Monday, September 17, 2007

The Tricks of Racism

Last Friday I ran into yet another version of racism. This time, however, the racist act was peculiar enough to prove that this sort of unwarranted discrimination goes on across all boundaries.

We were at someone’s party at a house nearby. The party claimed to be ‘Mexican’. What made it Mexican was unclear to me. Though I did notice they had appropriate flags hanging by the window, pictures of Zapata, Villa, and Vicente Fernandez. Everything else was just like any other party that I have been to in Ann Arbor. I tend to think that rather than showing what ‘Mexican’ means (if it means anything at all) this kinds of thing show what people think it is for something to be ‘Mexican’.

Anyway, the issue here is different. The fact is that, at some point, the cops came by. We were told to turn down the volume or… you know. While the cops where still around someone decided to address himself to me by saying: “La Migra, la Migra!* Be careful”. In Mexican-American slang, "La Migra" refers to the Immigration Police of the US that dedicates its efforts to deport (or otherwise get rid of) illegal immigrants. The term has a clear negative connotation. More than 400 people die every year while crossing the Mexican-American border. Some of those are owed to La Migra.

I did not quite understand at the time. Someone nearby that seemed to know this person said something in reply to which he said: “That’s no problem man. I am black. I can say that shit.” He then went on to address me once more, trying to explain his behavior. “You know man, as a black person I have to take care of many problems. But, at least, I don’t have to worry about La Migra.” He seemed to presuppose that 'being Mexican' is synonymous with 'being illegal'.

I guess there are many things to be said. The person in question was in fact what in politically correct terms is referred to as African-American. He clearly seemed to accept a hierarchy of, say, kinds of people. There are normal people (i.e., those who do not have to deal with many problems); black people (i.e., who have to deal with many problems); and Mexicans (i.e., who have to deal with many problems plus La Migra). It also seems as if for him the fact that there is some other kind of person lower in the hierarchy is comforting. After all, there is someone having a worse time.

More interestingly, though, I would like to mention two features of this kind of behavior. First, racist assertions of this sort have an important attractive ingredient: they make you feel better than what you think you are. That is easy to do when you have convinced yourself that there is someone in a worse position. Second, racist assertions of this sort seem to for some for of a safety net that, in fact, does not exist. The person in question here thought that because he is in fact a victim of racist discrimination he is therefore allowed to do so. I think that both of these are powerful magnets. These are the tricks of racism, what partly explains its success. Many fail to notice that there is no safety net for racism. There is no such thing as a position from which you are, in fact, free of charge and allowed to judge. Furthermore, as the case shows, there is no such thing as a ‘good position’, or a high-enough position, once you accept a racist hierarchy.

So, racist comments, like invalid arguments, are everywhere. Like stupidity, they get communicated almost by osmosis.