Thursday, August 17, 2006

Even the Rosy Has Shades of Grey

Last night I had dinner and drinks with (a somewhat fatigued) Atari-Age. He has compared himself to an amnesia-prone squirrel. On this, I can not say. What I can testify to, though, is that he sure seems like a keen guy. Plus, he is easy on the eyes, as they say. I look forward to learning more about him.

One question that came up (and others have asked either directly or indirectly in e-mail) concerned just how opaque are my rose-colored glasses when I look at Boston? To answer, they are pretty darn rosy. Having left Texas behind for the year, I am more than excited to be in a city. I like having access to little things like, you know, public transportation. Eating food that does not originate at a chain restaurant ranks highly as well.

Rest assured, though, the old, cranky, grim GayProf lives. In particular, I know that Boston has a complicated history in terms of race. After all, it is the city where this happened:

Yes, that would be the infamous picture outside City Hall where white-youth Joseph Rakes stabbed African-American attorney Theodore Landsmark over the issue of busing in 1977. In other ways, the city has had less dramatic, but equally disturbing, signs of consistent racism. The Boston Red Sox, for instance, was the last major baseball team to integrate. Clearly the city has a grim past when it comes to racism, segregation, and patriotic emblems.

Given that part of my job involves me actively thinking about race’s meaning in the United States, I would like to believe that I am not so enamored with my new locale that I would ignore these types of issues. It would not speak very highly of my professional training.

Texas’ racism simply appears more obvious and dangerous, perhaps, than contemporary Massachusetts racism. Early in the Spring of this past year, two white teens dragged a Latino youth out of a party. Allegedly, the 16-year-old Latino had kissed a Euro-American girl at the party. In retaliation, the two white teens kicked the Latino teen in the head with steel-toe boots, burned him with cigarettes, and sodomized him with a pipe. Racial slurs and jeering accompanied the attack. The attack finished with the youth being doused in bleach. For over 12 hours, the Latino teen lay in the yard naked and near death.

Less-gruesome, but just as disturbing, stories about racism's persistence come out of Texas. Indeed, both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University (the state’s two major public institutions) have had to address predominantly white student groups that hosted “black-face” parties. At the University of Texas, students vandalized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statute on his federal holiday. Texas A&M doesn't have a statue of any person of color to be vandalized.

All across Texas, one can see bumper-stickers with the Confederate Battle Flag and the slogan, “It’s Not Hate, It’s Heritage.” Of course, the stickers’ owners don’t wish to examine that their heritage had a great legacy of hate. This also, by the way, don’t seem to know or care that the Battle Flag was not the original Confederate national flag. Nor do the talk about the fact that nobody really used the Battle Flag until the 1960s. That, though, is another entry entirely.

Compared to that barrage of news, it’s tempting to think of the awfully-Democratic-blue Massachusetts as a utopia in comparison. This, I think, becomes one of the major problems in thinking about racism in the U.S. today. With the exception of the obviously horrific states like Texas, Mississippi, or Arkansas, most Americans are lulled into a sense of peace about the current status quo.

Yet, Boston’s notions of a “city of neighborhoods” can (and does) become easily translated into another means of segregation. Naming membership to a particular neighborhood can also mean excluding those “who don’t belong.” According to recent census data, Boston whites are likely to live in neighborhoods that are also 90% white.

Though politically at odds with each other, both Boston and Texas suggest the continuous and unresolved issues about race in the nation. As mentioned on this blog, a 2003 study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University concluded that the entire U.S. is actually becoming more segregated over the past decade. Indeed, many people are either unaware of these issues or seem to have just tossed up their hands with the resignation that racism will never be solved.

All of this is to say that I am still thinking about race (job or otherwise). Nowhere in the U.S. have the promises of social and economic equality been achieved, especially not Boston or Texas.

In the meantime, though, I still will enjoy being away from Texas. I just need to get the image below printed on a kite so I can run along the pier with it.


Anonymous said...

OMG! Did you draw that? That's great!

My offhanded stab at this is that I always seem to think "solving" issues of cross-cultural hate can be summed up with two words: Prejudice and Bigotry.

Prejudice is "a preconceived judgment or opinion".

Bigotry is the act of someone being "obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices"

That is, I think every person on Earth is prejudiced towards others, either positively or negatively.

It is the act of realizing your prejudices and then refusing to ask if they are valid opinions - or just your Dad talking - that would make one a bigot.

There are entrenched assumptions with which we're all saturated. Often we don't realize it or don't care.

But allowing those assumptions to stand unchalanged in oneself, I think, creates a core upon which other nasty bits start to accumulate - stereotyping, slurs, actively or passively moving people into positions "befitting their status" (ie, low-wage jobs for a low-wage class), etc.

No solutions there - except that if each person, individually, faced the problem in themselves, you could imagine people one-by-one tackling the problem as a whole.

... Or not. These idealistic concepts never tend to pan out.

Margaret said...

Very interesting post. I lived in northern Florida (which is like southern Georgia, for all intents & purposes) for 18 months, and I noticed immediately that it was actually more racially integrated (in terms of where people lived & daily inter-race interactions) then many northern cities (inc. Boston & Chicago). I get very, very peeved when northerners think somehow they've "taken care of" racial problems. Geographic segregation is another form of, and simultaneously breeds more, racial intolerance.

(Sorry to go on. It's something I get very worked up about!)

Will said...

So, welcome to Boston! I've been out of town quite a bit lately and am only just now catching up on a lot of things.

I came here to study, fell in love with the place and stayed, making my entire career here. I hope you find Boston as exciting, welcoming and supporting as I have!

GayProf said...

Atari: OMG! Did you draw that? That's great!

Nope -- A faithful reader named Rat drew it for me (with AC as a sidekick, but I didn't think he would fit on a kite).

Maggie: I get worked up about it as well. Don't even get me started on how smug [white] Canadians can be about race (and they have far, far, far to go).

Will: Thanks for the welcome! I hope to meet you while I am here.

tornwordo said...

I can not believe that people actually drive around with that bumper sticker. You've got to be shitting me.

Most bigotry begins with fear and unfortunately fear itself just might be universal. Sad really.

Anonymous said...

Racism? Surely you’re mistaken. The playing field is level. I heard it on the radio! The perpetuating problem is while most (white) people abhor overt racism, we still lead passively racist lives by surrounding ourselves with our own and thinking nothing of it. If you want to see some heavy-duty segregation, take a peek inside a church.

GayProf, if you don’t stop posting such thought-provoking entries, I’m never going to get any work done!

Kyle said...

"Even the Rosy Has Shades of Grey"

And even the "obviously horrific" has shades of beauty. And the less obviously horrific. Which is what, the other 47 states?

Oh, and why do Alabama and Georgia get free passes? Geez!


KYLE, your defensive yet playful former Arkansan reader, who encounters prejudicial sentiments out of the mouths of southern California liberals on a regular basis, not to mention regional bias. And who rarely found Arkansas, Mississippi, or Texas obviously or obliquely horrific, but rather, occasionally oppressive, often repressive and repressed, intermittently boring and limited, full of classism, cruelty, and anger, and also full of progressive, intelligent people, great educators, artists, and literary types alike, and fine character and resilience. Definite beauty. Without these places there'd be no Faulkner, no Welty, no Disfarmer, Harrington, or Clinton, no Cash, and, heck, no me!

Kalv1n said...

I'm not going to bore you by talking about unconscious cognitive bias as I'm sure you know a lot more about it than I do. Atari is bright isn't he, and not just in the eyes. I'll try not to make innuendos about the two of you meeting up. I will try very hard indeed.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Most of your blog, including the picture went immediately into the "Holy F**K!" catagory. "It's not hate, it's heritage" - ahhhhhh! I have never understood the capacity of some in the US to constantly do these horrific, horrific acts and yet everyone go, "Racial, not us, we don't have racial issues."

A Bear in the Woods said...

My personal thought is that racism is almost always directed at the 2nd and 3rd most represented segments of the population. In North and South Dakota it's the native Americans, In Louisiana, native Americans don't have a bad time, but the blacks sure do. In Arizona, it's ok to be hispanic if you don't speak with an accent. If you do, you will never climb out of the lower rungs. Our country is heavily racist. I think that until we dissolve the myth of "race", we always will be.

GayProf said...

WayOut: Well, I am not doing all that great at keeping up with my own job, why should I be alone?

Frank's Wild Lunch: Yeah, Jason at PIHP just snipped at me over dinner for picking on Arkansas. Sorry – I didn’t mean to imply that Arkansas was remarkably worse than Louisiana, Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, the Carolinas or any other former Confederate State. Nor do I think that nothing (Is that a double negative? Grammar police?) good came out of those places (even Texas gave us Janis Joplin – though she did blatantly steal from Texas African Americans). I do point out, though, that Arkansas gave the world Wal-Mart.

Kalvin: Why, what are you implying? We are nothing if not gentlemen. Fancy gentlemen, at that.

Elizabeth: Despite what I said earlier, it feels good to be in Canada right now, doesn't it?

jeremy said...

Here's a great piece about the Conf. Battle Flag on the Jersey shore:
I always think of my fair city as pretty mellow in the whole racial tensions arena--then I learned that we are one of the whitest cities (something like 87%) and I realize that I need a Latino friend. Or a Negro.
(Oh, and ps--remember how I threatened to visit Boston--turns out I think I'll be there end of Sept)

Justin Cognito said...

I understand how Boston can be (I'm a Wellesey man- y'know, Judge Garrity's town- who goes to school in Boston). I love this town, but I will admit it has its flaws.

And on the whole Southie tip... y'know, after reading Michael Patrick Macdonald's "All Souls," I try to find myself pitying that part of town, but every so often, the people from it just say something so stupid I can't. I know, it's my own prejudice speaking, but when I hear Southie residents missing a local politician who worked against the busing program, or celebrating the court decision that keeps gay marchers out of St. Patrick's Day parades... gah.

Artistic Soul said...

Nice post - I think these issues are everywhere. It just depends on how you look at it.

Roger Owen Green said...

A Boston experience of mine in my blog this Sunday, I think.

Anonymous said...

You could've just said you wanted a kite with that pic. I can draw another one shaped to fit better on a kite, just give me the general shape/colors. ;)

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