Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: race

Race and Ethnicity

I grew up in Queens, New York, which just happens to be the most diverse place in the country. When we talked about each other as kids, we were always very race and ethnic conscious. I don’t mean racist, but aware of people having ethnic identities. I don’t even see this as a negative thing. Who wants everyone the same? A person’s race and identity was just an identifier, like their height or weight. I might say, “Remember Bob, the tall black guy from the party,” just like I would say, “Remember Ellen, the pretty red-head from the party.” We would even go further than just race. He could be the Puerto Rican-guy or the Italian Guy. We would separate Jews as being religious “frum” or not, or Israeli, or Persian.

Things changed in college, when I became aware that this type of identification seemed blue-collar in tone. Even when people still identified as Asian or Black, it seemed wrong to identify someone as such, at least in public. In private, between friends, one could be as racist as the next guy, but everyone feared being seen as a blue collar type from Queens.

College Friend: “Did you meet Dan yesterday?”

Neil: “Which was Dan?”

College Friend: “The history major. He was wearing the green sweater. From Maryland. With glasses. Bald.”

Neil: “Oh, you mean the black guy?”

College Friend: “Ugh, don’t say that!”

I found this attitude a little odd, as if acknowledging his color was akin to acknowledging some sort of weakness in his personality. What was the big deal? On the other hand, I guess I can understand the sensitivity. At Columbia, Dan might be the only black guy at the party, and I’m sure he would hate always being known as the “black guy” throughout college. The rules change when the amount of diversity changes.

I’ve never truly resolved this issue for myself. I’m pretty open to all types of folk here on Citizen of the Month, even though I’ve gotten in trouble a few times for some gay joke or stating that Portland only had one black resident. I don’t think of you as black or white, Jewish or gentile, although I have to admit that it is exciting to me when a reader is different in some unique way. The blogosphere can be so bland, that it is cool to interact with someone a little different. I’ve written about this several times already. I’m still waiting for my first Native American blogger friend! The question is — can someone be identified as different, and still thought of as the same as everyone else? Am I Neilochka the blogger or Neilochka the Jewish blogger? Or can I be both? I’ve already spoken to a few of you that took a while before coming out as “black” or “ethnic” because you felt that other bloggers would perceive you differently.

I think about these ethnicity issues while I’m writing. Recently, I was writing a post while sitting in Starbucks about this guy sitting next to me, a brainy-looking grad student, who kept on trying to read my monitor. He was Asian (another loaded issue — I sometimes find it difficult to tell if someone is Chinese, Korean, or Japanese) and when I was writing the story, I started to describe him as “this Asian guy.” Then I censored myself. I thought to myself, “People will wonder why I him making him “the Asian guy.”” Am I trying to make a statement about Asians? Is there some other meaning for making him Asian? In truth, the only reality was that — he was Asian! Still, did it add anything to the story that was unintended? If you read something you wrote where a “Jewish guy” was looking over your shoulder, wouldn’t I have the same concerns?

On of my new blog friends from Los Angeles, Los Angelista, also writes on a cool website called Anti-Racist Parent — for parents committed to raising children with an anti-racist outlook. It brings up some important issues for parents. The site was “my muse” for this post. You should also check out Los Angelista’s terrific blog, too.

The Blogosphere is Like Orange County, 1969

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I had been reading Sarcastic Fringehead for a few weeks. We even emailed each other with funny stories, but something was “off” about my visualization of her. There were details that didn’t fit. Finally, I asked her, “Are you a black woman?”

Yes, she was. She is. Was I wrong to ask her that?

One of the pleasures of blogging is that we can be invisible to each other and just focus on each others’ words and thoughts. We judge someone more on a clever line than how one looks or what “group” someone belongs to. Even we do include photos of ourselves, we don’t reveal many of the cultural or regional quirks that might separate us from each other.

While this lack of context can unite us, it can also make the blogosphere bland. I have no idea of the ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation of most of my fellow bloggers. Should it matter? Not really, but sometimes I wonder if my online life is LESS diverse than my real life. I thought of doing a demographic study, just for fun, but I was worried that someone would be upset. Even the hip New York city bloggers seem to live less in the real New York City, than in an all-white Orange County, circa 1969. I hope the blogosphere isn’t turning out to be like my high school cafeteria was, with everyone hanging out by ethnic and racial group.

I was actually excited to learn that Sarcastic Fringehead was black. Can someone please introduce me to a black mommyblogger?! I know it may not be fashionable to say so, but I like differences between people. I though it was funny when Rhea wrote in a comment that she would share my bed, even though she was a lesbian. I had no idea! How cool. Rather than separating us, I feel “closer” to her now, knowing this intimate fact (don’t worry, Rhea — I won’t get too close and ruin your lesbian credentials).

I love accents. I love Sophia’s accent. I love to hear the Southern accent of Laurie from Crazy Aunt Purl when she makes a video. After all, we all can’t speak proper Amercian English like we do in New Yawk.

Although I don’t consider myself a “Jewish blogger,” I haven’t been shy about babbling about Jewish stuff. In fact I do it so often, that Leesa from Montana is now fluent in Yiddish.

I think I’m even changing my mind about this year’s Survivor Maybe the race gimmick is a clever idea. By acknowledging our “differences,” maybe we can better see that at the core, there aren’t MAJOR differences — everyone who plays Survivor is as dumb and selfish as the next guy.

Last Friday, there was a special 20/20 on racial stereotypes. What struck me as the most interesting part of the program wasn’t that racism still exists, but how far we go to make believe there aren’t ANY differences at all.

In my post about colleges, I noticed that a few women are still upset about ex-Harvard Dean Lawrence Summers and his speech about women and science. Although he was quoted as saying “women thinkers were inferior to men thinkers,” he never actually said that. From Wikipedia:

In January 2005, Summers suggested at an economic conference that one reason there are fewer women than men in science and engineering professorships might be innate sex differences in the distribution of intelligence. The suggestion was that variation in intelligence (in particular with regard to science and math ability) is higher in males, resulting in a higher number of highly intelligent males, resulting in more men at the very high levels of “intrinsic aptitude” that scholarly jobs required. An attendee made his remarks public, and a firestorm followed in the national news media and on Harvard’s campus, which incorrectly implied that Summers argued that men are somewhat more intelligent than women on average.

20/20 brought up this issue, as well as the controversial subject of black athleticism. It was amusing to see coaches coming up with complicated reasons for why blacks predominate in sports — none of them having to do with genetics. Is it really racist to suggest that African bodies may be built differently? Or is it wrong to suggest that men might have a stronger instinct for spacial learning? How can anyone live with a woman for one day and say there aren’t fundamental differences?

Of course we are all individuals. I cry at movies more than Sophia, blowing that myth. I just think a total color blind attitude towards life — and the blogosphere — doesn’t really create the diverse society we are hoping for. Why shouldn’t there be differences among groups? Ignoring it doesn’t promote tolerance. If there are no cultural differences between us, than there is really nothing to tolerate. I’m all for making my part of the Blogosphere like Queens, NY rather than Newport Beach, CA.

So, yes, I will share a lesbian’s bed. As long as she doesn’t snore.

Update:  Interesting case study about a website’s diversity.  (via Petrona and Cognitive Daily

 

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