Friday, April 13, 2012

Prejudice - Three or Four Posts


I am about as unrepresentative as one can get in understanding prejudice.  I come from NH, where, when I was growing up, I had met about 10% of all the black people within 5 years of my age in the entire state. My memory being what it is, I can still name a good portion of those.  I did go to college in Virginia, and NH has had more minorities move here over the last decades, but still…

Second, my ongoing experience of both the minority populations and those who are prejudiced against them comes from working at a psychiatric hospital – heavily weighted toward those from other countries (patients and staff) or other regions of the country at minimum. Plus a Sudanese church.  Thus, about half the black people I know are from Africa, which I think is an unusually high percentage for an American.

Lastly, much of my experience of candid and explicit prejudice comes from the non-American context of Romanian attitudes toward Roma, or gypsies.  This fits far better with my reading from across time and place of what human bigotry, rather than American prejudice, is really like.  It was quite a surprise to me, once I posed myself the question, to discover that the US is likely the least racist country in the world. The Canadians may do a touch better, but the words “First Nations” should keep them in check, and the bigger cities aren’t quite so international festival as one would expect.  Hell, they can’t even get along with the Quebecois.  Europeans?  Say the word “gypsy.” Now add in the problems of imported workers and poorly-assimilated colonials.  Latin America?  It’s a continuum instead of sharp lines, but lighter-skinned people rule darker-skinned ones pretty much throughout. Scandinavia is giving it the old college try, moving from being nations where everyone is fifth cousins (still true outside the cities) to absorbing significant new, deeply unrelated populations. But they haven’t done well historically with Saami or Jews, and I’m not giving them credit in advance just because they think I should.  Norway is still a pretty antisemitic place.

Perhaps all this gives me a clearer perspective, perhaps it skews my views to uselessness.  Just so you know it’s different.


Sam L. said...

There's a lot (90-95% and up) I don't know about the Roma, sometimes called Travelers (in Britain, IIRC, and perhaps elsewhere).

I suspect part of the problem is the "no fixed address" and those whose land they decide to stay on. Land being fixed, and taxed, somebody else using it without(?) paying would reasonably be looked at askance.

My grade and junior high schools were segregated; integrated in my 10th-grade year. Mighty few black folks where I live now, but those I've met are good folks. Have a small percentage American Indian, and about a 10% chunk of Middle-to-South Americans

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Travellers are sometimes included in the gypsy designation, but usually not. The lifestyle is similar, but the Roma are ethnically distinct: came from NW India in the 9th C or so, made it to Europe in the 14th C. Travellers are usually British or Celtic ethnicity.

You are right that the mobility is a problem for Western governments and populations. Nothing wrong with caravan living in theory, but in practice it comes up against those notions of ownership and property that you mention.

It has been something of a cycle. They have professions which work for a mobile population, including illegal ones. Therefore people don't trust them and don't hire them to do anything else. Thus, many remain beggars and thieves. Csigane, Ziganeur, Tsigan have been very persistent in keeping their ways despite centuries of pressure to do otherwise.

They are disliked throughout Europe, not without reason. I have no idea what the solution is.

Gringo said...

My time working in Latin America gave me a different perspective. There are tolerant, enlightened people all over the world. There are also bigots all over the world. After seeing how another part of the world operated, I no longer saw the US as the Great Sinner.

There is much more anti-Semitism in Latin America than here. At a dinner party I met a retied professor, the uncle of a friend, who claimed that Che Guevara had visited him during his motorcycle trip through South America. This was decades before the movie. The retired professor was also blatantly anti-Semitic.

One thing that stuck in my mind was being invited into two homes- one in Bolivia and one in Argentina- which featured prominent portraits of Hitler. In one case, it was a case of “crazy old grandpa.” In neither of these three examples was anyone of German ancestry involved- no escaped Nazis in the bunch.

I worked in the US with an Argentine of the Jewish faith who told me that on a high school graduation cruise in the mid 1960s, he met the daughter of some general who spouted some Zionist conspiracy theory. This is consistent with what the junta said a decade later. A journalist who picked me up when I was hitching in Argentina on my time off told me about a Jewish/Zionist conspiracy to take over Patagonia- which he apparently believed.

It isn't as bad regards black/white or indian/white, however.

BTW in Argentina I once got picked up by a bunch of Roma in a van of sorts when I was hitching. Had a good time with them, and went on my way.

Texan99 said...

My father was quite casually convinced that black races were inferior; he'd approach each individual black person on his own merits, but he considered any country dominated by blacks a lost cause. He said it sort of regretfully, as if it were something he couldn't explain, but the results spoke for themselves. My stepmother was raised on a farm that still had the old slave-quarter buildings out back, but had been taught that those attitudes weren't nice, and she fought them conscientiously.

I learned for the first time as a teenager about American prejudice against Asians. Still, even though I knew (without their telling me) that my parents wouldn't be happy if I took up with a black man (as if I ever ran into any), I still was quite shocked to learn that the parents of a friend's sister practically disowned her when she married a Japanese man. I mean, it really tore the family apart. They seemed like an ordinary, well-educated suburban American family, not Archie Bunker types by any means. They completely melted down.

My childhood neighborhood was about one-third Jewish, and my father's most cherished colleague was Jewish, so anti-Semitism also was a mystery to me. On the other hand, it was quite clear to all of us growing up that there would be no dating between the Jews and the Gentiles -- with the prohibition originating on the Jewish side. It simply Wasn't Done. Not negotiable, not a matter of controversy.

karrde said...


The opinion that black people don't know how to run a nation is an interesting one. I can't immediately claim that it is hogwash, but I also can't accept that the problem is racial.

A survey of the condition of most African nations indicates that an explanation may be needed.

I think that the problems of most African nations are a result of the way that Colonial government was turned into self-government in the mid-20th Century. (In short, there was no pool of local political talent experienced with running a representative government...thus self-government often turned into despotic rule by strong-men within a decade or two of the end of the Colony.)

The question in my mind is, did your Dad have this opinion before or after most of Africa transitioned from Colonial government into self-rule?

Texan99 said...

Well, I think I'm remembering comments from, say, the 70s. If I recall correctly, he was thinking more about Caribbean nations than African ones. He thought that, although it was natural for subjugated black populations to fight for independence, it nevertheless turned out badly for them once they got to run things themselves. The only counter-example he allowed was Maoris (obviously not African, but dark-skinned, anyway).

These were somewhat casual views. He assumed without much reflection that the explanation was genetic. Like you, I question how you untangle heredity from colonial history in examples like this, though I'm not prepared to discount heredity altogether just because the idea makes me exceedingly uncomfortable. I don't think the data support the notion that populations with relatively coherent ancestral links (whether or not you want to define them as "races") cannot possibly differ from each other in characteristics like average intelligence. I think the Asian/Jewish IQ advantage over Caucasians is real, for instance, and can't be explained away by past cultural misfortune on the part of Caucasians. Those data mean something to me in the aggregate even though obviously you can't draw a bright line separating Asians from Jews from Caucasians.

"Guns, Germs, and Steel" has some interesting notions of how material circumstances and luck may have played a part in which cultures got ahead faster and which got the short end of the stick once they all started having an impact on each other.