Race and the Other Consequence

Sometimes I wonder if I love my state more than I love my country. In fact, not even all of California–just the Bay Area specifically; the rest of the state might as well be another to me.

I suspect that I haven’t felt loved here–after all, the city is a harsh and lonely place. There is a kind of unspoken character, a confused jumble between rigorous materialism and outcries of painful poetic passion. Love is not a comforting warmth here–it flames in intervals like the passing heat waves, the “slow degrees of lazy Fahrenheit” that “cook the day, eat the night.” (That was truly written for us.) With the ocean to my left and the mountains to my right, the valley is nothing short of glorious. My valley. “It’s a beautiful day in the Bay,” announces an advertisement for morning news. And it is. An ocean breeze graces even inward cities. The summers are deep and sad.

You don’t look American, but you look Californian. Not the perpetuated vision, but strangely akin to the features of the place itself: enormous dark glossy eyes like some sort of creature of the sea, stormy hair like seaweed or onyx untamed fire, and skin the tone of warmed sand. The women here have beautiful names, names that as Warsan Shire states command full use of the tongue–names that owe no trust to those who cannot pronounce them correctly. The barista spells yours right. Salespeople converse in Vietnamese. Latina women stop you in the street to ask what shampoo you use; “Your hair is like mine,” they reach out to touch it, awed by the familiarity. They ask whether you are one of them–this time you don’t mind.

They are mournful when you answer, “No.” “You’re pretty!” they exclaim. Please be possible, had been the unspoken hope. I can’t look white but I can look like you! I know, because I see the reflection of my desires on their faces.

In the high-end shopping malls you have to dress twice as beautiful as any white woman to fend off curious borderline hostile looks. A white woman in jeans is casual and practical; a woman of color in jeans must have inadequate finances. Yet, “What beautiful hair–is that the conditioner you use?” she inquires reaching for it herself after seeing you pull it off the shelf, because she has clearly dyed her own once too many (but you are too polite to point out that this is the problem, not her conditioner). Instead you tell her when you were little you wanted to be blonde just like her. (Her eyes light up a little and indicate to you the message is received.) The reactions are so independently contrasted between suspicion and admiration it’s exhausting not to know what to expect.

But it is California and it is mine.

I will always be Californian. As disinterested as I am in sports if I do ever move I will almost certainly still cheer for Californian teams. But that’s no reason I’ll ever betray the next state where I live.

A white woman tells me something that reminds me of a moving article I have read before, “I don’t mean to be offensive, and I know how dangerous and hurtful the word ‘exotic‘ is to you, how it reinforces the colonial idea of you as not normal, but I am part Native American and I feel so confirmed when people say that in one moment by happenstance I look exotic–like I can connect with something I love, a part of my identity that has been denied to me. I would never claim it, but that’s how I feel.” And my heart breaks for her. They say white culture doesn’t hurt white people like patriarchy hurts men, but it does, it does. Just a little. After all, what conqueror can engage in such evil without feeling a dark emptiness where once was his spirit? Bound forever to appropriate from the cultures he has hated, a sick kind of love. Searching for the spirituality compromised in violence–by perpetuating more violence in this appropriation.

I would be a sick fool to mourn for a collateral backfiring for who have destroyed me–it is something similar to a kind of syndrome no doubt… but I’d rather feel it just a little, in case it isn’t, in case it is really just human.

14 thoughts on “Race and the Other Consequence

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this.

    I often find it difficult to discuss race, and privilege, especially because the situation in Denmark is different to the situation in the US. Although Denmark is far from innocent (*cough* Greenland & Faroe Islands *cough*), there’s just not the same history of institutionalized mistreatment, but also there just isn’t the same racial diversity (Denmark is 90-95% ethnically Danish, i.e., white). Which also means that the problem with mistreatment and inequality is very often in cases of immigrants and refugees, which means that many many Danes will turn around and say, well if you’re so bloody unhappy why don’t you go back to where you came from.

    And I don’t know how to fight that, how to change that perception.

    Meh, I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say here. Anyways.

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      1. It is uncomfortable, but also because the situation I face every is so different. The people who are being mistreated in Denmark their families have usually only been here since the 70’s, and often much less.

        But also because Denmark is so damn homogenized it’s hard to be different (even as a white person :P ), cause we’re so used to everyone being the same. I mean white people in the US are “only” 65% of the population – and even then they’re from very diverse backgrounds, whereas white people in Denmark are 90-95% of the population – and they’re all from one VERY tiny area by comparison (Denmark is smaller than most US states).

        Many many Danes don’t even KNOW people who aren’t ethnically Danish, simply because you often have to really go out of your way to make friends with other ethnic groups.

        Okay I’m rambling, I’m sorry. I often think about these things (especially since I am so fascinated by other cultures and people and love learning). and how different things are in the US and in Denmark.

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        1. Oh gosh. I’ve heard similar things from Australians but that sounds a thousand times more difficult than Australia. I really wish the differences weren’t viewed as so profound on sight. (Usually if they’ve been there since the 70s the cultures aren’t so distinctive… my family’s only been in the US since the 90s. I don’t know if it’s the same way in Denmark, whether most people are just *assumed* to be culturally different resulting in mistreatment–not that that’s any excuse–or if they are.) Are those who aren’t ethnically Danish represented in the media? I imagine that could have a remarkable effect in introducing that idea since most don’t encounter it in real life.

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  2. Actually there is quite a lot, not entirely enough, but it could be much worse. In parliament for example there are 4 (out of 179) politicians who aren’t ethnically Danish (but only one of those are a woman). (Actually our female representation in parliament is quite good, 39.1% are women and almost half of our ministers (including our Prime Minister) are women).

    Australia is different again because the white people DID take the land from the indigenous population (like I said Denmark is not innocent because of Greenland and Faroe Islands), and because Australia has a huge immigrant population and have had much more open borders.

    The biggest problem in Denmark is that there is a huge focus on negative stories. And the thing is that there IS more violence amongst the ethnic groups, especially in terms of minor violence. And I wish that wasn’t true, but it is. And it is to a certain degree understandable when you look at the background, and the minor discrimination they face every day. But it doesn’t change the fact that that’s the image most Danes have of immigrants and refugees, that they’ve come here to abuse the Danish welfare system (which is amazing, and which IS being abused at times – by people of all ethnicities), and that they are just causing trouble. – Completely disregarding that most of the immigrants came here in the 70’s on OUR invitation, because we NEEDED them to do all the jobs the Danes didn’t want at the time – but now that the employment situation is different we don’t want them anymore. (This is mainly Pakistanis and Turks).

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    1. About 90 percent of Australia is of European ancestry, but you are right–the constant encounters with immigrants (even when they are European) would force a level of acceptance and familiarity with the idea that people are not the same. That and living on occupied land.

      The 70s weren’t too long ago… hopefully it wouldn’t be too difficult to remind them why people who aren’t ethnically Danish are there, though I’m not sure how that would be accomplished. But there are probably people alive who remember. And the idea that being a minority of any demographic would expectedly result in a higher crime rate because of discrimination shouldn’t be too hard to grasp (one would think!) because that is true in areas even other than race though for other reasons. (Here people who aren’t straight are more likely to commit crimes of abuse against their partners since it’s never talked about and no safe spaces are provided for the victims or resources spent on any kind of awareness on the matter like with straight couples.)

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      1. Well that’s the thing Europe is similar, but at the same time it’s not. You travel for 2 hours and you’re in a completely different place and culture.

        People ARE trying to remind through rap lyrics for example, an artist Ali Kazim (Pakistani origin) wrote a song called ‘Spørgsmål’ (questions) where he said (my translation, from memory) “when my parents came here they were guest-workers, now a generation later we’re almost Al Qaeda…”

        Personally I think a huge part of the problem is the economy, when there aren’t enough jobs it’s very easy to blame those who are “different” and who are “stealing our jobs”.

        But it’s difficult for me because I feel “in-between” it all, understanding both sides and trying to build bridges. And at the same time feeling I have no right to speak about these things because I’m white.

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      2. Personally I think a huge part of the problem is the economy, when there aren’t enough jobs it’s very easy to blame those who are “different” and who are “stealing our jobs”.

        That’s what it is. That’s always what it is. LOL =( Everyone needs a scapegoat. The attitudes may improve naturally as the economy does. They probably will. People always wrongfully blame immigrants–even legal ones–for the state of the economy even though that has never been the actual reason it’s disastrous anywhere.

        Of course you have the right to speak about them. You are still a valuable source of ideas, even if not a primary one. As long as the voices of marginalized groups aren’t overridden there’s no real harm. But I understand it’s very easy to be destructively dismissive–often without even realizing it–and that’s why everyone is so careful (and rightly so).

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        1. Yeah I know the attitude was different back in the 70’s, people were more curious then, rather than apprehensive and wary today.

          To a certain degree I feel like I also MUST speak about these things, that I have a duty to say “it’s not just their problem”, same way as I feel a duty to speak up about LGBT issues. But like you said, you also have to be careful not to override the marginalized groups themselves. For me that means if no one else will/can speak up, then I’ll do so. If there are someone else there from the marginalized community I’ll leave the podium to them. But for example within my (extended) family there are many who are, frankly, borderline racist, and I feel that in those situations, I have a duty to not just shut up and say “it’s not my problem”, but to speak up about it.

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