Our entrance into the Gilded Phage erupted in protests, violence, and hate speech, while Twitter fights, Facebook rants, and, most vital, thoughtful blog posts remain at pre-Election levels. Voices are still reaching the cheap seats as dire warnings of an encroaching wave of racism and bigotry are met with caustic dismissals demanding people “Wait and see” and “Stop whining.” It’s a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector tumescent.
This election proved one thing: there are a lot of white, heterosexual, cisgender males in this country, and despite assertions that they are the new oppressed minority, they remain both the most powerful and vocal force in American politics. As a member of that demographic, I have never felt so dismayed to be so visible.
For the last year, ever since I completed 10 Cities, I’ve been largely silent. Up until last week, this website had gone dark and I had minimized my Facebook presence (I’ve remained somewhat active on Twitter; my apologies). I’ve been practicing a skill that doesn’t come naturally to me: Listening.
Listening to voices that aren’t white, heterosexual, cisgender, and/or male is critical for the continued growth of our society and for our growth as individuals. We only need look at last Tuesday to know what’s at stake when we don’t.
One of the ways I’ve been reminding myself to be a better listener is intentionally seeking out voices that wouldn’t naturally enter my sphere of interests. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender male, I’m striving to engage with the points of view of those who aren’t. I’ve not intentionally avoided or ignored those voices in the past, but by nature of our societal structure, I’ve done it all the same.
So far, this endeavor has had the greatest impact in my consumption of art, particularly music and literature. I’ve read assault narratives and about rape culture (Alice Sebold and Kate Harding), read fiction from people of color (Colson Whitehead and Zadie Smith; Zadie pisses me off because her first novel is just so damn good) as well as non-American authors (Arturo Perez-Reverte). I’ve read many other authors (including plenty of white males) this last year, but I hope to find even more diverse voices next year.
Additionally, and to a much greater extent, I’ve been listening to a more varied slate of musical artists. My musical taste has always been eclectic, but my go-tos have generally been white, straight dudes. It seems like a trivial thing because it’s an easy thing; I love music and I love finding new artists. And yet, as easy as it is to do, it still had to be a conscious choice. Ultimately, that minimum effort to expand my palate has been deeply enriching.
To that end, I’m concluding this post with a by-no-means-exhaustive list of artists who are not white, or not male, or not straight, or not cisgender. The list could expand indefinitely, but these just happen to be some that I’ve come to really appreciate over the last year and who, importantly, offer a broader perspective.
And, finally, to my fellow white, heterosexual, cisgender males: There’s no prize for listening, no pat on the back; there’s just the pleasant reality that so many voices deserve our attention and we are invariably enriched by the simple experience of hearing a new perspective.
I hope you enjoy the music and that you’ll keep listening.
One of the great benefits of living in cities is that the worlds I inhabit are diverse and filled with people from all backgrounds and lifestyles. Specifically, I meet people of varied nationalities and ethnicities every day, either at work or at the bar or on the street. It’s the hallmark of a great city that the shining beacon of metropolitan living calls out to people from all corners of the world.
Yet, for all this diversity, people aren’t really all that different. We share a lot of traits and characteristics. The wide range of people I’ve met over the years has made this crystal clear. We all want to be unique snowflakes, but patterns of personality and motivations are reliable present everywhere you look.
What might surprise most people is that, for whatever reason – cultural, genetic, religious – people of the same ethnic background often share many of the same defining traits and internal drives. Some people might be skeptical, but I’ve met thousands of people of all ethnicities and I assure you, these patterns are as apparent as the stars in the sky.
Read on and then look around you. You’ll be amazed how accurately these describe your coworkers, friends and, yes, even yourself.
A Chinese person is hungry for success. They generally want to succeed in studies, careers and almost everything they get involved in, though there might be the odd case of a Chinese deliberately messing up their grades, just cause they hate the pressure. In their professional life, they will do anything to get to the top. For many, this might mean their personal life suffers, but not for the Chinese. They are really attached to their family. They are extremely passionate and dedicated, but they also have certain selfish tendencies which can wreck relationships.
Indians dislike indecision and chaos. They work hard at bringing security – social and economical, in the lives of everyone they love. They find it very hard to risk it for something uncertain, no matter how great it might be. These are really patient types that never throw in the towel and keep fighting for what they value and believe in. They are very passionate, even though they can be a bit slow to action. They are beautiful, sensual people who have great taste for the beautiful things in life.
Nothing annoys a Russian more than boredom. Multitasking is innate to them, so much so that it bleeds into their personal life. Though that can be a problem for relationships, Russians have a great ability to talk their way out of awkward situations. They are generally restless and energetic to the extreme – that’s what gives them the resources to multitask. But this must take a toll on them, because Russians can never completely let go of things and relax.
Mexicans are very protective of themselves, their friends and family. They are not intimidated and can sometimes take an aggressive stand in order to protect themselves from others. Anyone who jeopardizes their or their close ones’ dignity or self-respect will be pushed back or even pinned down. Family is very important for them, and comes at the top in the list of priorities. To their loved ones, Mexicans present their most soft and mellow self. They can overreact to incidents be moody at times, but they are very sensual and make great companions.
∞ Iranian Leo
An Iranian innately want to be a leader, but they’ll be servants for those they adore and revere. They can be quite organized when it comes to everyone’s lives but their own. Despite this love of order, the Iranians are very creative and generally possess talents that hardly anyone around them is good at. They don’t handle criticism well, though, and have a great need to be encouraged. In relationships, they are very generous and caring, but can get a little carried away and shower their affections on the wrong person. With the right person, they’re very passionate and faithful.
A Spanish person generally displays excellent judgment and critical thinking. They can size up a situation, form an opinion, and express it in a very constructive way. But they do this with humility, and they are never more critical and judgmental then they are of themselves. This can be a toll on friendships and relationships, though they lack not for devotion and love. This seems to feed their innate nervous tendencies. For all their tenderness and talents, they tend to be their own worst enemies in relationships.
Jews get a reputation for being lazy, but they just know how to relax and let things go. Even when they hustle, they find time to look well-manicured and stop for coffee. They crave long-lasting commitment, but hate having to work to preserve their relationships. When they aren’t involved, they feel like something is missing. They can rush into relationships, usually when they’re too young to even understand what a relationship requires. But when they find the right one, it’s loyalty for life.
∞ Australian Scorpio
The most obvious thing about an Aussie is their forcefulness. This high-energy state is as much emotional as physical. They can be overly aggressive, in friendships, relationships (especially sexual) and business. It’s a trait that’s as much asset as liability. When things go wrong, an Aussie stops taking active interest in things and withdrawals. Their intensity is replaced with introversion and brooding. When they’re like this, they won’t open up to anyone, not even friends and lovers. One has to tiptoe around them until a new interest re-energizes them.
∞ Japanese Sagittarian
The Japanese are simultaneously very frank and exceedingly practical. They are driven by their tendency to have a broad outlook, and can grasp almost any kind of problem. This big picture mindset means they do miss minor details. They can be hard on themselves and can switch one moment to the next from being completely content with themselves to being filled with self-doubt. Especially as children, they can be wild and require taming, but they are very brilliant and studious.
An Egyptian has a tenacity that translates into a never-give-up need to fight, move, advance. Yet they also have the seemingly contradictory trait of being steadfast in their work, which translates to frequent complaining and grumbling in the face of roadblocks. There is a drive for success in them that makes it hard for them to maintain people who they see as not as successful. They can feel quite lonely. Outwardly they’ll appear quite formal and out of place at a fun gathering, but when you get to their dark sense of humor they can be the life of any party. They’re not the most romantic people, but they are extremely loyal.
∞ Polish Aquarian
Poles are very individualistic and strong-willed. Because of that, they can make enemies easily, but they also make good leaders. Yet, while they can be inventive pioneers, once they’ve made up their minds there’s pretty much no changing it. This mix of traits makes them emotionally cool, sometimes impenetrable. But that outside wall hides a very generous and caring core. They can be terribly romantic at heart but find it hard to express themselves in a way that resonates with the object of their affection.
More than anyone else, Mongols are characterized by an emotional depth that manifests as great passion. Creatively, romantically, professionally, they are a vast reservoir of energy that seems bottomless. Still, their innate modesty often leads them to underestimate their abilities. Surprisingly, for all this emotional volatility, they are a people of habits and crave control. If they lose that order, they can act like a person drowning in quicksand. They might resist it, but they often need outside help. While this is a problem in most aspects of their lives, it seems to only benefit them in romance where they tend to reward a loved one with passionate monogamy.
If any of these characterizations strike you as racist and ridiculous, you are correct. Such simplistic categorizations are idiotic and reprehensible. Similarly, it’s just as incomprehensible to make assumptions about a person based on their date of birth, yet I modeled all of these descriptions on Zodiac descriptions that I found here. The next time you find yourself saying, “Oh, he’s that way because he’s a Taurus,” just replace the word ‘Taurus’ with ‘Indian’ and see if you still feel the same.
Southern cities and Northern cities represent two very distinct flavors of culture in the United States. They share a nation, but they aren’t interchangeable.
So far, I have lived in 3 cities below the Mason-Dixon line: Charlotte, Nashville and now New Orleans. (Costa Mesa, California, while technically a southern US city, is not a Southern city.)
In all major cities, racial diversity is a norm. That is one of the main benefits of city life (the contrasting lack of diversity being the selling point of suburbs). People of all races, cultures, backgrounds and persuasions come together and mix, uneasily at times, and create an environment that expresses itself through varied outlets and appearances.
While the (mostly true) stereotype is that Southern cities are segregated, racial segregation is a fact in Northern cities as well. Chicago’s racial lines are drawn pretty heavily between South and North Chicago. In Philadelphia, West Philly (where I lived, and where the Fresh Prince was born and raised) was predominantly black with smatterings of Middle Easterners and random houses occupied by white twentysomethings who had dropped out of school and formed bands in their basements.
The Marigny in New Orleans, where I live, often gives me flashbacks to my time in West Philly.* The neighborhood is largely black, a mixture of older couples who have likely lived here for years and families with young children. In the mix are a few houses on each block where white renters (and owners) have moved in. Just like Philly, these white inhabitants don’t have any apparent interest in gentrifying the neighborhood, though that may be inevitable. Instead, these whites are largely artists, service industry workers or working class people who have moved to the area because it’s affordable and, at least, marginally convenient (a mile from the French Quarter).
The racial make-up may be more balanced, but cultural differences tend to emphasize black presence: It’s more common to see black residents sitting on their porch, talking with their neighbors and enjoying the outdoor spaces. White residents step outside their houses to smoke or to get a break from the walls, but generally they’re indoors.
Gentrification has a dictionary definition, but if we’re all perfectly frank, we know what it means in a practical sense: White people move into a neighborhood that was once primarily black (or another race) and within the decade, Starbucks and Whole Foods have moved in.
It happens in New York, it happens in New Orleans. Some people would argue that gentrification improves a neighborhood, and if you were to merely look at crime levels and median incomes, you’d be hard pressed to argue against that view. But what those stats ignore is that as the neighborhood “improves,” rents go up and poorer residents can no longer afford to live in their homes and are shuffled off to some other neighborhood (cheaper real estate that grows rarer and rarer with time).
In a city like New Orleans, such gentrification can not only usher a race out of a neighborhood, it can push out a deep cultural history. The Tremé is one of the city’s most historically significant neighborhoods, with connections to many of the city’s musical greats. Now, post-Katrina, this historic neighborhood is on the bumpy road to gentrification. And it’s being met with expected apprehension.
There is nothing wrong with a white person or family moving into a historically black (or minority) neighborhood. Despite my Hispanic heritage, I am by all appearances white. In Charlotte, Philly, San Francisco, Nashville and now here, I have lived in neighborhoods that were predominantly black or a mixture of races, with white being the minority. My presence didn’t lead to any gentrification. A single individual isn’t going to encourage the big-box stores to invest in the location (especially when that individual is only going to be there for a year).
But, I suspect in most cases, gentrification isn’t the motivation for any new residents. A family moves into a neighborhood, then another, and another. A small store opens, maybe owned by a local of the neighborhood. This little bit of economic growth feeds more growth and, along with a general aesthetic uptick, outside investors start hearing word of a potentially exploitable area for stores, restaurants, offices or apartment buildings.
And people aren’t always happy about it:
It would be a mistake to think that black residents (or whoever was there first) always oppose gentrification and white residents are always for it. I’m sure quite often long-time residents actually welcome the sorts of positive effects that gentrification brings, such as increased property value and less crime, even as they know some of their neighbors may not be able to stick around to appreciate the changes.
Alternatively, I am often witness to white people railing against other white people for their complicity in the erosion of a neighborhood’s culture. My white roommate vents about the neighborhood association whose emphasis on ‘safety’ seems to be code for ‘less black’ (or, at least, less poor). I met a white couple who told me about this apparently very cool brass band show that plays in the basement of a nearby church. It used to be an exclusively black crowd, they complained to me, but now whites are overtaking it.
They contemplated this for a second before adding sheepishly:
“Well, it’s bad that it’s losing some of it’s uniqueness, but on the other hand we get to go see it.”
And that sums up the catch-22 of the culturally sensitive white citizen. They want to celebrate diversity and hope to see these cultures thrive, but to truly appreciate different cultures one must experience them. Experiencing a culture, however, pretty much requires getting involved in it (unless you’re the Jane Goodall of Zydeco), and the moment one interacts with a culture, they have affected it (a parallel to the “Observer effect” commonly talked about in science).
The only way a person could hope to have no effect on another culture is to know nothing of it.
Can a culture truly remain unchanged throughout time? Should it? And isn’t it naive to want it to? Culture is an ever-evolving, living creature, not a two-hour documentary. In fact, it’s that very ‘China Doll’ sensitivity that can cripple a culture. To live, a culture must be lived in.
Does that mean gentrification is a good trend? Not necessary. But it doesn’t mean gentrification is a bad trend, either. It might just be an inevitable trend, though I’m sure some would argue that point. There has to be a way for neighborhoods to acquire the amenities that people of means desire while not losing the uniqueness and cultural history that defines the original residents. (Certainly no one would argue that neighborhoods improving financially is a bad thing.)
All I know, from my years in cities as a member of the minority population, is that intermingling is a necessary thing, a good thing. I don’t want to live in a town where everyone I see looks like me (I’m not that good looking).
An aside: When I started my new job, I noticed something odd: I’m working in a restaurant with an entirely white chef staff, an entirely white management staff and an entirely white (but for one) front of house staff. I’ve never worked in such a homogenous work environment before, and to be perfectly honest, it kind of freaks me out.
I have no prescription, no recommendations, because I don’t believe I’m describing a problem. Cultures, like species, are a product of time and change. We mourn the loss of dolphins hunted into extinction, but whoever mourned the dodo? My point being that the death of a culture is unquestionably a tragedy, but we aren’t facing the death of all cultures. Cultures will survive and they’ll evolve and they’ll spontaneously arise out of seemingly nothing at all, just as they always have.
I’ve been a bit busy this past week and haven’t posted anything in a little while. Let’s ease back into this blogging thing with a nice, simple topic.
Race in America.
Particularly, I’m interested in what I’ve witnessed throughout my travels through Un-Real America. That’s right, I’m talking about cities, those places where only liberal, gay neo-marxists live. I unfortunately can’t talk much about True Americans™ because I spend most of my time in places where 90% of the US population lives. What could I possibly know about diversity?
(I did grow up in a fairly white-washed version of Midwest Suburbia, so I have had a taste of Real America, but it was a liberal-leaning University town that even William S. Burroughs came to call home, so how real could it truly have been?)
Despite having no credentials as one of God’s Chosen People (I mean American, not Jew), I’m still going to offer up my experience of racial diversity in America.
I’ve written before about my own racial make-up, so that gives you some idea of where I’m coming from. While I’m technically a ‘half-breed’, no one who sees me would ever think so. For all intents and purposes, I am just a white guy from Kansas. I’ve got the whole ‘Master Race’ thing going on with my blond hair/blue eyes, and most people seem to think that my taste in music will be Heavy Metal or Nickleback. I assure you, that isn’t even close (and frankly, I’m insulted).
This is really a post about the neighborhood I live in. When I walk through my 99.99% black neighborhood in Nashville, I’m not seen as a half-Mexican. I’m the white guy who is apparently lost. I get looks, lots of them. The only other white people I’ve seen in my neighborhood have been in cars driving swiftly away. It’s not just black guys in white neighborhoods that are followed by suspicious stares. I get the distinct feeling from the glances in my direction that people don’t know what to make of me.
I lived in West Philly 4 years ago, in a neighborhood that was also predominantly black, but there was already an encroachment of white college drop-outs and their shitty ‘art’ bands (that believed they were all amazing) in the area. A begrudging mutual acceptance was already in play when I arrived.
Not the case here. I live between Fisk/Meharry and TSU, two colleges that were built specifically to serve black students (you’ll notice I don’t say ‘African American’; I don’t feel the need, and besides, the term is inaccurate). Anyone that claims we’re living in a “Post-Racial” America because of Obama’s election is probably reporting that news from behind 20-ft gates.
Racism still exists, but I don’t want to paint every racial division as racist. There are two reasons why a person might want to stay among their own race and keep another race out. The first is racism, plain and simple: You don’t like another race, you don’t want to be near them. The second reason is familiarity: You like people of your own race (because they are familiar, comfortable), so you stay near them and don’t wander from that safety. I think both reasons are pathetic excuses for avoiding another race (group, neighborhood, region, etc.), but only the first one is truly despicable. Sticking to what you are familiar with is only natural, but it’s still lazy and it isn’t a way of living that I recommend.
It’s not just that familiarity is comforting, it’s also attractive. We are attracted to that which we have been exposed to the most, which is why I find white women more sexually attractive than black women (generally; there are plenty of white women I don’t find attractive and plenty of black women I find very attractive). Likewise, most of my black male friends have a specific type of female they find attractive, and surprise surprise, they tend to be black. This isn’t racism, and nobody in their right mind would think it was.
I chalk up the strange looks from people in my neighborhood to unfamiliarity, not dislike or disgust. There might be some people in this neighborhood who genuinely hate white people and by extension, me, but I’m not looking over my shoulder for a lynch mob. I’m happy to be a touch of unusual in an otherwise common world.
(I’m focusing on black/white racial relations because of the area I’m living in currently; this could easily be about a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco or a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago, it doesn’t matter.)
Most of my closest friends in the past year were black (or Hispanic) and one of the common themes in conversation was their distaste for how certain other black people acted. Now, this is well-trod territory, and Chris Rock famously commented on it:
Within every group is a subgroup that people within that group detest. White people have them, too: White Trash. I guarantee you, that term originated with white people. When Britney Spears is selling records, she’s a hot white chick (to some people; she’s an example of a white woman I do not find attractive), but when she’s fucking up her personal life, she’s a white trash hick.
This is why the idea of a Post-Racial America is meaningless. No matter how well whites and blacks get along (and we get along pretty damn well compared to 40 years ago), our need to self-identify and differentiate the ‘Good’ ones from the ‘Bad’ ones within our own group will create divisions. Divisions will always exist, and the more distinct those lines of division are, the more resilient they will be. As long as we have skin color, Race will remain an exclusionary criteria, even if there is no ill-intention in the division.
You might think that my white appearance but Hispanic origins would reveal the meaninglessness of skin color as an identifier, but all it really proves is how important color is. I am a completely different person in people’s minds because of how I look. It’s a good argument for getting to know a person instead of merely jumping to easy conclusions, but that’s a pipe dream because our minds are constructed to do just that: Make snap judgments based on obvious sensory cues. If we hadn’t evolved that trait, we wouldn’t still be around to idiotically debate Intelligent Design (Spoiler: It’s just Creationism in a new shirt).
I have preconceived notions of black people. And of Mexicans. And Indians. And White people, too. We all do. It isn’t a mark of racism, just of being human. The question isn’t whether or not we have them, but whether or not we allow them to control our actions. It’s meaningless how many black (or white, or red or yellow) friends you have (we’ve all heard the old canard, “I’m not racist, I have black friends”). It’s about how you treat people who aren’t your friends.
And, now, really, this isn’t a discussion of race at all. It’s a discussion of how we live, whether we have any place for the unfamiliar in our lives or if we’re content to stick with what we know. I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong in the latter way of living, it’s just a question of what we want out of life.
It’s a question worth asking yourself, because I don’t foresee America getting any less diverse anytime soon.
I received my anti-Arizona Immigration Law sticker today (from Presente.org who are sadly out of stickers now).
Now, I don’t own a car, and even if I did, I would never put a bumpersticker on it (though, if you are so inclined, may I suggest one of these). Maybe I’ll find someone with a McCain/Palin ’08 sticker on their car and affix it to theirs.
Look, I know there is nothing I am going to say here that is going to change anyone’s mind. This is a preaching to the choir kind of post (and what a sexy choir you are). In fact, I don’t really want to get into the debate, certainly not with some Conservative who thinks I know nothing about real America because I’m a godless Liberal (despite me having lived all over this country). There are far better educated people out there who can give you all the information you can need to make an informed decision (of, if you’d rather make an uninformed decision, there’s always Fox News).
And really, if you have an interest in this topic, you should be doing the research, not listening to some blowhard rant on about the topic (or any topic), whether it be me or Glenn Beck or Keith Olbermann. We have enough people talking, not enough people researching.
The whole topic just gets me thinking about something I’ve never even brought up on this blog (of course, those that know me personally are well aware of it): I’m Mexican. Well, half.
There, I said it. Such a weight off of my shoulders.
Now, I know what you may be thinking, sexy blog reader (I mean it, dead sexy). I don’t look particularly… brown. And it’s true, if you’ve seen the few photos of myself that I’ve posted here on 10 Cities, you’ve seen a rather white looking fellow peering back at you. And no, it’s not just the flash.
Now, there is the possibility that I’m the milkman’s kid, but until the DNA results come in, I’m gonna keep calling my father ‘padre’ (pretty much the only Spanish I do know).
What did that mean for my upbringing? Not much. No racism that I ever witnessed (though I can’t say if that’s true for my browner siblings). No, other than telling quite a few more ‘spic’ jokes than your average non-Texan family and earning a full-ride scholarship to college (yeah, I know, hate me), being half-Mexican didn’t have any major effect on my life, good or bad. It’s just who I was, one facet of my existence that was always there, but in no way made me different (as far as I was concerned).
Were there people who didn’t want to be my friend because I was a half-breed? Maybe, but I highly doubt it. I assume if anyone doesn’t want to be my friend, it’s for my winning personality.
I would say it’s safe to conclude that I have never experienced any form of racism aimed directly at me. I’ve lived a fairly charmed life in that way, especially compared to the vast number of people who have historically made up this country, from day one to right now: Immigrants, legal or otherwise.
Is Arizona’s SB 1070 bill racist? In legal terms, not inherently. In intent, most likely. In practice, most certainly. If it wasn’t racist, I could go to Arizona and legitimately be concerned that I might be pulled over and need to have proof of citizenship. After all, I am Mexican. The color of my skin doesn’t change that fact, and it shouldn’t in the eyes of the law.
But something tells me that if I were in Arizona, carousing late at night with my oldest brother and we happened to end up on el policia’s radar, one of us might spend the night in jail (“until citizenship is confirmed”) and the other would get asked tips on how to keep blond hair so shiny and vibrant.
My point is, being white is great.
No, actually, my point is, whether you love or hate the Arizona law, you have to admit that it does nothing to solve the larger immigration problems in this country. Just imagine if the law was passed for the entire nation. We’d all be living in a police state where anyone with the “wrong” skin color, accent or cultural norms would be easy targets for discrimination.
Making ineffective immigration laws stricter and expecting that to fix the problem is like putting grease on a broken bike chain. It’s, how they say in Spanish, “Fucking stupid-o.”