something within us that needs repair.

So having people openly staring in an angry fashion, without shame, without any question as to whether it was right or wrong was deeply frightening.

I've asked myself, is there anything else, at all that could have accounted for it, and I really don't think so. We were dressed casually, but not in any outrageous fashion. Neither of us were dripping jewels, or in need of a shower. We weren't swearing at the top of our lungs, or being rude to a soul.

There literally isn't any explanation other than racism. If it was one person I could even fall back on, "Well, maybe one or the other of us reminded that woman of someone who did her a great injustice." Nope. The lead dog in the glare posse was just that, and had company.

Cricket, yes, it would have helped to glare back. You know why? I should not have played a mute part in that. If no one was going to react as if it was unacceptable, then I must include myself in that reaction. I let it go on and you know what? There's a ton of things I could have said, including:

"May I help you with something?"
I really should declare my own position on that, and refute it with every means at my disposal.

You know that old saying, Cricket. I darn well know you do. What does it take for evil to flourish? For a good man to stand by and say nothing.

Duta, may we someday live in a world where things like that don't happen. God knows we've got umpteen examples of the terrible places that racism and bigotry can lead. As you well know.

Tabor, Fairplay is not a town that sees a lot of tourism, but it should see some. I know it's no longer the ski season, and that generally skiers would be eating in Breckenridge, but they've got to see out-of-towners constantly.

Unfortunately, as mentioned, we were not the only out-of-towners in that cafe. We were the only patrons getting the death glare.

I hope I'm wrong too. I really can't think of a situation in which I would be as gladly as I would in this one.

The problem is, I really don't think I am wrong. I think I've mentioned loving the Daily Show, and there has been an increasing number of pieces highlighted there.

The Bug said...

It scares me to death - it really does. I know that racism has been alive & well since forever - but it had become NOT OK to be open about it. Now it seems like it's VERY ok with a certain group of people & that they're growing. I'm not a person who will ever be challenged - just your average plump white chick with mousy brown hair - but will I have the courage to do the right thing when I need to?

Frances Tyrrell said...

Yes, you can the message without a word being said. And it was palpable enough that both of you felt it independently.

I wonder if the "us versus them" phenomenon changes with the composition of the group. Growing up in Montreal in the sixties, before the sea change in Canada's immigration policy, I was one of scores of blue-eyed blond girls, and yet was different. We were more distinctly British than Canadian, hence teased for having accents and quaint family ways such as evening walks (regular Canadians drove to the mall, to the arena, to the movies etc.) I say teased - in truth we children were tormented, myself to the point of near panic attacks. At the same time, our identity was than of English Canadians, rather than French Canadians, a distinction which hasn't really disappeared to this day.

Even among racially homogeneous groups the invisible lines are drawn, who goes to private versus public school, for one example.
I don't know that the human race can be cured of it. Maybe it had some evolutionary advantage and thus persists, like the appendix. But we shouldn't give in to it. And perception is everything - perhaps a smile and "can I help you" would have quelled the stares.

(Doesn't everyone know that Snow White had fair skin and hair like ebony? :-D)

Kathryn said...

You look very much like a friend of mine from Scotland. Anyone who knows accents would never mistake her from anywhere else.

This makes me sad.

I'm sad to say that i am in contact with a fairly large number of folks who feel it is ok, acceptable, even patriotic to forward on email i find offensive & profiling, even racist. In general i delete it.

Some of these folks are the next generation of my family. I'm happy to say that in this case, there are those speaking out about it. My younger cousins & some of my cousins older children will respond with very intelligent rebuttals to what is sent out. I used to do some of the rebuttal, but i felt, for a while, i was the only one doing that & that it was falling on deaf ears.

In one case, however, it FINALLY cured the person sending it out of sending every name visible & not removing previous names. I was so upset by this one sent (& this is someone i love dearly) that i sent my rebuttal to everyone on the list. The replies i got to that were caustic. One person asked me how dare i "intercept private messages between friends." Since then those things arrive blind cc & with other names removed. Thank you God!

I see both sides of this issue. We can't have our borders open to whomever decides to cross over without restraint. However, some of the issues in Mexico are directly related to some policies put into place here in the US. Subsidizing corn put a lot of Mexican farmers out of work (besides ruining the diets of most Americans, but that's another issue).

I think immigration is a complicated issue that won't be fixed by something quick & simple. But the hate that is being spewed is ugly & it hurts, all of us. Thank you for sharing this experience to bring it back to the forefront of my memory, thoughts.

Cricket said...

Yes, perhaps you are right. I read your reply, then went upstairs to read. I opened my book and the first thing I read was :

Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander. - Elie Wiesel

I am often torn, as you might imagine, between "love thy enemies, pray for those who persecute you" and "you know what?!? F*** YOU, PAL!" Shall I be Cricket or Porcupine?

One of my favorite lyrics is from Revolution 1 , where Lennon says: When you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out (in). It's not such a great lyric, but it's honest, and I can relate.

Amy said...

Alane, I agree with Cricket. Or one saying I've used many times, "Let peace begin with me." My job (as I see it)is to be as honest, authentic, and, yes, I'm going to say it, Christian, as I can. And I mean Christian in the true sense, not dogmatically. That being said, I do think it's important to speak up when it's obviously appropriate to do so.

This was a great post Alane. The polarization is real and racism is real too. I'm not sure I would place all the blame on FOX news though. So far I haven't seen much unifying leadership in the current administration. Fear is at the root of the problem - homophobia is a good example.

Years and years ago I dated a black man and I remember the looks and the stares. Since I was raised in a very Waspish environment, I knew why they were looking. It sounds strange given my background, but I've never felt that color made any difference. Perhaps traveling abroad has helped with that. And coming of age in the late 60's didn't hurt either!

Suldog said...

I might have thought that perhaps you were feeling more persecution than was actually present because you were hoping so much to show your friend a good time. Anything slightly off-kilter might have given you the mistaken impression that more bad was happening than actually was. However, the part about holding the door and then dropping it when she saw who she was holding it for... Certainly little reason to give anyone the benefit of the doubt following that sort of reprehensible action.

While corresponding with a black friend the other day, and discussing racism in general, I suggested that perhaps the best way to stop much of it would be to give the racists a small corner of the country as their own, where they can set up their own little hate-filled community and leave the rest of us alone. She then reminded me that that would mean they'd breed with each other and produce, with the combination of heredity and environment, many more hate-filled humans. So much for that plan!

In truth, I don't believe that there is a 'cure' for real deep-seated unreasoning bigotry. There will always be a few among us who hate for no reason other than the minute differences of skin color, hair color, shape of eyes, etc. The hope is that those whose hatred is more shallow (in the sense that it is a learned behavior, rather than some inherited mental imbalance) can be shown that how they are acting is irrational, and that they will make the CHOICE to be nicer. That's more-or-less my history, so I know it's possible. I only wish I knew how to make it obvious to those who need the same lessons I learned.

(I'm not abrogating my responsibility in teaching others, but my lessons came from interactions and observations, and I don't believe I would have as readily absorbed them if just told about similar things by someone and not experienced them myself.)

Kerry said...

If I am ever passing through Fairplay I don't think I'll stop for lunch. I'm glad you got Puddles out of there!
The ugly side of anti-Obama rhetoric is often played out in rural places here in Oregon; I have seen some of that. Your presence at the little cafe may have done some good though; surely a fraction of the crowd there was glad to see you and aghast at any racist behavior.

PhilipH said...

Hi Alane,

Another thought-provoking post. You have a gift, and no mistake!

One of the greatest ballad crooners of all time is the husky-smooth Nat 'King' Cole. A few days ago I saw a 90 minute video about him. It was unimaginable, the racism, bigotry and hatred that America suffered from back in the 30s to 70s or thereabouts. He was humiliated, shunned by tv and many other institutions simply because he was non-white.

America has struggled to rid itself of this diabolical racist cesspit image - but is DOES seem to be showing its ugly face again.

Is it,I wonder, because of Obama reaching the presidency? A black man in charge of America! Heaven forbid - or so it seems to me sometimes.

Your Broadmoor spa: in the UK we send all criminally insane people to Broadmoor because they are too mad to be imprisoned. Just thought I'd mention it. LOL.

Phil

Dianne said...

it does really matter

I am known as "the scene maker" in my family
It started for me back when my family was the white trash of an otherwise middle class judgemental neighborhood, I was the one with the bad parents
It continued for me when my son - whose father is black - got those looks you describe so perfectly
adults actually had the nerve to ask him "what he was"
one of my best parenting moments was to teach him to say "I'm human, and what are you?"

This was back in the 50s thru the 70s
Now here we are in 2010
and it feels worse
I hate to say it aloud but I do - I think this country is reacting to having a black man in the White House - and not in a good way
and it hurts me and frightens me to say thay

as MLK said so beautifully
"all it takes for evil to thrive is for one good person to do nothing"

and so on we go - doing the best we can

Land of shimp said...

Bug, I think you would, but I think the problem also becomes the knee-jerk reaction to something that frightening.

Below Jim mentions the same thing I was going through in the restaurant...I mean, I was making up reasons in my head to try and figure out what the heck was going on, "Wow, maybe I remind her of someone who did something bad to her...okay no, she's staring at Sheila mostly...and now someone else is staring at the two of us...uh...maybe it is because ____."

It wasn't until that woman snatched her hand away from the door that I just couldn't pretend it was anything else.

Jim, and then a friend of mine in email both posed the same question: Was I perhaps over-sensitive because I wanted my friend to have a good time?

Yeah, that would fit, only I wasn't the person who mentioned it. Sheila was. We got to the car and one of the first things she said was "I wanted to get out of there."

My impulse, my desire was to assign the glaring to anything on the face of this Earth other than racism because it is just that frightening to acknowledge, "Holy crow, in 2010 there's not merely racism, but open, public racism? Without shame? As if it is the right thing? WHAT THE...?"

So that's a big thing we face. When the civil rights movement initially occurred there was no way to assign "Whites Only" drinking fountains, restrooms, areas of the bus as being about anything other than racism. Part of what we face right now, is that if we won't recognize a growing trend towards Xenophobia and racism -- because we're embarrassed and ashamed by it -- we won't solve.

It wasn't even a particularly comfortable thing, writing this post. But we've got to be aware of this, and we've got to acknowledge, "Yeah, this is becoming more frequent, and ignoring it will just let it grow."

I should have stared back. I should have done almost anything other than sit there and put up with it. A pointed, "May I help you?" something.

Frances, I think it's a fascinating thing that part of our identity, regardless of the country in which we were raised, does have to do with identifying who is not "us". French-Canadian, British-Canadian. We all do it, we all assign people to slots, labels within our minds.

It's designating one better than the other where the problem lies, I suppose.

I think Snow White had blue eyes, didn't she, Frances? But you've accurately identified one of my nicknames growing up. :=D

Land of shimp said...

Kathryn, yes there is a movement within the ultra-conservative stance to identify people as being "real Americans" and we do all know what that refers to in veiled terms.

Just like "The Birthers" screaming that Obama had secretly been born in Kenya had very clearly racial motivations.

If someone is a political conservative -- and you know that doesn't describe me -- take back your party. That's your political representation. If there's an element at play in it to which anyone objects who is a Conservative? Let it be known.

Tell them to sod off and get their own party, but the only way the Republican party can stop this is to put a stop to it. I am not solely blaming the Republican party, or Conservatives. Racism is always present, but the Tea Party has been openly encouraging it.

As for illegal immigration, I also see both sides but I do also think that had I been born in a country where my opportunities had been limited...where clean drinking water, education, access to safety was comprised? Kathryn, I cannot honestly tell you that I wouldn't break some big laws to get a new life.

What people forget is that their "moral identity" is a factor of their culture. That the only thing that separates you and I from any person trying to enter the U.S. illegally is that we had better luck in where we were born. An accident of birth gave us a better life.

So it is a complex issue, but we were not granted this life because we're somehow better, just freaking luckier. We need to solve this problem compassionately, I think.

Land of shimp said...

Sorry, had to hit publish so I could talk to my son for a moment :-) Basically, what I'm saying is that I agree with you, Kathryn. This is a problem we have as a nation, and I agree, we are not going to solve it by reverting to hate as a go-to.

Cricket, that takes us back to the "We can either bend over backwards to claim coincidence, or accept that there is more to it than that." thing :-)

Amy, you know you've seen this progression from bad-to slightly better - to making progress, hard-earned - to being back to a point where we face challenges yet again.

This is easily the least comfortable thing I've tried to discuss here, but hiding under a rock will let it get worse. Progress slips and regains ground. Awareness of problems is a key step towards confronting, and solving it.

Thanks, as always for chiming in. All of you are making this an easier thing to confront. I really do believe that's exceptionally important.

Land of shimp said...

Jim, as I was discussing above, my gosh I wanted it to be something, anything else. The way we were dressed. Something...but that door drop really was unmistakable and I'm not proud of this, but I hadn't planned on discussing it with my guest. I was praying my butt off that she hadn't noticed. She had, and she brought it up.

I really dislike the fact that I very nearly just played my part by being entirely silent, pretending something I don't like is nonexistent. Practicing some convenient denial. Like I said, the road to ruin probably starts right there.

Kerry, thank you! I also am glad I got Puddles, for a huge variety of reasons. She's my good girl. I do want to say that whereas I named Fairplay, and that's where that went down, a few people in a cafe are not actually representing the town's attitude. I know you know that, and I do too, and we're just joking because ...boy, is this a tough subject, you know?

Philip, that's hilarious! The Broadmoor out here is a very tony sort of spa! But I will be sure to tell my husband. He'll like the thought of heading to the asylum!

Thank you for your comments, as always.

Dianne, we have societal and historical cycles that we tend to repeat in societies. I think a confluence of events has contributed to this situation.

I don't solely blame Fox News, although they're not helping, at all. Clearly 9/11 played a part. Xenophobia became something of a norm. From there, we became more comfortable with considering "Otherness" yet again.

The situation in Mexico deteriorated still more, with violence being a factor people were trying to escape. Then we elected our first black president, and saying that Obama being black is not a factor, would be insincere. He just isn't the only factor.

Our society fears change. We don't associate it with good things, which is sort of foolish but it is a factor. How else can the term "Progressive" start to have a negative connotation? When people begin to see too much change, there is a tendency by conservative groups in particularly to view the past nostalgically.

Bizarrely, our "nuclear family" is largely made of fiction. Some of the things that are looked back upon and prized, really didn't exist.

There are a couple of good authors who address that (Stephanie Coonzt: The Way We Never Were is a good one) but part of what is going on is a glorification of a past that was actually just as troubled as our present.

That's all just my opinion, and there is some basis in fact for that.

I did want to thank everyone again, for your willingness to discuss a subject that makes us all a little uncomfortable. No one wants to stick their foot in it, no one wants to say the wrong thing. I'm the same way.

But we're at a point, where things need to be said, even if we aren't comfortable. The alternative -- allowing this backsliding to continue -- is so much worse than our discomfort in discussing how we handle the differences within our society. This is a global issue, though. It isn't just an issue within the U.S. We are all a part of a global community.

Pauline said...

Though I lay claim to no religion, I've always liked the prayer attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi:

Where there is hatred let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

There is always something one can say, and always more than one way to say it but what exactly to say in challenging situations is the niggler, isn't it?

I agree with you, unless something is done, such problems as you encountered will only grow in ugliness. There is no sense in beating yourself about the head for this one lost opportunity but perhaps you could have the little above prayer printed and just casually drop one in the hand of the next person who spews hate in your direction.

Joanna Jenkins said...

I'm sad to say I've experienced more and more of this in the past few years....

So much has already been said in the comments so I'll keep this short. Your post gave me a lot to think about. Thank you.

jj

LadyFi said...

Oh, this is indeed chilling and sad. Racism in all its forms is ugly.

Barry said...

Canada, especially Toronto, is so multi-cultural that I wasn't getting that racism was behind the stare.

It is sad to see the world backstepping after so many gains have been made.

And no, this isn't something that can be ignored. Thanks for posting about this.

ethelmaepotter! said...

I thought this post was great, and then I began reading the comments...the entire read is extraordinary.

Yes, racism does still exist...whether it be white against black, black against Hispanic, heterosexual against homosexual, fat against skinny, or Christian against Muslim, it exists. And it is so sad.

I live smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt of America, and my state is vastly Republican. Tea Parties here do enormously well, and I have a good friend who actually attended one. I was horrified when he told me, but you know what I did? Nothing. You know what I said? Nothing.

Guilty as charged.

I should have learned from my daughter years ago. She was...13...maybe 14...and we were visiting at the home of one of Fred's friends. This guy is a conservative born-again Christian and as racist as they come. After listening to him spout several racist "jokes," Ariel left the porch and retreated to the car. When I checked on her, she quietly told me that she would not be a party to such overt racism, and in the future, would not accompany us on visits to the perpetrator. She was as good as her word. I admired her so for that.

I hope I don't sound prejudiced here, but the most extreme racists in my part of the world are also the most devout Christians. I cannot count how many emails I have received from some of my Christian friends warning me that Obama is a terrorist, a Muslim, anti-American, the Anti-Christ, etc. Conservative talk radio adds considerably to these beliefs; Fred listens to them in the car, although he does not share their viewpoints, but I can't stand it. I listen to these hosts spout their hatred and wonder how they, who are largely very intelligent individuals, can possibly believe in the garbage they are spewing.

But I must admit my own shortcomings. Shortly after 9/11, I embarked on my first ever airplane flight. In the airport were two men of obvious Middle Eastern descent. And I worried that they might board our plane.

Even while I kicked myself for having such thoughts.

As a side note, my sister, for some reason, has very different coloring from the rest of us...dark hair, olive skin...and, also shortly after 9/11, had to quickly take a flight from New Hampshire to Nashville when her daughter went into premature labor here. She left straight from her job as a waitress, stuffed her apron into her carry-on bag...and forgot that she had in her apron pocket a corkscrew for opening wine bottles. She was detained and body-searched and felt that, had she been born with my coloring...pale skin, red hair and freckles...the corkscrew might have been merely discarded and she sent on her merry way.

Sorry for the rambling, but this was such a great thought-provoking post. I only wish there had been no need for it.

Miss OverThinker said...

As a woman of colour, I am not really sure I should say anything. When you are a majority and you are talking about racism, it's acceptable, but when you are a minority and talking about it, then you are seen as bitter or angry or cynical.. I am fortunate that in my entire stay in this country, I have hardly if ever come across it personally but to say it doesn't happen would be a lie.. what you describe is awful and it's sad that it exists.. but it's one of the 'uglies' of society that one has to accept cuz I am not really sure anything can be done to change deeply rooted people's opinions - that's what I think atleast...

Katy said...

I have been trying to leave a comment about this for a week now and I think I finally found the right words.

I have grown up in the deep South. My father is a card carring member of the NRA and never one to hold back his opinion of others. I some how came out of that enviroment a tree-hugging liberal.

My point is that over the years I have seen subtle and not so sublte racism. I don't suffer that kind of behavior quietly anymore because it grates on me when I witness it. Like finger nails on a chalk board. I don't think that our nation was ever in a place that was "beyond race." I think people with certian views had just learned to keep their mouths shut, and now, the Tea Party/Talk Radio/ Fox News have made these racist people feel like their views are relivant again. They feel like their anti-"terrorist"/anit-imiagernt/anti-brown views are valid and they are speaking up more and more.

Land of shimp said...

St. Francis was a saint I could truly get behind, Pauline. Thank you for posting that.

Thank you, Joanna Jenkins. I appreciate the comment, and I appreciate people being willing to address this subject, both here and elsewhere. Overt racism was a problem we thought we'd solved in this country, and was just the stuff of lunatic fringe groups. Sadly, apparently not.

LadyFi, it is sad, and troubling. Thank you for stopping by.

Barry, that was and is something I admire about Canada. I was in Vancouver when the government officially apologized for, and agreed to make reparations to, the First Nation people for the system of state schools that was in place until the 1970s.

What I really, really loved was that we'd been there for several days. Everywhere we went we saw First Nation artwork, sculpture, placards talking about history, totem poles...basically, it was a celebration of the First Nation culture.

That Canada, having had their own struggles with acceptance, solved that problem in the best manner possible: By admitting a mistake had been made, and by fixing it through education, and even celebration.

Almost every nation has a story of struggling with the acceptance of other cultures, religions, races. Some, including Canada, have simply done a better job than we have.

I hope we do better in the future, and stop our current retreat into appalling behaviors.

Land of shimp said...

To anyone who may check the comment section for ongoing discussion. Since I first posted this, this story appeared:

http://wonkette.com/415809/arizona-school-demands-black-latino-students-faces-on-mural-be-changed-to-white

Please cut and paste if you want to read the full story, but the problem is actually outlined within the link itself.

Land of shimp said...

Ethel Mae, I'm very glad you told that story/It's a really difficult one to admit, isn't it? But we all have some prejudice within us.

I swear, I'm going to be a work in progress right up until I die, and probably after that, too.

Land of shimp said...

MOT, I think it's an important discussion to chime in on, and I thank you for doing it. I personally think it is a subject that all people can and should discuss. Strangely enough Sheila and I had been discussing issues of diversity within tutoring (she works in the learning center field) when it comes to cultural acceptance. One of the things being that in Indian and Japanese cultures, tutoring is an acceptable thing to pursue because it is a path to achievement. How it is a challenge to get other cultures within the U.S. (Anglo-Saxons in particular) to readily pursue tutoring. That we tend to view a need for tutoring as a symptom of a failure of some kind (on the part of schools, or the student) rather than enhancing a path to achievement.

Just saying, part of the need to discuss things openly isn't just about "this glaring, horrible wrong" but rather -- simply learning from other cultures. We've made discussing differences in skin color, cultures, or cultural approaches somehow wrong. That in particular, it is a really difficult subject for white people to approach, because most of us live in dread of being perceived as racist.

Unfortunately, it means that we don't have a lot of necessary discussions, and things get bad before we're able to break through our courtesy enough to just talk about it.

Things are better in Canada when it comes to acceptance. But I don't think that was an accidental thing, I think it has been done with purpose. What I've noticed about Canadians, is that you don't seem to have the fear of discussing difference, or difference in experience.

As for anyone perceiving any other person talking about racism as whining; you're right on that. Not with everyone, very clearly but the pressure to not acknowledge real factors in diversity of experience, has made it awkward for all.

Within the United States we're having some pretty serious problems, right here, and right now. Things we thought we'd solved...and then we made it rude to discuss, stuffed it under a carpet. That's part of what has led to this strange momentum that is gaining in Arizona in particular.

Arizona does have significant problems with illegal immigration, but a lack of understanding about the kind of life people are trying to leave behind adds to the problem. Instead of understanding, resentment has built. It has not grown into something so incredibly ugly.

I'll be frank, it is beyond uncomfortable for me to even attempt to have these discussions. It's just very necessary for us, in the United States to start addressing this. Part of what made that necessary? We stopped having discussions somewhere along the way. Started snarling that people were "playing the race card" whenever the issue was brought up.

Now we have a school openly calling for a mural to be changed to white faces only within in Arizona.

Just saying, our policy of "Well, it's not polite to discuss this issue." has led to bad places, and before it gets worse, we all need to free ourselves for lockjaw.

As uncomfortable as that is for all. It's got to be so odd for Canadians and other parts of the world to glance over and say, "What in the world is going on over there?"

Some scary stuff, and it will get scarier if we keep pretending it isn't happening. Every nation I can name has struggled with these issues, but it is clear, we need to do something.

Strangely enough, I'm not generally the person who likes to talk about politics. I think we all have the right to determine our own views, and frequently waste our breath when trying to convince anyone to "come on over to my way of thinking". Every now and then there is something that is important enough to just take the risk. Risk being seen as someone who is imposing views on others. This is one such issue for the United States.

Land of shimp said...

I really feel for people in Arizona who do not hold the above outline views. They must be scared out of their minds right now.

Katy, thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts together, and express them. I truly appreciate it.

I thought we had solved our issues, that we embraced ethnic diversity and supported civil rights within our country. When I was my son's age, it never occurred to me that there would be a need to readdress issues of race. I thought it was a case of "Well thank God that problem was solved before I hit the census data. Whew."

But clearly we are not done yet.

Romantique said...

Wow, Alane, I really need to come over here and read your blog more often...I've been so ensconced into my working ways that I've forgotten about the Internet world beyond my job!

Looking back at our lunch in Fairplay, I agree with you that my reaction to that open hostility was denial. Denial that it was really happening right in front of us. We were ravenously hungry and all we wanted was something to tide us over. Little did we know that we'd get more than we bargained for.

Being of an ambiguous Asian identity myself (Filipinos are often mistaken for many other ethnicities, like Hispanic and Polynesian to name a few), I have been accustomed to people staring or outright asking me about my ethnic background (my sister and have actually blogged about it!). However, I cannot recall ever feeling as uncomfortable as I did while we were sitting in that cafe, being stared at like that.

Of course I wasn't going to bring it up to Alane while there, but we did end up talking about it in the car. But it's true that I kept trying to make excuses for what really happened...maybe she was really, really hungry. We even joked that perhaps she thought we were a lesbian couple, but there were other women there having lunch too and they weren't getting stink eyes! And I guess that's when it hit me that it wasn't because we were women, it was because we - or rather I, more emphatically - were different-looking.

It is a scary time out there, and the more I hear about what is going on in Arizona, the more frightened I am that future generations are going to live in such a different world. Part of it is the fact that our education standards have been slowly but surely (or maybe not so slowly with NCLB) slipping behind the world. I saw a movie trailer last weekend for "Waiting for 'Superman'" that made me bawl! A trailer that made me cry! But seriously Google that trailer and I dare you not to be moved by the fact that our country needs to do something to ensure that future generations are properly educated and enlightened so that we have less incidents like the one Alane and I experienced in Fairplay (oh, the irony of that name).

Land of shimp said...

Hey Sheila, it's got to be a tad surprising to read a friend's blog and find out that you're the partial subject of the post.

Heh, to top off our weird lunch, the directions that mapquest had spit out to the Warwick were the capper on the day-of-strange, weren't they? "Wait, take a u-turn, take another u-turn?"

We really did have just a bizarre sort of afternoon. If it had even just been that one woman, I think we could have convinced ourselves that she was just mentally ill, but that she had company made it pretty hard to deny. It is odd how much both of us really wanted to, though.

I was mortified, to tell you the truth. I don't think of Colorado as some podunk backwater and in over twenty years here, that's the only hostile experience I've had.

At least we have the memory of the world's best Cosmos from the trip, but I am always going to be sorry that we stopped in Fairplay for lunch. The other thing that I didn't outline here, but you did mention, is that we were both starving. We were two food-centered women on a mission to eat, and the very fact that we both noticed what was going on even though we were very focused on what we were doing, speaks to the level of *stare**stare**stare* that we were getting.

Next time you come out we're avoiding all mountain towns, just in case.

This is just such a serious subject, and so troubling. In the car on the way down when we were talking about it, we still wanted to dance around the subject, or at least, I know I did. I suppose that really was our red-flag for how clearly it was just plain, overt racism. You and I had literally just had a discussion about education, and cultural acceptance of tutoring the day before, and had no problem talking about racial factors in terms of perception.

It just amazes me how sinister this stuff really is when encountered in real life. You and I have talked about almost everything under the sun or mun, including racism, religions...and the occasional digressions about Rousseau.

But we had a hard time talking about directed racism when it was right there at our lunch table. I'm so sorry about that, I was freaked the hell out to put it mildly.

After we finally got you to the Warwick (damn you, Mapquest!) and I was driving home, it really started to prey on my mind. My knee-jerk reaction of "Oh, let's assign that to something else...it must be something else, it has to be something else..." because of how much I didn't want to admit: it happened right here in a rather liberal state. That happened to you, my guest.

We had a great time, and I was so glad to see you, but woman, Fairplay sucked for us. Good catch on the irony, I admit, I missed that one :-)

Land of shimp said...

By the way, one other indication that we were both rattled as could be by our experience in Fairplay: When we realized that Mapquest had had a complete technological seizure when it came to directions it actually took a few minutes for either of us to come up with the "Call the hotel!" Bless you for that, my brain was gone by the time that happened.

Carolynn said...

I'm a mixture of Welsh & English and I have been on the receiving end of this kind of racism only once. It occurred in Australia in Cairns, a small-ish town that has a small European influence and a much larger Aboriginal one. The tension between the two ethnicities was palpable. The Aboriginals did not like the Whites and, in spite of the fact that I was a visiting Canadian who was entirely neutral on the subject, I felt the hostility that simmered below the surface and threatened to boil over without warning. It was surreal.

This happens in every country, within every race. I grew up with a friend who was born in Canada, but her parents were old school Asian. They didn't want her marrying anyone 'outside' their race. And, were quite adamant about it.

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