I’ve written before on the state of racism in America saying that of course it exists – it will exist so long as America is populated by human beings – but it’s not racism as defined by law (or news, or entertainment) nor even some kind of thing that can be identified and mitigated by law and/or social processes.  It is also, at any level it can be defined, less than in practically any other country.  (At least any country I’ve lived in/visited/have friends from – which covers most of the world.)

“Racism” in the sense of “he who doesn’t look like us will be kept out/killed/denied” is part of the makeup of the human brain.  It just is.  It is part of the brains of our fellow great apes, too.  And most other mammals.

Experiments have been made with not only getting a mother (of whatever species) to accept offspring of another species, but also with changing one of her own cubs – scent or look – to see if it’s still recognized.  Most of these experiments end with the death of the cub.

It’s actually easier to take a cub of another species, rub the other cub’s scent on it and get the mother to adopt it (this produces some completely insane squirrels-raised-by-cats.  Look it up if you have an hour to spare) than to remove the identifying characteristics and get the mother’s own cub to be accepted.

It is of course a necessary mechanism.  Well, think about it.  Posit gradual enough evolution from our pre-human ancestors that the mothers didn’t kill the babies.  It still needs to be that our ancestors preferred each other (possibly their siblings) for a good long time, or speciation would never have happened.  And given our species proven ability to screw anything that moves, what is amazing is that we DID speciate.  The preference was marked enough for us to leave the old species behind.

The preference, of course, must have been for “more like us than not in a pinch” too, considering the humanoid species they keep finding in our ancestry.  (Actually my theory on the extinction of all these other human species is not one of the popular ones, like “we killed them” or “we ate them” [though doubtless there were instances of both.  There are instances of both within our own species and not that long ago.]  I think we genetically overwhelmed them.  I think for whatever reason we were more fertile [perhaps the having lost estrus or season] an idea immortalized in our legends, of other human species with trouble reproducing, and we just had more kiddies than they did, intermarried, had kids who looked more like us, and they sort of disappeared.  Only they’re still there in our  genetics.)  And of course at times and in certain places things like mountain ranges might have intervened to isolate our ancestors from the parent species.

But given how many human species emerged it can’t ALL have been great floods and sudden mountain range (!).  It MUST have been preference for “we like those like us more than those others.”

That seems to remain, by and large.  People pick companions who are more like them than not.  How many of us prefer to associate with other Odds on line, (even when we fight) than to hang out with our perfectly normal (and often polite) neighbors?

And that’s where the law and social correctives go wrong.  Because “racism” is both much “finer” than just skin-color, slicing a dozen different ways, and far less defined.  First, who do you think my kids have more in common with?  A geeky, black science fiction fan, or a white kid who was raised on a steady diet of TV and reality shows?  In that context “skin color” is the last thing on their minds and it counts for absolutely nothing.  (And btw, both of them of in circumstances where those were their choices not only formed lasting friendships with kids of other “races” but – and this is important – completely failed to see the race, to the extent of giving me descriptions of how to find this kid in a crowd to give them a message which included “He’s tall, and he’s wearing a red jacket.  I think his backpack is blue” but COMPLETELY ignored “this is one of the five black kids in the school.”  (No, it was not self-consciousness.  Not in family.  They just honestly completely forgot that part.  When I said “Oh, for the love of Bob, why didn’t you…” the answer was “Oh.  Duh.  I didn’t remember.”  — interestingly my husband pulled a similar one on me with someone who worked for him.  I was expecting a tall blond guy, because of his name.  Never mind.)

Second, the “racist” – let’s call it “exclusionary” impulse just means “if you stick out, we’ll exclude you.”  It could be you’re the only red head in a room full of brunettes.  But actually at least in America your exterior characteristics are likely to matter for far less than your internal characteristics or your behavior.  You’re far more likely to be shunned if you’re the guy who comes in for a baseball game wearing a tuxedo or who wears a t-shirt to a formal (though these days people will try to pretend they’re not shunning you in the latter case because you’re being “natural” and “unstudied” and those are supposed to be god things.  Never mind.  Talk for another time.)

In fairly uniform countries, if you stick out, you get it.  I’m not sure how much of my sense of discomfort in Portugal came from the fact I was 5’7” when I finished growing (I’m now 5’5” due mostly to issues during first pregnancy.  Long story) and that my hair was that shade of very dark red that lit up as flame in the sun, (now I’ll figure out what color it is if Clairol factories are ever shut down by government order.  I think it’s mostly white and has been since my twenties) but looked brown-black indoors.  People routinely assumed I was a tourist and addressed me in other languages, and though I was (till aforementioned first pregnancy and six months bed rest from which my figure never recovered) a size seven, I grew up with nicknames like “whale” and “mastodon”

Now, if you look at my school pictures, you’d think I look exactly (well, close enough that in the US it would be considered “family resemblance”) like my classmates, only in a bigger scale.  But to them I was definitely “weird” and “strange” enough in appearance for it to matter.  (My husband about choked when someone referred to me in public over there as “blondie” – I had to explain to him that “blond” is anything short of very dark brown or black.)

Does this account for my growing up weird?  Maybe.  I’ve looked at my ancestors, even the ones who presented physically normal and I’m not convinced.  A strong streak of “You may go to h*ll, I’m going Odd” seems to run through.  OTOH it certainly worked to convince me that I could never fit in, so why try?

This too is a form of racism that can neither be identified nor ameliorated by law.  I mean, okay, I can see our bureaucracy TRY “If someone is more than two inches above median and more than two shades lighter/darker than the group, he or she must…”  I can see them try because these are people who try to regulate how much salt you can eat.  I can also see them try because if we let them they would have paperclip inspectors, making sure the paperclips on every desk were properly stored.  Let’s face it – they don’t trust us to cross the street alone.

On the other hand it CAN’T be done.

And I’m not even going to say that there was never a racism problem in America – of course there is/was/would be.  “Racism” defined as the exclusionary impulse responds to “Shared background” as much as to “sufficiently big external characteristic” and when groups had been kept legally separate (first by slavery, then by legal separation laws) they wouldn’t have much in common and also the appearance would be a novelty.

So I can totally see where the government thought it had a reason to step in.  (Usually same reason as always – having caused the problem, they now claimed they had to step in to solve it.)  The problem was their assuming the problem would persist forever and ever and that they had to step in forever, because left to their own devices, people would care more about ONE characteristic – skin color – than about shared background or interests, or even proximity.

This is puzzling because at the same time they are creating quasi-racial groups out of cultures.  I don’t know who it was who said that if Irish and Italians had been treated as we’re treating those of Latin origin, not only would they never have assimilated but their criminality and other dysfunction would be through the roof.  They were, nonetheless, right.

I say this as someone who grew up thinking of herself as white (with whatever fell in the pot along the way) and who, upon entering this country found out she was “Latina” which some people seem to think is a separate race. (Or just confuse race with culture.  To the extent that Europeans used to talk of the French race or the Spanish Race, this has been going on a long time.)

Even before I was officially “Latina”, due to the fact that most people think that Portugal is somewhere in South America, I found myself being treated weirdly.  Complete strangers told me I’d come here to avoid starving (!  Mom would have been offended.  There were four in the family.  She always cooked for fifteen.  Honestly if I hadn’t made untoward efforts to slim, I’d have been 300 lbs by 12.)  Other complete strangers told me I came here so I could be liberated and not have to obey men in everything (I’d have liked to introduce these darlings to mom or grandma.)  Others told me my culture was of course more emotive/fun/colorful/just/interesting/diverse (!) in touch with nature (!!!!!) or rich (?????) than American culture.

I have said before that my first publishing house thought the interesting bit about me was not that I could write stories, but that I was born in Portugal and was “Latina” – hence the exhortation (yes, I spell extortion funny) to write my biography when I was less than forty (that it was assumed I was oppressed goes without saying, right?)

And that’s what you have to look at to figure out “white privilege” to the extent it exists.  If someone else named Sarah Hoyt (who didn’t go to cons, and get asked about how she got to have such a name/accent or) someone who grew up here, and possibly was born here, wrote science fiction, what would you care about?  How good the science fiction was, right?  Actually for this lot, that’s what you care about anyway.

BUT not to people who took the “we must always be inclusive” and “culture is race” thing to heart.  To them the most important thing about me is ALWAYS that I was born abroad/have an accent (yes, I know, but when I came through you HAD to go to cons.  It’s when I made most of my sales for anthologies, and some books, for the upcoming year.  Certainly where I made most of my “for hire” sales.)

It took me flat nothing to realize that because I was female, had a degree in literature, spoke with an accent and came from a Latin country not only were certain political and social views EXPECTED from me but I was supposed to have been oppressed…  And those expectations WERE oppression.  If I tried to be just myself, I’d get smacked in line or treated like that bird who leaves the flock.

Which brings us to the irony of white privilege in the US today.  The misnamed “White Privilege” which could simply be called “Normal Privilege” for whatever is normal for that area, is the ability to not have expectations and ideas pushed on you.  (The reason I say this is “normal privilege” is that you can be lily white, but if you’re a Southerner in NYC, you too will find that they’re trying very hard to put you in a specific box.)

No one who hasn’t experienced the attempt to make you be what other people THINK you are, can know how bothersome it is.  Of course the only people who’ve never experienced this are people in the least diverse (and culled to be that way) environment in the world: people who run in North Eastern intellectual circles.  The rest of you have probably at least experienced this briefly.

In the end you’re left with either living up (down) to the stereotype because it’s less trouble than fighting it and/or going completely against it, and having people resent it.  It takes a lot more effort, if you’ve been classed as a stereotyped category to be yourself, than it does if you’re not put in a category to begin with.

And again that’s the ironical part. The government’s definition of “protected race/culture” fixating on certain (largely irrelevant) characteristics and the armies of political correctness (like the armies of darkness, but more evil) led by the mass entertainment have created both classes of people who feel aggrieved and set aside (without realizing what aggrieves them and sets them aside is large the weird expression to being afraid of offending them or setting them aside) and an untold, never before found privilege: the ability to move through life with a minimum of stereotypes attached.

I sometimes envy those people greatly.  But then I realize that NO ONE is ever free of expectations.  (Most people just don’t have the honor of having them governmentally pre-defined.)  My small, youthful-looking husband, for instance, is not expected to have vast knowledge and experience in his field.

But I do resent the government’s attempt to solve a problem that no longer exists in the shape they think it does creating a bigger and odder problem.  I just hope they don’t try to solve this one too.  We all know how that would end up.

 

Crossposted at According To Hoyt.