Monday, October 24, 2011

Thoughts on: Racism, Ignorance and Political Correctness

This is another one of those topics that is so multidimensional that it is difficult for me to figure out how I'm going to even structure this, but I'll do the best I can.

Here is the disclaimer: I am white. oooohhh noooo that means that I am not allowed to have any sort of opinion on this!!! Bullshit. Racism does not = whites hating/discriminating against blacks. It is so much more complicated than that. I am an Italian with American heritage, and that meant that sometimes I had a hard time, but most of the time I was fine. When the war first broke out in Iraq it was not a good thing to be an American anywhere in Europe, particularly in Italy which was a country that was dragged in to the war despite the overwhelming majority of the people not wanting to have any part in it. When I moved to Ireland I was constantly referred to as "the tanned one", which I only found amusing seeing as I am quite white for an Italian. When I moved to Northern Italy it became apparent that some people were going to hate on me for being from Rome, as there is a right-wing group that has a lot of traction up here that staunchly hates everyone from Rome and below, saying that they don't work and are solely responsible for all of Italy's angst. Compound that with the fact that my boyfriend of four years is Romanian, which has been the single most hated nationality in Italy for years now, although it looks like recently Albania has begun to compete for the top spot. Putting that all together, I have had a share of racism and/or ignorance flung my way. Anyway, even if I hadn't, I am not of the opinion that only those who have experienced it are allowed to comment on it, so I feel my opinions would stand anyway.

Back to the topic at hand. I feel like there needs to be a strong distinction between "racism" and "ignorance", although racism of course stems from ignorance. When my Irish friend, upon seeing a black man for the first time at age 7 on the bus, exclaimed "Mammy! What's wrong with that man? Is he dirty?!" his mother was right to be mortified, but no one could possibly claim that he was a racist. Saying the same thing at age 20, now you're being a racist. So when do the two begin to split? I once tried to explain my distinction of the two with a story, trying to explain why Italians hate Romanians so much, and yet very few of them are actual racists:

Imagine tomorrow when you wake up you discover that there is a group of green people that live on an island off the coast of (insert your country here). They have always been there, it has been known, but you are only just finding out about it because the news says that they are now going to be servicing that island with a much more regular ferry than there previously was. At first you feel weary, which is only natural. Next week you see one in the flesh for the first time in the supremarket, you will probably stare more than you would at any other person, but that is only natural as well. Other than that, your contact with these green people is limited to the occasional chance sighting.
But then the news starts reporting. It looks like many of these green people are poor, and since more of them have been moving to your town there have been burglaries commited by the green people. A green person murdered an old man while trying to steal his wallet. Three green people were arrested for stealing a series of cars. Five burglaries occur in 10 days, two green men arrested. What is your opinion of these green people now? That they have invaded your town in order to steal and create mayhem, much better if they go back to the island they came from where they belong!
But then you meet one. And another one. All of the green people you meet are actually really nice and hardworking people. You may hear of one or two that are not, but from your personal experience you start to see that they are not looking for anything except a chance to work and earn a living. What is your opinion of them now?
If you change your opinion, you were just ignorant before, because you did not have all the information you needed to form a sound opinion. If you still maintain that green people should be shipped back to where they came from you're a racist.

Aside: I am of the belief that the way media reports things, particularly in this country, perpetuates ignorance about people who are different. "Two Romanians arrested for", "Five Africans arrested for", and if it was an Italian? "A young man arrested for". What the HELL difference does it make if they are black, white or eastern european?? They are criminals and you arrested them, good for you. Unless you are giving a description of someone that the public needs to look out for, or if the crime in question was a hate crime, why are you even mentioning their ethnicity as if it were pertinent to the story?

Anyway, I have always gone to international schools and have always been raised in an international environment, so I never understood racism. To me, judging someone based on the color of their skin is as retarded as judging someone based on the color of their hair. However, in that vein, I also never understood the mania with political correctness, for the exact same reason.

I understand political correctness insofar as to make some people, particularly older people, understand that certain words are now offensive although they weren't back in their day. Take my grandmother for instance, who is just now transitioning away from the word "negro" (pronounced "n-eh-gro, not nearly as bad as the word nigger in English, in fact there is no word in italian that comes anywhere as close as that in offensiveness, but a touch more offensive than the word "negro" in English). My father, her son, is married to a black woman, trust me there is not a racist bone in her body, but she just didn't understand that that word is now offensive.

However, when it comes to the nervousness and panic that I see in some people when talking to someone of a different race or nationality because they are terrorized of offending them, I don't get it. What exactly are you afraid of saying? Something racist? Fuck I'll be offended if you say something racist, regardless of the fact that I'm white. To me, being overly worried about political correctness is just another, milder, form of racism.

Making a judgement about someone based on their physical characteristics or nationality is stupid, no matter what that judgement is. You think because someone has darker skin than yourself they should be talked down to, or differently than you would someone who is white? They are ADULTS just like you, should be treated the exact same way as you would treat anyone else. To me, the color of someone's skin or the words on their passport doesn't factor remotely into my opinion of them or the way I talk to them, and for this reason I don't get what the big deal is.

Am I wrong? Is it really so different in other countries that I just don't get it? Let me know

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