Thoughts and Interviews on Race and Culture
Jun 08, 201212:58AM
Absolute statements are usually a bad idea. So when John Scalzi categorically states that "straight white male is the easiest setting in the game of life," he's wrong. Repeatedly.
Let's start with one very obvious example (at least, obvious if you're part of the culture in question). To graduate USAF Basic Training, a male, regardless of age, must complete 50 pushups. A female must complete 27.
It's worse in the Army, because they adjust for age, and require 50% of potential max score for your age group. So an older female can graduate with 9. That's right, 9.
Yes, the male has it much easier.
This continues throughout military service. Males are required to score much higher on pushups and running speed than females, and are held to standard. Ask any vet, and they can tell you of numerous females who pass with the ugliest, squintiest, not-really-pushups-but-she-tried flops.
Then there's the fact that any male can be called from his official duties to serve as an infantryman. Females are forbidden by law from such duty. Yes, these days the lines are slippery, and some women have served up front and personal (and with honor and professionalism). But officially, by law, it cannot be mandated. Any male can be told to charge a machine gun nest. Such is "male privilege" in the military.
Please note I am not commenting on the logic or morality of said laws, just noting that these laws do exist. Men are combat troops at the general's whim. Women are not. Men are required to maintain significantly higher standards of physical readiness.
Females can get out of a deployment or cruise in a second by stating, "I think I may be pregnant." Bang, off the list, like that. Now, most troops are there knowing deployment is part of the mission and agreeable to it. And women do actually get pregnant. But there are some few who play the card, and for various reasons (legal, moral, practical), that reason must remain. But it is an available escape that any female has that no male has. (And note they don't actually have to be pregnant, just claim they think they might be.)
You'll find this is also true in most police and fire departments, too.
Military purchase contracts give preference to minority businesses as a matter of federal law.
Have you noticed there are still places where there are baby changing stations in the women's room, but not the men's room? That if a man has kids with him, he's "babysitting." Sorry, no. I'm being a parent. That teenager down the street babysits. And if he's male, boy is he going to get looked at funny. Gay? Pervert? Must be something. How many males are in the child care business?
Scalzi used to be a journalist. A journalist should do better research before making blanket statements.
How about a female point of view? Let's ask Jess:
I look white. I look like I should "fit in" with most "privileged" groups. But I do not, and have never been welcomed among their number, for several reasons.
My parents married in 1980. The wedding was nearly called off when my father's parents -- of mostly German extraction, both born in South Dakota -- discovered that my mother's mother's mother's family had some black in them. My mother is only 1/32 "Creole" (black, of what exact extraction is anyone's guess, although we know my ancestress had green eyes to go along with her very dark skin), but that was, I'm told, a very close thing over whether my father would be allowed to marry my mother (as he was 17, and required his parents' permission).
I was born on a reservation that my mother's family did not come from, but, because I was very blonde (from the German side), and otherwise looked like one of theirs, I was nearly kidnapped as a toddler on a handful of occasions. After all, I look white -- until I "tan", and then the red comes out, particularly if I keep the tan consistent. The fact I was born on a reservation -- with a "limited qualifications" doctor supervising the birth -- has left me with a few issues I've dealt with since. After all, no one comes out of a five day labor entirely unscathed; my mother nearly bled to death, and I have a few birth-related handicaps, although most are not ones readily visible.
Note the "if I keep the tan consistent," from above. One reason I learned to stay inside as much as I do, is because -- as long as I don’t let the tan settle in -- I pass as white, or near-enough. (The money is even as to whether my somewhat wide-and-flat nose is genetic or from fist-fights as a toddler.) If the red shows up for long? Yes, well, it was one of the several factors that led to the endless torture from my agemates in school. By high school, I was concerned enough about it that even during August and September's marching band practices, I wore the most over-large tshirts and jeans I could, to decrease how much sun exposure I got, and I still got some harassment over my forearms' being tanned an unusual shade.
Health-wise, the dietary "advice" provided (and enforced in schools) is geared towards those of mostly-white extraction. Guess what? Most of my health problems can be traced back to a bad-for-me diet -- which, given during my school years, was mostly under the control of the school district -- meant it was mostly a "white man's" diet.
From social aspects, there are several disadvantages that -- as someone who looks white (or near-enough) -- you'd think I wouldn't have to suffer.
1) I have what's known as "alcohol intolerance" -- which basically means that, while I can drink alcohol, it's not the most comfortable thing in the world for me. Genetically, that comes from my Native American heritage. Know what that means for standard socialization options? Yeah, I'm pretty much SOL, because people start freaking out when you go to a bar (even with friends) and don't order anything. No, really. Try it sometime, and not have the excuse of being the designated driver. See what reactions you get.
2) There's also the fact that as someone who looks white, the assumption is that I'm some various flavor of Christian … when, indeed, I am about as areligious as one can get (on good days). Know what happens when backwater towns of Texas discover that someone they assumed was "just like them" on the religion front turns out to be an atheist (or flat out can't/doesn't care)? Hell on Earth, for the atheist. Chased out of apartment complexes, because my family didn't go to the same church as the rest of the complex. Our lease was not renewed, specifically because of that fact. Endless abuse and torment from agemates and teachers, pets poisoned to death by neighborhood kids (because I didn't go to church with them). Really, the only reason I didn't get beat up as often as might have normally occurred was because I was in 4-H with two of the Varsity football players and they'd seen me in one fight, and were scared of crossing me.
3) Speaking of 4-H, white privilege? Oh fuck that nonsense. It's all about who has more money. Scholarships went to the rich kids, championship placements went to the rich kids. The fact I got passed over for so many things due to a lack of money, so pissed off my Extension agent, he put me up for the highest honor he could give me without anyone else's input-and-approval (the Gold Star) and still had to run roughshod over a few people for me to get it.
4) Scholarships? Nominally, I'm a white girl. Know what happens when you apply for scholarships based on your proven ancestry, and you look white? You don't get them, even if you're "economically disadvantaged." They go to the kids who look non-white, and are richer/better off than you are, because they got financial support when your family got jacked over by being told that you were $1.50 over the allowed poverty limits for a family of five.
5) I live in a black neighborhood. I deal with a bit of harassment (although no longer from my immediate neighbors). Most of them have nicer vehicles than I do, pay someone else to mow their lawns/take care of things, and such like. I'm the one who is mowing her own lawn, driving an older car, and generally trying to fix things myself. From any cursory glance, that certainly seems like I'm not the privileged one around here.
Like Jess, my wife is part native—Cherokee. 1/8. She actually didn't know this until a few months ago, and never claims it. She looks white.
See, to be Cherokee officially, you have to have an ancestor on a particular census about 115 years back. But back then, being Cherokee wasn't cool. So her full-blooded great grandmother…lied. She claimed she was white.
This continues today, when Liz Warren claims to be 1/32 Cherokee, no doubt trying to minimize her heritage.
No, actually she's trying for some shred of credibility. Apparently, it's no longer so totally uncool to be Native American. How about that? It's almost like there's some advantage to having minority heritage. A century ago, full bloods would LIE about their ancestry to deny it. These days, claiming a tiny percentage can add credibility in some circles.
There are other cultures where being a white male doesn't help. Consider, for example, illegal aliens.
Now, not all illegals are from Mexico. Many are from Asia, or even…New Zealand.
So yeah, I'm a white guy, hetero, speak fluent English - I even write for a living. I'm also an illegal. I'll tell you, Mr. Scalzi, just how privileged I feel.
We'll start not with the virulent hatred (I wouldn't visit Arizona at gunpoint), but with the simple economic fact that it's not simply legal to discriminate against me. It's *legally mandated.*
So yeah, I feel real privileged on those grounds. I have to pass PhotoShopped documents just to work, and pray that my crude work (I'm a writer, not a graphic designer) doesn't get noticed.
I've seen people apply for jobs I haven't dared to. I've also checked out their subsequent work - garbage in a few cases. I could write better copy than that drunk, but I haven't had the chance. But they got the job and I couldn't even safely apply. So privileged I feel, Mr. Scalzi. Should I be ashamed?
Then there's the endless patronizing crap from friends who hear of my plight. "Can't you just legalize?" As though there were a way. I don't have relatives here and a fake marriage is out of the question. "Can't you return back there and re-apply?" As though the ten-year bar, as enforced by the 1996 Immigration and Nationalization Act, didn't exist for those who'd been illegal for more than 180 days. We won't go into how that time was past before I'd ever realized I was technically illegal in what I'd come to think of as my home country.
Not to mention the hatred. We're all moochers. We're all thieves, despite the fact that I've never taken a dime of government money in my life, nor been able to. Healthcare? Forget about it. I was asked for hard cash the one time I went to a hospital; thank God I could promptly borrow that money. I've had teeth for years that could use fillings I can't afford, and sooner or later I'll lose them. But I'm not eligible, in my home state (one of the most liberal in the country) for anything a given hospital doesn't classify as immediate emergency. And no company offering health insurance will hire me. Why, how privileged I feel here!
We won't even begin to go into how that virulent hatred *gets* to you, eventually. Makes you feel like a worthless mooch, despite never having taken a taxpayer nickel. Like a parasite, despite how I've run companies that have *created* jobs. But I suppose that's just all part of the deal with being privileged, right?
These days I work as a freelancer, for beans. Mr. Scalzi, I'm glad you think that as a white male I have every damn opportunity on the planet. The fact is that I'd sell my soul into debt for a decade (if I could just avoid exile!) in order to have an *equal* chance based on merit.
Never mind. I'm a white male. I'm by definition privileged.
Yeah fucking right.
Jackson doesn't have it much better, if at all, than a Mexican illegal, does he? In some ways better, since he looks "white," although he sounds different. But he doesn't have a bunch of agencies going to bat for him about how he's being repressed, because he's white.
But let's look at some legal immigrants, just to be sure.
This is from "Ilya," an escaped Soviet Russian Jew.
Both sets of my grandparents bribed Party officials to remove "Jewish" from the records, so my Mother was listed as "Georgian" and my Dad "Russian." I am pretty positive that had my Mother's parents not done it, she would not have been able to get into St Petersburg (then Leningrad) Conservatory, not sure what it did for Dad.
I know I had classmates whose parents did the same (although at the time it was not just the "Jew" classification that was to be avoided, but almost all other nationalities, especially "Chechen" (you can guess the reasons) and to a somewhat lesser degree all "Caucasus nationalities, such as Georgian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Ossetian etc (those nationalities commonly bundled together under "Chernozhopie" (Black-assed) perjorative.
The reason for that was somewhat different though - while my grandparents did it to give their children extra chances for their college/university acceptance as well as better their job prospects, at the time I was 16 it was more to decrease police and bureaucratic harassment on a daily basis rather than anything else (although "Jew" label still carried similar negative baggage as in the past, the level of discomfort it gave had become considerably less obvious, and the choice my grandparents made for my Mom - "Jew" or "Georgian" had become much more nuanced).
The less is said about my current immigration situation the better (Yes, I am legal right now, but have ongoing issues). Insofar as the past goes... I really think my Mom's immigration story is more interesting, but I guess she would not qualify as male .
The brief rundown:
Came over from the UK, after living there for over three years, on a visitor visa. Extended it once, and then switched to a student one. Despite lawyers telling me it could not be done at the time too. I think that was the "immigration runaround" but I am really hazy on details now except it was soon after 9/11 and things were changing in ridiculous directions.
Got my Bachelor's at a very poor on-the-verge-of-bankruptcy "historically black" college. Had said college mess up my (and almost every other International student's - and we were almost a majority by then) immigration status my last year there.
Managed to convince a first-rate grad school to accept me despite above-mentioned messed up status to accept me and even let me start classes. Had the status fixed roughly two months into grad school.
Got my Master's. Then OPT… and the less is said about afterwards the better.
For statistical purposes, Ilya is "white." He grew up in a place where, like my wife's family, one denied one's ancestry in order to get out of the bottom. He's most definitely not American when you meet him.
Let's talk to another former Soviet Jew, from the Ukraine. That's two strikes against her back there:
I don’t know whether to laugh or cockpunch someone who claims white people automatically have an advantage by nature of being white!
I remember being white in the former USSR, where I was literally beaten, as well as mentally abused by teachers, because of my weird, Jewish last name. I remember sitting alone on a swing, while every other kid played together in kindergarten because the teacher told them not to play with the Jew. I remember having to defend myself from classmates in first and second grade – kids who were trying to hit me, rip my clothes and generally attack me, because of my funny last name. White privilege? Right.
Is it privilege to escape from the USSR with barely a shirt on your back because the border and customs guards felt themselves entitled to your stuff?
Is it privilege to watch your dad taken into another room at the customs in Poland and strip searched?
Is it privilege to escape with “a” bag, because the guards stole everything you were trying to leave your country with?
We were white, but it didn’t seem to matter, because people will always find something for which to hate you.
When we came to the United States, my parents spoke no English [and try having a "Russian" accent in the US in the early 1980s during the Cold War]. They had $300 in their pockets and were $3000 in debt to the international organization that helped them escape the USSR. My dad wasn’t handed anything. He has two Master’s degrees – one in electrical engineering, and one in mechanical engineering – and yet, he wasn’t handed an engineering job. He went to work in a restaurant, cleaning up and washing dishes. He didn’t accept welfare. He didn’t ask for it. He simply worked his ass off until he learned enough English to begin applying for jobs.
It took a few months to find a job, but in the meantime, there was no welfare, there was no privilege. There was a roach-infested apartment in Brooklyn. There were trips through other people’s trash on trash pick-up nights to find furniture and clothing and toys for me. I wore other people’s discarded garbage for two years. Is that what you call privilege?
My dad found a frame from an armchair in someone’s trash. He took it home, stuck two 2x4s in it, put cushions on top and called it furniture. Is that what you call privilege?
My grandfather – another white male – got mugged by two black guys in our neighborhood as he was carrying several bags of toys and clothes for me and my family. They took the meager stuff he had scavenged from someone else's trash, and bashed him over the head with a piece of wood. Quite the privilege.
After four years of scrimping, saving, working his ass off, not buying anything but the bare necessities, driving a jalopy to work every day and taking no vacation, my dad was finally able to afford a small house – something he could call his own. That’s where I grew up. No VCR, no cable, no posh car. He worked for everything we ever got. He never once accepted public assistance. And no one gave him a helping hand.
White man privilege? Please!
So let's pick another immigrant in SF, who fits a different demographic.
Sarah Hoyt is from Portugal:
I'm sorry. But the more I thought about it, my run ins with race are ALL US based. Also stupid.
I took a long time to write this because I’ve learned that race in the US is a complicated thing. The first time I got the concept of white privilege explained to me was in my son’s essay in high school, which was also when I learned my son didn’t think of himself as white. Turned out he was right, because the Federal government, sometime in the last ten or twenty years had decided Portuguese were Latin. (Which made perfect sense from a bureaucratic point of view, since up till then Spaniards were Latin/Hispanic, but Portuguese weren’t – meaning if you came from one side of the border and spelled your name Marques you were white, but go ten miles and spell your name Marquez and you’re Hispanic. So normalizing made bureaucratic sense, but nothing else.)
My son’s essay brought into relief at least one interaction with an editor, who wanted me to write "Latin stuff" and with another who wanted me to write my autobiography... at thirty five. When – still to my knowledge – I’ve done nothing special. I refused then and I still do, partly because my most interesting experiences aren’t mine to talk about and refer to other people’s actions.
As a background, I grew up in a village, outside Portugal’s second largest city (20 minutes by train.) We were "rich" because we had running water in the bathroom – which was outside the back door – and a faucet in the kitchen, over the sink. I was one of four – in a class of twelve – to not be taken out of school in fourth grade to go work in the textile factories. (Portugal was one of the first countries to outlaw child labor. Which means nothing, since any doctor would certify you kid was "slow" so you could pull him/her out of school and put him/her to work.) I learned to write with a quill pen and I was ten the first time I saw a dishwasher. Also, there were two cars in the village. We got a TV when I was eight. It was a black and white which we kept till I was 22.
Now, a great part of this was because Portugal’s government was authoritarian, mercantilist and crazy. Weirdly the revolution made things worse – for a while, before they got better. The first thing that was worse was danger of violence and restriction of opinion. For a few months there, even being a socialist was being a dangerous right winger and at danger. Also, groceries became irregular and jobs were interesting. For a while we lived from my brother’s tutoring money (the equivalent of maybe 200 a month) and the red cross supplied my clothes.
When I got to the States, I found out that Portugal had had a peaceful and flower-laden revolution and that therefore I lied if I spoke of being shot at. While at that I also found out, from no less source than writers’ digest that the only reason Mozambique’s president was a nurse’s aide and not a doctor was that Portuguese wouldn’t allow a black man to be a doctor. This confused me somewhat since in the flood of refugees who left after "independence" – they are I think more or less independent now. Not sure, since only source of news is the US but at the time all it meant was that instead of a Portuguese colony they because a Russian-Cuban colony – were any number of black doctors and medical students. My sister-in-law’s best friend was a medical student and native. She escaped with the clothes on her body, as did my sister-in-law. The difference was my sister-in-law was told to leave (though born and raised there) while her friend was told to go work in the fields to aid the (Maoist) revolution and left AS someone’s clothes, in a traveling trunk. I suppose that was some white privilege for my SIL.
In the States I also found out I’d left a superior culture and chosen to raise my kids in an inferior one. At the same time I discovered – from about a third of the people – that I’d left because we were desperately poor and possibly starving which (obscurely) was the US’s fault and not the fault of a completely buggered up political system.
Other interesting things I discovered were that: culture is race-coded and genetically transmissible and that I should teach my kids about "their culture" which was, inexplicably, Portuguese.
And that bureaucratic normalization of the status of Portuguese immigrants? Yeah. It makes as much sense as before. Turns out I changed races by getting married. While I use my maiden name as a married name, if I use Hoyt I’m white, while if I use de Almeida Hoyt I’m Latin. Same for my kids. Though to be honest, because of the area of the country we live in, my kids are assumed to be Latin most of the time. (If we lived in NYC they’d be assumed to be Jewish.) Meanwhile my friend Larry Correia (at least half Polish) is Latin all the time. So are his daughters, even if their mother is Danish by ancestry.
Have I suffered discrimination for being Portuguese-born? Mostly by idiots who think Portugal is in South America and get upset at me for not having a victim-story for them. Many of these idiots work in publishing. There’s also the idiots who think my place of birth should dictate my politics, but they already think my vagina should do so.
As for that white-privilege? I think it’s supposed to be knowing how to dress and how to apply for jobs, how to get scholarships, how to "move" in society, as well as having contacts that give you a hand up. When my husband and I got married we more or less got cut off by both families (though not entirely and not officially.) We live in a part of the country where we have no contacts and no experience. When older son applied to college our lack of knowing what to do was ultimately responsible for his ending up in the local state school instead of the ivy leagues he could have applied to. Because our last-last name is Anglo-Saxon, we were however presumed to know. Schools have counselors devoted to telling "minorities" how to do things – but since culture is genetic, my kids are presumed to know.
In the end I don’t care. The kids will be okay because they learned not to depend on anyone telling them what to do and feel no compunction in mixing with ANY race. Also they know culture isn’t inherited and their minds are their own.
If there is white privilege in the US it is that no one assumes you must think a certain way because of last name or ease in tanning.
I think I've made the point that immigrants from anywhere don't think like native born Americans.
So let me tell you about my own privilege, and since we're playing the ancestry game, here goes:
One group of my ancestors, only two centuries ago, were invaded, had their government and culture destroyed, were threatened with heinous punishment for using their native language, and completely subverted to a new way of life. Many of them were forcibly relocated and their land taken for reuse. They now have some limited home rule, and some would like independence. It'll be a long time coming. Both groups were white, so this didn't have any negative effect on my people, right?
But that's old news. A bit after that, they were involved in busting slave ships to disrupt the trade. Not me personally, though, so I'm still part of the oppressor culture…
Look, everyone's ancestors took a beating from someone else. So that shit doesn't fly. Let's stick to the present.
I've covered my upbringing elsewhere. My parents weren't rich, but they worked hard. We moved to Canada and then the US, and yes, by that time we were middle class. Privileged.
It seems our immigration attorney was sneaky. He never actually put in writing what he was advising us by phone. We got a temporary visa for a year, moved to the US, bought a house, settled in, and applied for a permanent visa.
The temporary visa expired. That left us in limbo. You can't leave the country and re-enter without a visa, so we couldn't visit family. We had no legal status at all, though we were still paying taxes. But you know those silly things kids do, like shoplifting, breaking curfew, etc? If I'd been caught doing stuff like that, my entire family could have been deported, our future stricken. In theory, it takes a pattern of such behavior, and a few misdemeanors aren't an issue. It has to be a crime of "moral turpitude." But legal immigrant teens are VERY cognizant of this standard. And, once the visa expired, we had no status.
Three years later, we finally got in to see an immigration officer. She looked at our papers, considered, looked at us, and said, "The problem is that what you did is illegal." (It is legal now. It was not then.)
Even for a teenager, that's a pretty heavy blow. We'd stated an intent to leave with the temporary visa. Applying for a permanent visa contradicted that. And no, being white makes no difference in a case like this. All that matters is your papers. The easiest thing for this agent to do was to stamp a sheet and send us back to the country before the country we'd left, with a bar on re-entry to the US, and sucks to be you. The hardest thing was for her to write a letter to her superiors explaining that she believed we had honest intent and faulty advice, and that we should be granted the opportunity to apply for permanent visas.
She did this. Ma'am, whoever you were, THANK YOU.
Of course, citizenship took three more years, and proof of literacy, not belonging to any subversive or communist group, no criminal background, "adequate knowledge" of US history and government, and yes much of this applies to teenagers as well as adults. That last is the cutout—if they're sure you're some kind of enemy plant, they can ask who the 15th vice president was (Hannibal Hamlin) and when you don't know, they can boot you.
This of course didn't apply to Haitian boat people and some Vietnamese, who were granted permanent residency as the Coast Guard fished them out of the water. They weren't privileged. Yes, I'm sympathetic to their plight, and I'm glad they got rescued. We had to pay our own lawyers, meet standards, petition for recognition. There is talk of a similar program for illegals now, regardless of any refugee status.
If you were born here, you can be a petty abusive thug, a car thief, illiterate, a card-carrying commie and make Facebook posts about your invitation to the Chinese to buy out GM while cashing your welfare check. If I'd been caught smoking dope it could have gotten my entire family booted from residency, and once a resident, a little violence or theft could have killed any chance of citizenship. I had to pay taxes and not take any handouts. Enjoy your born privilege. I had to earn mine the hard way.
This is why whenever I meet any immigrant, I feel kinship. We all have different backgrounds and stories, but we have cultural ties of our own—a desire to live here, the discipline to do so, and a dedication to follow through. So once again, I'm not like you, whoever you are.
So, yeah, when you've sat in front of an immigration officer who's holding your life in their hands, you can tell me how fucking privileged I am to be allowed to hand over a piece of paper that says I'm allowed to live here.
Yes, I still have to do this. When anyone born here, most of you, fill in a form (sorry, that's the British term), you probably check "citizen." On most government forms, I have to check, "Naturalized," and, upon demand, produce a piece of paper to PROVE I'm allowed to live here. Military? Passport? Federal processes? Sure, just PROVE you're now an American and we'll continue.
And yes, immigrants get discriminated against, officially and unofficially.
I've been told to my face that "immigrants shouldn't be allowed to own property" because we're "stealing American jobs." Yes, this was said knowing I was a legal immigrant. I've even been told "anyone not born here shouldn't be allowed to serve in the military."
My first roommate on active duty would mock my Queen in front of my face.
Another asshole attacked Prince Andrew, who is a real helicopter pilot, who deliberately used his craft to block Exocet missiles in the Falklands, as "privileged." How else could he have gotten that job? (NOTE: apparently, middle class white boys think there are people more privileged than they. Where does it end? With white college kids protesting on Wall Street?) I pointed out that flying a helo isn't something that come from favors, it comes from talent and skill. And I mentioned JFK and PT109. The response was, "Yeah, but THIS IS AMERICA. Huhuhuhuhuhu!"
When I mentioned this to my immediate supervisor, he replied, "You live in America now, so you have no right to complain about comments aimed at other countries."
I'm not going to claim this treatment is better or worse than what blacks, Hispanics or anyone else gets from any group or individual. It's all subjective and personal. I'm simply pointing out that I do know what bigotry looks like, first hand. And like many people who look white/Hispanic/black/not Jewish, I also hear comments that probably wouldn't be said if they thought I was listening.
Also, my duty section had a Filipino, a Mexican and a black. I was sort-of grouped in with them, as an immigrant. It was obvious to the Americans that I was different. We were called "The fuzzy little foreigners," even though two of us weren't little and the black guy wasn't foreign. It generally wasn't meant to be an epithet, but sometimes it was.
For most of my active duty career, my roommate was an Antiguan immigrant. He wasn't "African American." He was black and British. I got along better with him than with most white Americans.
Someone pointed out that British culture is more classist than racist, and that comes into play here. Two black Americans told me that since I look white, I am white, as far as my experience in America. Well, no, not quite, as I've shown above. Clearly, the color issue works both ways, at a level so deep we can't escape from it. These gentlemen are friends, and did not actually mean, "All you white guys look alike to us." But that is what I subjectively heard, when they said it.
No, I absolutely can't comprehend their backgrounds. This is true. But they can't comprehend mine, as an outsider.
Classist, right? I come from lower-middle class British stock. My roommate Wendell came from Antigua, a British colony. At some point, his ancestors were transported there, but due to my cultural background, he's "Colonial."
When a white American meets a black person, there's the historical fact that 150 years ago, the black person's family were probably property. They could be bought, sold, disposed of, abused, forced to breed. When I meet a black person, my cultural default is, "This person's family comes from one of our former colonies." Sure, colonial natives were lower class than ruling class, but I wasn't ruling class, and a colonial native is still a person, not property. Canadian blacks can be from literally anywhere, and are—my 4th grade class had 30 students, 27 of us immigrants.
If you find me at an event, you'll notice that I'm probably hanging out with veterans and immigrants, because those are my cultures. White, black, you civilian domestic Americans all look the same to me.
And yes, it bothers me to see a census form that breaks down 30 different types of ethnicity, and to be told, "You look white, so you are."
Try this: Go apply for a Small Business loan. Be prepared to be told you need a "minority" partner to improve your chances. A minority could be a white male amputee or a female. Or an immigrant from Asia, Africa or South America. But not a Northern European immigrant, because that's "white." Apply for a state job, and be told that the cutoff on the test is 105 points out of 100, so unless you have some minority status, you cannot possibly qualify.
Yes, I "look white." So I'm not allowed to complain.
I had a major publisher tell me they were taking my British background off my book jacket and promotional bios "so as not to upset people with nationalistic feelings." Gee, thanks, guys. Good to know you're looking out for me.
Honestly, I don't think either of the bloggers in question gets this. I think they really do believe that all whites have an upbringing similar to theirs in the Midwest. I wish everyone did, and it says a lot that they don't realize the magnitude of differences. That in itself, though, is an unintentional bias. "You look like me, so we're similar." That's even part of the point they were trying to make. Looking like the statistically dominant group is an advantage. Well, as we can see, usually it is. Sometimes not.
I've copied that whole "looks like" issue here, without links. We'll assume the figures are correct. That's not the object. So here:
“[B]lack males receive [prison] sentences that are approximately 10% longer than comparable white males with those at the top of the sentencing distribution facing even larger disparities.” -Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences, 2012.
“The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 77.0 for full-time, year-round workers in 2009 … African American women earned on average only 61.9 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earned only 52.9 cents for each dollar earned by white men.” -The Gender Wage Gap: 2009.
Poverty rates in 2009, from Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2009).
For non-Hispanic Whites: 9.4%
For Asians: 12.5%
For Blacks: 25.3%
Hate Crimes in 2010, from the U. S. Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics.
Race: 69.8% were motivated by anti-black bias, compared to 18.2% that stemmed from anti-white bias.
Religion: 65.4% were anti-Jewish and 13.2% were anti-Islamic.
At birth, the average life expectancy of a white baby in the United States is four years longer than the average life expectancy of a black baby. -U. S. Census Bureau, Life Expectancy by Sex, Age, and Race: 2008.
“30.4% of Hispanics, 17% of blacks, and 9.9% of whites do not have health insurance.” -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime (18.3%) … Approximately 1 in 71 men in the United States (1.4%) reported having been raped in his lifetime.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).
“Nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth “are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide.” -Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (200 .
39.3% of white first-time, full-time college students complete a degree within four years, compared to 20.4% of black students, 26.4% of Hispanic students, 42.8% of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 18.8% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics (2010).
The event dropout rate for white high school students in 2007-2008 was 2.8%, compared to 6.7% for black students, 6.0% for Hispanic, 2.4% for Asian/Pacific Islander, and 7.3% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics.
U.S. population vs. representation in Congress. “In the total population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%. In Congress, whites make up 85.8%, Hispanics are 5.8%, Blacks are 7.5%, APIA are 1.7%, and AIAN are 0.2%. Men are 49% of the total population, while women are 51%. In Congress, men are 82% and women are 18%.” -Ragini Kathail, Race, Gender, and the US Congress (2009).
There are only four openly gay/lesbian members of Congress (0.7%). -Congress gets 4th openly gay member (2011).
There are some problems here.
First, "Hispanic" is not a race. And as we've seen, a half-Peruvian Hispanic becomes "white" when it fits the narrative of "white privileged kid shoots black kid." A Portuguese can be white. So I'm not going to allow that category in this debate, at all. If some people are too fucking dishonest to stick to their categories, I'm taking them away.
Not only is "Hispanic" not a race (they can be of any race—black, white, Native American, even Asian), there are a lot of significant subcultures. There's a difference between Brooklyn blacks and Tupelo blacks, and even more between Cubans and Mexicans.
Then, there are a lot more immigrants among Hispanics. Immigrants are outliers in any analysis.
Asians, likewise, have a lot more immigrants than whites or blacks. Again, I get along much better with immigrant Asians and Hispanics than with native born Americans of any color or culture. Maybe "outsider" should be its own category.
After that, there's the fact that we're dealing with geographic differences, cultural differences on food, and yes, there are genetic issues that tend to affect certain groups' lifespans more than others. There are too many factors not included here for a clear view. We can only make the most general of statements.
In some categories, the smaller percentage of whites exceeds the total number of particular minorities. So we're arguing percentages vs numbers, picking and choosing what supports a given side. This is not helpful.
Last I heard, blacks are less accepting of gays than whites are. But I don't see that mentioned.
There are certainly inequalities, and it only takes a few people to swing an issue by race/gender/faith, and bigots of one stripe tend to congregate with bigots of other stripes, and share stripes.
As I noted in a previous writing, Asians (which Asians? Because Japanese, Koreans, Pakistanis and Thais are not the same as Chinese or Viets) seem to score better than whites in several areas. Shall we invoke "Asian privilege"?
What about the statistical dominance of Jews in the sciences and medicine, as well as in finance and some other pursuits? Is there a "Jewish privilege"? There certainly has been in the past, in Medina, Holland, England, Italy, Russia, Germany…in all cases, the "privileged" wound up being deported or killed. Is that really the kind of thinking we want to encourage? Ilya's parents denied being Jewish, to avoid the privileges that came with it.
What about "black privilege" in athletics, basketball and football? Though I've heard people claim that's in part because blacks are not encouraged to pursue certain professions. Stand by, then. More on that.
There are also too many groups and issues scattershot here to resolve problems. We can see the problems exist, but we knew that. Get a broad sample, refine each question separately, and then look for solutions. Complicated? Yes, but no one said it would be easy, and it'll lead to better solutions.
As I see it, the only honest way to approach this is with a much broader study by various cultures, locales, etc. Breaking it down by race, and by faked race, is racist.
At one convention recently, a black professor of political science opened the floor with "Your slave-owning ancestors" addressed to a white author…whose well-known family were publicly and historically abolitionists. It didn't go over well. And it was racist. There was an assumption made, based on someone's skin color.
Even more so, those of us not born here get the same thing, and WE'RE NOT FROM THIS COUNTRY. Do we benefit from what this country is now, based on its past? Yes, but so does everyone. Blacks in America have it waaay better than blacks in Cameroon. This doesn't mean we shouldn't work to make it better—we should, for everyone. But saying, "You benefit from ___ in America's past" is ridiculous. We ALL benefit from it. There's a difference between, "Let's look at ways we can improve this," and "You fuckers have it easy, being white and all."
So let's look at this from white vs not white, since it's obvious everyone born here notices color to some degree.
I wonder what Mike Kabongo thinks:
People Are Stupid.
There’s your answer. It’s simple, it applies in most situations, it doesn’t require you to think very often or very hard. This is good a thing because thinking is hard, and you probably don’t like doing it. You aren’t alone in that. And as a member of the race you are, it’s really pretty common.
The question? Oh, that’s easy. The question is: Why did s/he, they, we do that? The answer: People are stupid. The will to be stupid is a profound and very nearly entropic thing. It’s partly biologically based since thinking uses energy, and energy (meaning calories from food) is historically hard for homo sapiens to acquire.
“The will to be stupid is a very powerful force, but there are always alternatives.” ― Lois McMaster Bujold, Brothers in Arms
This does not however mean that you shouldn’t try. Nothing that impacted humanity en masse has ever been accomplished without overcoming this native will. When Henry Blair received his patent for inventing the early sparkplug, the will to be stupid was just one of the things he had to overcome.
Some people seem to wallow in this will, almost as if it were a tub or puddle. This used to horrify me. It still fills me with the sort of atavistic disgust I normally reserve for rapists and reality TV. But I get it. One of the charming examples of this is the human tendency to take all of a superficial grouping and treat them all as if they were the same.
By this logic I and Snoop Dogg are the same. Sure he’s a millionaire, skinny, and smokes pot like a mofo. I’m not a millionaire, get migraines from the smell of pot, and am decidedly unskinny. But of course, really, we’re the same. I mean not only are we the same generation, and male, and Americans and on twitter @SnoopDogg @OnyxHawke but far more importantly we’re Black. No wait, I’m not allowed to call myself that. I’m an American Descendent Of Non Voluntary Migrant Workers Of African Origin Previously Held In Bondage. There, much more sensible, rolls off the tongue too.
Why am I writing this? Some Brit expat twerp I like called me up in the middle of the night and asked my opinion. Said generic white dude has a thing for explosive toys, and my unvarnished opinions have qualified for that once or twice in my life. This may or may not be one of them. Having reread the post that caused the phone call in the first place… I remember why I didn’t respond to it. First the post this is in regards to is kinda stupid and not worth responding too. Second, as I expect kinda stupid from humanity as a whole, even from those I like, I wasn’t actually offended by it.
The problem is that of perception. For those who haven’t caught on, got lost, or inexplicably started reading in the middle…I’m large, frequently cranky, black male of above average intelligence. Each of those categories gets me into trouble, sometimes one of the others will get me out, or just push me in further. But yes, as a black man I do know there are certain things I should not do because I’m a large black man. Not being particularly passive by nature exacerbates these things.
Is my life more difficult than some peoples? Yep. I can honestly say that someone who didn’t grow up quite literally the only minority in their town probably had less issues with people than I did. They probably also learned a lot less. But is my life harder because I’m a black man? Harder than whose? If I’d grown up in Mississippi when my Mother did, I’d consider my youth a cake walk. If I’d grown up in one of the gang havens of America, I’d consider my Mamma Dukes life pretty easy. Bill Cosby’s kids, and they grew up in the same state as me, would probably consider my life hard.
I’m not a fair comparison to a kid (of any race) who grew up in South Central Los Angeles during its gang warfare worst. I’m not comparable to a kid who grew up in an all black town in South Carolina. Income has a part, education (both one's own, and the people who raise them), how much value is put on education, and the history of race relations in that area. Then there are the nasty things like drive, intelligence, and luck that the loud and proud to be stupid claim everyone has in equal measure.
A great example of the pointlessness of using even three very generic data points is to compare Eminem, John Scalzi and Pat Robertson. All three are straight, white males. All three are reasonably famous. One of them is jackass, a hypocrite and a waste of amino acids, the second is a musician, and the third is science fiction and fantasy writer. Does straight, white, male pop into your head as the first data point on any of them?
I’ve been attacked for my race. I’ve seen people of other races attacked for theirs. But honestly, race is about the last thing I ever take note of in people. If I were worried about it, hot damn would I be in the wrong business. Rarely are there anything but two dimensional portrayals of my race in sff. At times I wonder which persons in the industry talk to me because they are amused by me, or want something of me and how much because I get to be their Magical Negro or Token Black Friend. Do I care greatly about the people in the last category? Nope. They’re generally along the lines of a bouncy puppy that just doesn’t get how destructive they are. You can’t change it, you can only outlive it.
So, no, someone acknowledging a highly superficial point based largely on things that don’t matter much except to fundamentalist members of the Church of the Subgenius, isn’t going to offend me. If I let those folks, the ones who have refused to acknowledge I was in their store or restaurant even if I was better dressed than their white clients, or failed to hire me even if better qualified for a job own my life, well I’d be no better off than the slaves not to far up my family tree. I learned years ago not to dwell on the lowest levels of social grace; it’s not worth my time.
Quick summary in Q & A form:
Q: Was Scalzi wrong?
A: Nothing in the post was egregiously wrong.
Q: Why are people upset by it?
A: John’s post had approximately the breadth and depth of a teaspoon. He says he designed the article that way, it may have been better to do it as part of a series and clearly label it as such.
Q: What’s this breadth and depth you write of?
A: (See beginning of article, this applies to you.) It was a short piece without much detail, it didn’t explain why it didn’t explain things people are hung up on. Some of those things get in the way of discussions of everything else even if they aren’t on the table unless carefully put in a parking lot at the beginning of the discussion.
Q: Do we live in a post racial society?
A: If you believe that please reread the beginning of this article.
Q: What’s your family like?
A: It spans multiple races, several states, all education levels and a good chunk of the upper strata of intelligence.
Q: Why is this here and not on your own blog?
A: See title. I don’t want to deal with that, so our fair host gets to.
Are some whites very advantaged? Hell, yes. Are there more of them than very advantaged blacks? Of course, in this country. In Zimbabwe not so much, nor in Jamaica. Are all whites the same? Well, I guess we all look the same to you, and even to some of each other.
At the very bottom, I can't see any difference between poor Mobile blacks and poor Dallas whites. It sucks either way, and no, being white won't stop the cops from hassling you. Consider if you're the white guy whose car breaks down in Gary, Indiana, that your race really isn't an advantage. I've lived in predominantly black neighborhoods and stood out. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but no matter who you are, being the odd man out is awkward. More on that in a bit.
Now, Scalzi left it open what to do about this issue. If he really wants to help, I know a single mother in a hotel needing an apartment. I paid her car repair and took care of storing her belongings (they're in my office). I know a disabled veteran on minimal pension with cognitive disabilities and thundering headaches that never stop, literally, never stop. Five years now. Pain level from 4 on a good day to off the charts in convulsions on a bad day, and lots of ER visits to the charity hospital and VA. I've paid several months of his rent, taken him clothes and food, spent dozens of hours at the VA translating from incoherent, agonized grunt to English so the docs can do the minimal they can. Feel free to help, if it won't soil you that they're privileged white folk. Or by all means find some black or Hispanic folk to help instead. I didn't see skin color. I saw people who badly needed help.
But on the race issue…my black friends see me as white, only white, indistinguishable from other whites from their point of view. Culture is less noticeable than race. It's strictly a color issue, and obviously works both ways for most people in America. Those of us from elsewhere just don't get it. Clearly, this is culturally significant. So let's look at why this happens.
One major issue here, as several blacks pointed out, is that in the media, America is white. In literature, America is white. In science fiction, the future is white. There are black writers out there. They're just as competent as white writers, and some are even better than the mean. One of them pointed out to me that there are few mainstream black characters on primetime TV, and almost none in science fiction. Mike K noted the same thing, regarding the first time he saw a black news anchor.
Why is there a culture gap? In part, because blacks can't see themselves portrayed in the mythical average American culture. Blacks can be accepted as athletes, and sometimes as entertainers, but not as part of our cultural media—movies and TV. They're always outsiders. I can't feel what they feel, but I do grasp being an outsider, and I have protective coloration. Not having that must be a burden. I can't empathize, but I can sympathize. I grasp the problem exists.
There are some Hispanics and Asians on TV, and without crunching numbers, I suspect they more closely match the cultural demographics than those for blacks match.
So, this isn't just white vs non-white. It's black vs not-black. Blacks are still taking a beating culturally.
Similarly, SF is one of the whitest genres out there, and will remain that way unless readers can see themselves in the story, because the protagonist is black, Asian, Hispanic, gay, transsexual, overweight, blind, etc.
I've had POV and supporting characters who are male, female, bisexual, transsexual, European, Pacific, Hispanic, Asian and African. I guess it's time to move some to the lead POV. I will try to do so.
Perhaps other writers can do likewise.
So tell me, Mr Scalzi, how many non-white characters are in your fiction?
My way of dealing with spec fic’s racial lopsidedness (on the writing side, at least) is somewhat passive-aggressive: I avoid making any sort of overt racial identifiers at all with my characters unless it’s required by the plot, which for my books it generally isn’t. This is not the same as actively specifying minority characters in my books, which is a point no doubt many will be happy to make, and they’re right. But it’s not excluding them, either, which is not trivial.
Sorry. That's a copout, and yes, passive-aggressive. You are offering the reader no reason to see the characters as anything but the very cultural stereotype you rail against. If you want the reader to see a post-racial world, then you need to show a post-racial world, where someone is recognized by their shape, size, color, hair, but not judged by it.
And yes, it's utterly trivial, especially given the size of your market and ability to influence people.
You asked your audience what they can do about this cultural gap. Let's start with what you can do. Stop being a passive-aggressive little twerp ascribing shallow and inaccurate gamer stereotypes to people, dodging the issue and asking others to develop un-named strategies, and try being a fucking writer.
PS: I don't feel a discussion needs to be "carefully monitored" (translation: censored). It is by open discussion that we learn from each other. Sometimes we learn only that the other person is an asshole whom we can't deal with, but that itself is useful knowledge.
The floor is open.