Archives for posts with tag: ethnicity

Do people know what is meant when it’s said that ‘race’ is a social construct? I mean, I hope they do, since it’s something important to know. Given the increasing frequency of certain news items I keep seeing, the answer is probably not. Race being a social construct means that what people see as ‘race’ is ascribed by society, and does not reflect anything real. To be black in America is to possess ‘blackness’ which is defined by the history and contemporary reality of race relations in America. Blackness is laziness tinged with amoral greed, as defined by Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” rhetoric. Blackness is criminality, as personified by the ‘black culture‘ of the commercialized violence of hip hop, gangsters on TV, and then overtly legislated in the criminal justice system that pegs them as super-predators. In Canada, much of this carries over to our Native population, who must also endure the caricature of the Dead Indian, the feather-wearing Brave that no longer exists outside of its representation of our forlorn past. Most importantly, it is irrelevant to modern society. The more we perceive our Indians to be a thing of the past, the less likely we are to take them seriously today. Whiteness in turn has its own social construction: white people are more civilized (Modernization Theory posits that societies outside of Europe and its descendants are struggling toward a European model of civilization, since it allegedly has already reached the societal peak), and with that gift of civilization, whiteness is generous as it loves to impart that gift onto others (commonly called the white saviour complex). Despite those who seek scientific research delineating innate racial differences, the answer is that we’re all basically the same, and it is only public perception that defines what we call ‘race.’

Which leads to ethnicity. Ethnicity is seen to be the ‘real’ race, since it is linked to a shared culture and nationality. People have an essence of Polish to them, for example, if their grandparents were born in Poland, and they eat lots of pierogi. However, ethnicity runs into its own problems. What happens if someone who is of third generation Polish descent lives in North America and is fully assimilated into North American culture? Do they maintain their Polish ethnicity? Would the same be said of a fully assimilated person of Korean descent? Alternatively, what if that Korean American really loved pierogi and ate just as much as our original Polish family? What if that Korean lived in Poland and participated exclusively in Polish culture? Can there be a Canadian or American ethnicity?

There are two factors that are at play in answering these questions. First of all, outward appearance: someone of Korean descent will never be considered as ethnically Polish simply because they look different. The second is blood: those who declared the assimilated Pole as still ethnically Polish will likely look to ancestry as the chief determinate. In Métis culture, there are those who demand that a bloodline to the original Red River Settlement is necessary in order to be a ‘true’ Métis. So ethnicity boils down to innate qualities derived from genetics, and what a person looks like, irrespective of how much or how little of their assumed culture they participate in. It’s gussied-up race, is what I’m getting at here. It’s the difference between saying black people smoke pot, which is an offensive generalization, and Jamaicans smoke pot, which alludes to Rastafarian culture, but in reality is simply refining a stereotype. Claiming an American or Canadian ethnicity is absurd because of the diversity within those nations, but that diversity apparently does not apply anywhere else.

People have different reactions to ethnicity. It’s almost a trope to ask Asians where they are really from, as if their ethnicity will determine every future interaction with them (Vietnamese people drive like this whereas Chinese people drive like this). Others are proud to be a part of a tradition passed on through the generations. However, participating in rituals, venerating symbols, and basking in the comfort of a common community are the markers of religion, not race. Believing in an insoluble bloodline that creates a human essence is a matter of faith, with all the spiritual significance and potential for destruction that that implies. And just as with religion, someone’s heritage can mean as much or as little to them as they choose. That is always up to them. If you find yourself assuming the importance of someone’s heritage, or making blanket statements about someone’s “culture”, then remember how ethnicity and race are interchangeable, and how this then would make you a racist.

Don’t be a racist.

Ladies and germs, I love good, righteous indignation as much as the next fella. Hell, probably more-so. I love getting riled up at the injustices in the world, and yammering on about them without actually doing anything to change them. Being an armchair ethicist is what I do.

When I first heard about the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case, boy howdy I was furious. Hemming and hawing, all that good stuff to get the blood flowing. Then Zimmerman was found innocent and I just rolled my eyes and thought, “good going, AMERICA!” Smug in my righteous zeal, I sat quietly waiting for the next tragedy to unfold so I could bring down the flames once again.

Then I read a news article that mentioned that Trayvon Martin was black, and George Zimmerman identified as being Hispanic. Exact words. And I thought, how come Zimmerman doesn’t get to have a race in this? For a case that seemed to rely so heavily on racial overtones, why does one person get to have a race, and the other only gets to identify as having one? If you think that maybe since Zimmerman is half-white he doesn’t get to have a race (also keep in mind that white counts as a race too, but we don’t need to get into that), well then remember that America didn’t elect a president that identifies as being black. My point is that from this simple phrasing, we can assume the media is trying to frame George Zimmerman as not being ethnic, so as to fuel the flames of this already huge media firestorm.

So let me play devil’s advocate on what we actually know that went down:

Zimmerman sees a youth wandering the streets at night. He chooses to follow him. Does he follow him because the youth is black, or does he follow him because he is the captain of the neighbourhood watch of a gated community, and more than likely knows everyone and their dog in that area, and can tell that this youth had never been around there before?

Zimmerman calls the police, who tell him to desist following the youth. Zimmerman ignores the advice. Does he ignore it because he thinks he has a shot at taking on this black kid, or does he ignore it because he thinks he can probably handle a teenager on his own and feels he doesn’t need to wait for the police who might needlessly complicate things?

There is a confrontation. Zimmerman gets beaten the hell up. Trayvon Martin gets shot. I can’t find anything that says that Trayvon Martin had damage done to him other than the bullet wound, so it’s quite possible that he was the one who threw the first punch. He may have felt threatened after having been followed, but does that excuse instigating violence? Zimmerman had two black eyes, a broken nose, and a wound on the back of his head that suggests he probably fell backwards and hit his head on something. George Zimmerman had a gun. He used it.

Self-defense is a tricky thing. If you’re getting badly beaten up in a bar, and the only thing you can do is grab a beer bottle and break it over your attacker’s head, you’d probably do it. It may not be as likely to kill him as shooting him, but your attacker may still die if you hit him in the right spot. Zimmerman fired once, after having been beaten in the face repeatedly, so it was unlikely he was aiming for a killing shot.

Concealed weapon laws are the reason that option was on the table for Zimmerman. Had Zimmerman not used his gun, and the beating continued, worst case scenario is that Zimmerman would have been beaten into a coma. Do I think that a comatose 35 year old is better than a dead 16 year old? Of course. Gun reform in the US is a huge issue, and I would love to see that option for people off the table. But I sincerely doubt that George Zimmerman would agree with me on that, considering he would be the one in the coma, and I’m just in the armchair.

Lastly, there is the talk that Zimmerman was getting off lightly because Trayvon Martin is black and Zimmerman is not. But last I checked, Hispanics in the States don’t really get preferential treatment either, so that accusation doesn’t really fly with me.

It is incredibly unfortunate what happened to Trayvon Martin. Whenever someone dies for no reason, and a youth especially, everyone should mourn. But was it a hate crime? I don’t know. Everyone seems to be clammering about how it is, so I guess it must be. But I think there’s just as much evidence to suggest that Zimmerman was being ageist as much as there is that he was being racist.

Based on the evidence that we have, and the laws of Florida, it is easy to see how Zimmerman was found innocent in a court of law. Does that make it right? Like I said, self-defense is a tricky thing. I want you to put yourself in that position, in the heat of the moment, in fear and pain, and with that one option standing between you and a possible coma. Is it horribly racist? I don’t know. It certainly opened up the race debate in the States again, which is always a good thing, but do we scapegoat Zimmerman if it wasn’t in fact racially motivated? Is *that* right?

Did this greatly offend you? Do you feel as though I’m a terrible person for having thought these terrible thoughts? Good. Convince me I’m wrong. I miss having the fury coursing through my veins. But you have to do better than, “Racism against blacks exists in the States. Trayvon Martin was black. Therefore, his death must have been racially motivated.” Find me legit news articles that have Zimmerman wearing a white hood. For the Canada Day bombing threat, I saw article upon article about how one of the alleged bombers was once seen wearing a burkha, and how another neighbour thought they overheard the term “jihad” used in a phone conversation. That kind of shit makes the news all the time because it sells papers. Where is it with George Zimmerman? Convince me this is more than just a tragic happenstance that would have occurred regardless of Trayvon Martin’s race.