Saturday, July 18, 2009

White Ignorance + Racism

Over the course of this protest, I really have underestimated how insular a LOT of Americans are, especially when you get into towns that don't have a lot of multiculturalism, like. It's just plain ignorance.

For people who've never learned/seen/been exposed to anything Asian beyond fortune cookies and sweet-and-sour chicken balls, I suddenly understand that when they watched the cartoon, all they see is 'fantasy'. All the architecture, clothing, food, writing, names, movements - EVERYTHING that is so plainly and clearly Asian to us? Is just to them....a fantasy. It's all made-up. They don't know that so much of the world is based on real cultures, they don't get how much attention to detail and research the creators put into the cartoon, because they've NEVER SEEN THESE CULTURES, IRL.

They simply don't know. And they've never HAD to learn. Gyah, it's so crazy and sad to realize that people have lived such insular lives.

-- glockgal

And someone (jedifreac) makes another powerful statement, this one about Cognitive Dissidence in the same post. It goes to a whole lot of what was discussed during RaceFail about the difference between 'But I'm a good person / I don't find it racist, therefore it (whatever it is) can't be racist!' But that's a different entry. Right now I want to touch on isolation, multiculturalism, ignorance and things along those lines. And yes, I am going to bring up Pat Buchanan (but not link to him) and his statement about 'This country was built by 100% white men'. Because it's relevant. Because there are people out there who honestly believe that slavery had nothing to do with America's prosperity (and rapid accumulation of it in such a short space of time / for such a young country). There are people who don't know the Chinese built the railroads West. And there are people who do not know exactly how much the earlier colonists just moved in and took over whole First Nation's villages with crops and seed stores and stocked wood even, due to plague.

This is the reason it's so important to point out why it's horrible to erase First Nations from a speculative narrative. This is the reason it's horrible that so many African American inventors have been written out of history. Quick example? Dr. Mark Dean, an African American who holds three of the nine patents for the IBM PC model. An African American helped make PC's an appliance. I didn't even know that at the beginning of the month, and I look for stuff like this. This is the reason that it is alarming that the Texas Board of Education is seriously considering Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall as not being historical figures of enough importance to be taught in their curriculum and included in their books. I can't find my original source link, but use a search engine, enter the terms, look it up. It's real. This is happening now in 2009. And by the way, it's not just ethnic/racial minorities who aren't being considered important. My original source link mentioned historical women as well.

Glockgal's statement made me think about Racefail and how much general white people just don't know. It reminds me of something my father said, which was, that I was expecting Americans to know something about post colonial theory, when post colonial to them likely meant after 1775-1783 and the end of the American Revolutionary War. Granted the hubris isn't just held by White Americans. Though I've admitted in this blog before my surprise at how quickly Britain has forgotten basic geography of places that were once their colonies. Still they, in general, can be said to know of these places. Whereas in towns in the middle of this large land of America, People of Colour were purposefully run out; chased out of town and off their land so white people could move in and collect/acquire assets (yes, the history as happened to the First Nation tribes was made to repeat itself). There's a reason that there are towns in the US without any black folk, where people grow up only seeing People of Colour on television.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated show), has Inuit and Japanese and Chinese and Korean and South Asian (East Indian) culture, big and bold in dress, food, language, martial arts and architecture. But if you're ignorant of those cultures, of that food, of that language of that architecture, if you've only ever seen it depicted as a fantasy land (ghetto) where white characters run around and save the day - then how would you ever know it was REAL?

How would you, theoretical white person, know that armor design, that sword move, that parka (that atiqik) is real? How would you know that hairstyle, that blade, those shoes, are real? How would you know the artwork reflected something real? The art style of the show itself, reflected something real?

If you're the theoretical white person who lives in a town filled with other white people and you've only ever seen People of Colour on tv - how could you begin to understand that Aang doesn't need to be yellow toned, with slanted eyes in order to be read as Asian? How do you know your own ignorance? Your utter and absolute ignorance?

I'm not giving a pass, by the way, to people who go 'But it's not the Klan! It's not burning and lynching! So it can't be racist'. I'm not giving a pass, not just because the level of ignorance is a crime and a privilege (guess how much other people know about white cultures, guess why they need to - hint, it's for survival). I'm not giving a pass, because I've seen people use lynch casually. I've seen people use the imagery of lynching, casually (totally looking at you Peter David).

Ami Angelwings mentions this very thing constantly. She's Chinese Canadian. Chinese New Year, celebrated by Chinese Canadians is seen as Chinese. Whereas Saint Patrick's Day is seen just as Canadian. Not Irish Canadian, but Canadian. The normalizing of European Ethnicity as default White Culture means so many individuals probably feel they're knowledgeable because they know about Octoberfest and Green Beer and Renaissance Fairs.

Another place this ignorance comes up is when fantasy fiction that includes non-white ethnic mythology and traditional storytelling gets labeled Magical Realism, because Fantasy Fiction happens in Pseudo Europes.

Which leads me back to Avatar and all the people who said it's fantasy so there aren't any Chinese, Japanese, Inuit People!! Because Fantasy happens in Pseudo Europes which means white people. Which makes all the ethnic elements of Avatar, but so much fantasy dressing - made up stuff to make the universe just a little bit different, just a little bit cool and exotic.

Unashamed, self perpetuating ignorance.

Colorblindness - the assumption that everyone is white and everything is white culture with a little something extra, something strange and exotic made up but easily subtracted to make it all white again.


[eta: blockquote & link] Original link re: Texas School Board