Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stereotypes and Race: Three Times This Month

The everydayness of stereotypes and racism happened in three's this month.

The first thing that happened:  Misa was called a "Brown ugly girl with a mustache."  So heartbreaking for me to hear as she described her day casually, mentioning this incident in her usual stoic manner, wanting to remain distant so as not to let on that it was harmful.  I knew when she brought it up a few more times that evening that her angst was building.  So on the last mention, I scooped her up in my arms because her feelings seemed just too faraway, and as she settled in, I was met with a well of tears that perhaps helped her say, "It really hurt my feelings."  She went through a painful litany of how to solve the problem - everything from putting on the foundation make-up she uses for her theater performances to wanting to avoid the kids who deflated her, to sucking it up and forgetting about it.  Needing to give this the proper attention, but not wanting to dwell, I swallowed the lump in my throat and coached her through tough and hurtful interactions like these.  We role played a few times, and then when she returned to her spunky self, I asked what she wanted me to do to help heal the situation.

"Maybe you can email my teacher and my principal and tell them it hurts when I'm teased for things I can't help."

Things Misa can't help:  Brown.  Girl.  Mustache (which is really just facial hair above her upper lip, and happens to be dark . . . because well, she's Brown).

The second thing that happened:  Our neighbor, a super friendly guy who always goes out of his way to ask about Emma, Misa and John-Pio made this comment while riding in the elevator to our prospective floors:  "We (he has a super friendly wife, too) notice that your kids play with other kids who are so diverse and we just think that's wonderful to see!"

Translation:  "Diverse" as in their two best friends who are BLACK.  "How wonderful to see" as in, how nice of you to befriend them.

And the third thing that happened just today: This came up on my News Feed from one of my Facebook friends:

Wish my downstair neighbors would STFU!!!! Im about thiiiis close to calling the landlord and letting him know the family of mexicans below me are way over occupancy. Ive had enough screaming and wall hitting to last a lifetime.

So.  If they were a family of white people, would he have noted that?  Because of his experience right then and there, is he somehow absolved from publicly raging a racist remark describing screaming and wall hitting Mexicans, as if that is an integral behavior of Mexican culture?

I point out these everyday acts of stereotypes and racism not out of hyper-awareness, but because they help me understand my own racism and tendencies towards stereotypes.  Whether I act on them or just think them to myself, I have them.  Bringing these acts to a conscious level is one way to face that while being in ambiguous situations like the ones above can be painful and annoying both, there just might be a chance of systemic change even if they are isolated events.  For the sake of Misa and other young people who are directly confronted with confusing and hurtful acts of racism, I believe it's worthwhile to continue to bring these experiences to the forefront - not to encourage anger or victimization, but to empower and reframe.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Stereotypes and Race: The Tsunami Called Racism

Racial legacies run deep.  There is no doubt that resentment by different ethnic groups toward whites, lingers on today.  It's a complex feeling, but James Kamoku reminds us that trauma, even  though 100 years has passed, is unforgettable and difficult to ignore.  Hawaiians had their homeland invaded, were exposed to diseases, and had an alien culture forced upon them.   These are not just stories passed down from one generation to the next, but as you'll read here, they're stories that James is still living today.  I love his honesty and how he confronts his own attitude about stereotypes and race.  Read on and reflect . . . 

Even Hawaii, in its isolation, does not shield its inhabitants from the effects of racism.  Having been born and raised in Hawaii most of my life I have lived in a racist society.  Although the majority of the people I associated with were similar to me -- low-income, large family, welfare types -- there was still this lingering misconception that most Hawaiians are dumb, poor savages.  Most people would judge us as a whole group and not by our individual strengths.   We were easily written off as a short-tempered, mean, hateful race by other groups living in Hawaii.  For example, I would overhear kids in high school state, "Don't stare at them [Hawaiians], they'll think you are challenging them."  I was totally taken aback as I had never even met them, and they already had this idea that I was going to hurt them. I understand that some Hawaiians are like that, but not most.  Many Hawaiians are loving, caring, and empathetic people.

There are many reasons why some Hawaiians dislike other races, and vice-versa, many of which are still prevalent today in the United States.  For example, in Hawaiian classes, we were taught about Hawaiian history that included Hawaiian laws, monarchy, and language.  We were also taught how Hawaii became a part of the United States.  It is in this class that I found that there were many disgruntled Hawaiians over the "overthrow of the peaceful nation of the Hawaiian kingdom."  Many of my classmates, at that point, started developing a dislike for all white Americans because of something that happened 100 or so years previous.  I am not going to lie;  I, too, had a lot of anger towards the individuals who took part in the overthrow, especially when we learned of the effects that it was having on me and my family today.  For this reason, some Hawaiians come to hate America and Americans.  I asked those Hawaiians why they hated any group that had nothing to do with the overthrow 100 years ago.  They simply replied, "Because they [other groups] are not doing anything to reverse its effects and we [Hawaiians] are still dying from it."

It is very difficult for me to not hold any specific race accountable for not helping to reverse the effects of an event as it is still hurting me and my family today.  For example, my family is still fighting over the rights to our familial lands, which have been in our family for generations.   Even though we have the land deeds, the state created a law that if we did not develop the land and someone else lived on even a portion of the land and paid taxes on it, then they could "adversely possess" the land -- which would mean that this individual would now own that piece of land.  It just so happens that the individuals that are doing this are wealthy white Americans, or wealthy Asian Americans.  This reality does not help the effects of racism and, in fact, cause those effects to become amplified.

Take my uncle, for example, he went to the house of an Asian man that was trying to live on our family lands.  When he asked the man to leave, the man said he did not need to leave because he adversely possessed it and if my uncle came back, he would shoot him.  So my uncle found the man's name and phone number and called him but the Asian man did not answer.  The Asian man called my uncle back and told him, "If you, Stupid Hawaiian, try to do anything about the land we live on then I am going to shoot and kill you and your stupid Hawaiian family".  That was a recording left on my uncle's answering machine that he played for  my family.  Talk about race warfare.  This is just one of many examples of how racism plays out in Hawaii and how my family and I are affected by it every day.

So, as you can see, racism can come in many different forms whether it's a judgement about something you don't understand, a misconception of people you don't know, or even through learning of something that hurt a specific group in the past.  All of these things along with its continual effects on those groups lead to racial stereotyping of all sorts, even on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  It even affects a Hawaiian living thousands of miles away from home.

James is a middle school teacher at Sherman Middle School in Madison, WI.  We teach in opposite ends of the building so I don't see him much.  In fact, the only real interaction I've had with him (before forcing him to write for my blog) was when I pretty much put him in a headlock during a training that taught teachers how to respond to student physical aggression.  I'm still waiting for James to submit his bio, but in a frenetic moment, I at least snapped a pretty good pic of him!