Aug. 10th, 2007

prusik: Newton fractal centered at zero (Default)
There's this interesting coincidence in that something happened this past Sunday that I wanted to blog about. I'm taking the day off to drive to the East Coast VPX Reunion, so I actually have time to write this entry. And it's on topic for International Blog Against Racism Week. (BTW, the "East Coast VPX Reunion" is kind of a misnomer. You don't have to live on the East Coast although, unfortunately, that would make it easier to get to. Also, you don't have to have attended VPX, although it's probably more meaningful if you've attended a Viable Paradise at some point.)

Anyways, what I wanted to blog about was my most recent improv class. We did an exercise where we each demonstrate an emotional relationship to an object in the middle of the room. Of course, this is improv so we step in and interrupt each other as the mood strikes us and the guy teaching the class would change up what the thing is, usually just as someone steps in. Well, after a few mundane objects, he says, "Ok, the thing in the middle of the room is now racism." In an actual show, if the performers ask "And what color is this blender?", "Racism" is not an out of bounds reply. So, off we went.

Maybe it's racist of me to point this out, but how we dealt with racism seem to correlate with our race. Now, I don't think any of us were exhibiting our actual relationships with racism any more than we were exhibiting our actual relationships with shoes. Also, our class kind of looks like the cast of a Star Trek TV series, mostly male, predominantly white, but diverse in that we have one of several different ethnicities. (Hey, there are only twelve people in the class.) Still, it was interesting to see the ways we played with thing in the center of the room.

Now, I want to be clear that I'm not judging anyone's choices. Everyone made their choices work. There was a lot of genuinely funny stuff happening. I personally didn't find any of it offensive within the context. I do wonder, though, what the guy who happened to walk by our class thought. (He had absolutely no idea what he was doing. Bravo to the guy in the class who was up at the time and did not flinch as he related happily to racism.)

Of course, the first few rounds were people expressing the approved emotions towards racism. However, you go through those really quickly and the teacher (deliberately, I suspect) hadn't changed the thing in the middle of the room to something more innocuous. What I found interesting was that no one who self-identified as a part of a racial minority picked a positive emotion. I mean, in this exercise, after you get past hate, anger, despair etc., the natural place to go are the positive emotions. But the only people who went there with any conviction were the people in the racial majority.

Let me reiterate that none of these people are racists. This exercise no more represents their views on racism than it represents their views on the basketball in the middle of the room. But it seems that the notion of racism struck much closer to home for those of us for which it's part of life and we found ourselves having problems doing anything with it. I think one of us skipped this thing entirely and didn't participate until the thing changed again. I managed "(ironic) nostalgia", "resignation" and "ennui." Someone else did this brilliant bit as racism's jilted French lover which allowed him to express his negative emotion about racism in a particularly creative way. But my point still stands. No one of color felt comfortable expressing a positive emotion about racism even in this absurd context. Everyone else, OTOH, just went for it.

Also, all the players of color portrayed situations where they personally received some negative effect of racism. (This includes being its jilted French lover.) Everyone else, even in the cases of raging against racism, their work was much more generic. Perhaps it's trite to say this. But it was pretty clear who had experienced racism and who hadn't. (No, I'm not saying that anyone has been racism's jilted French lover. I'm saying that he had the insight and experience to see racism as this thing which has hurt him. That allowed him to channel it into that brilliant, funny context.)

It was definitely an eye opening experience. I mean, I don't personally know any racists. Or at least if I do, they're very good about not cluing me in on their racism. But it's hard not to be a product of society. This exercise points out that as good as our individual intentions are, race still affects all of our lives in ways that we don't always see coming, usually negative. As long as that's the case, racism is, unfortunately, alive and well.

Racism is like spam. (Actually, it's worse than spam, but work with me here...) You undoubtedly don't spam people. You undoubtedly don't respond to spam. But as long as someone spams and someone else is stupid enough to respond to it, we will always have spam. People can protest that they, themselves, are not racist as much as they want. I totally believe them. But as long as there are racists who influence society, then society will be racist to some degree anyways. That is, you not being racist is necessary, but not sufficient, to end racism. And continued insistence that you do not spam (or are not racist) doesn't actually make the spammer (or racist) go away.

Like spam, racism is this constant stream, sometime subtle, sometimes not. You have to filter it out if you hope to get anything done. This, unfortunately, doesn't make it not there, nor does it remove its cost. And you can't always filter it out. (Unlike spam, racism, of course, can be deadly.) As I've commented on other blogs, I don't know if there is a way to get across to people who don't feel racism's negative effects what it's like. But I have to believe that there must be. If there isn't, then there is no solution to this issue. I simply can't accept that.

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