Sunday, September 17, 2006

On Redemption and Race-Mixing

The company that hosts our website provides us with information about who visits our website. When we began blogging, we had about 100 "unique visitors" per month and now, a year later, we have over 3,500 per month. I don't know how this statistic is calculated, but I assume that around 3,500 individuals take a look at the Green Parenting blog and some portion of this number regularly reads our posts. Our host also lists the sites that link to ours. This week I noticed 200 visits from I went to see what wonderful people decided to promote our blog. A tiny little confederate flag – the flag of the slave-holding states during the American Civil War – popped up next to the url. I knew I was about to see something interesting.

The basic argument propounded on is that the Bible tells Christians to marry within their race and that America's greatness depends on racial purity. The post with the link to Green Parenting was called "Reject Race, Reject America" and the title of the link was "Race-Mixers and Pagans," which went to my post about how MaGreen and I have different religious backgrounds. The post included a picture of Amba Ma, a Hindu goddess, with the face of Jesus spliced on it. I am pleased that my post seems to have really hit the mark for littlegeneva. Not only are we "race-mixers," but we are also pagans. We seem to epitomize exactly what he loathes.

I've shared this discovery with some of my friends and co-workers. They ask, "Aren't you worried?" As a matter of fact, I'm not worried by the link to our blog. I grew up in Mobile, Alabama. Racial insults and threats were not quite a daily occurrence, but they were common. At the nearly all-white school I attended, St. Paul's Episcopal, my classmates refused to touch me my first year there. I was an untouchable. The substitute nigger. They often called me by names including mix-breed. I always wanted to say, "I'm not a mix-breed. My family can trace back its Nagar Brahmin ancestors for fourteen generations. You're the mix-breeds. You don't even know where your families come from." I never actually said that. What I did do was trounce the rest of the students every year and in every single class including Bible Study. When I made a perfect score and they barely passed, I would clench my fist and relish my academic superiority, which did not help matters.

And yet, I never got beat up. I knew what lines not to cross and when I was in real danger. I spent time with all kinds of white people in Alabama. My Boy Scout friends and I had this game whenever we were out in the country where we would rate pick-up trucks for the number of Confederate flags displayed, the number of guns in the rack, and other such features. I remember one afternoon at Camp Maubila, the regional Boy Scout campgrounds, spent trying to teach some very poor white boys from Bayou La Batre how to spell words like "socks" and "shoes." The same day at dinner, the boy behind me in the cafeteria line grumbled, "hurry up sand nigger." So I grew up very much in my skin. I often wished I was white. Up until we left Alabama, I felt that I was ugly and undesirable. My pen and my intellect were my refuge.

Years later, when I visited India, my identity as a victimized person of color was turned inside out. I really was the pure-bred Brahmin. I was the light-skinned person benefiting from the privileges that my family there took for granted. I identified with the people my family and my ancestors looked down on and, arguably, exploited. Simultaneously occupying a privileged, high-caste position and the subaltern position of the substitute nigger has given me double vision. That doubleness feeds my empathy for the exploiter and the exploited; my questioning of gender norms; my passion for ecological balance; my impatience for economic injustice; and my deep connection with MaGreen, who grew up in very different circumstances from me but came out with the same basic perspective on the world.

I thought about writing a comment on the littlegeneva blog. But how am I to engage with someone who bases his beliefs on obscure quotes from the Old Testament? It saddens me that bloggers can create amazing communities, but the worldviews of these communities can be so dramatically different there is no potential for fruitful exchange. Littlegeneva sees the browning of America. He so energetically documents the sea change taking place here. It makes him deeply angry, as if he is being attacked. He thinks the British, European, White, Christian customs that were planted in America's fresh soil will be vanquished. I wish he could see what I have seen. Then he would know that if those customs can be redeemed from their awful pasts, it will be by the mix-breeds like my daughter.


Michael said...

Actually, you could argue that the biblical quote "littlegeneva" uses in his final post suggests that the Bible literally encourages one marry their own sister.

Incredible read. Stay safe.

Laura said...

This is a wonderful post, Raj. Thank you.

My favorite biblical source to advocate an attitude of welcome to what was seen as "unclean" -- be it homosexuality or people of a different race -- is the bit in Acts where Peter has the vision of all the unclean animals being carried in that huge tablecloth, and God saying "I'm the one who decides what's clean and unclean, and I'm allowed to change my mind." It transformed the early Christian church, to let Greeks in. That kind of transformation that comes from welcoming can be a really profound and important thing.

It's *hard* to be welcoming, to have the openness and humility to realize that your judgments of others might be wrong. You seem to have been learning how to do that from both sides -- beautiful.

That Lila is a lucky kid. :-)

David T said...

Wait, Raj, is your wife caucasian????

I must have been really drunk at your wedding.

Great post.

glide said...

Actually, what you've lived with and through, and apparently without quite internalizing the whole picture is that "American" = "Racist". Of course, you would never accept that term, and perhaps you aren't, but the vast majority of Americans I've come into contact with are racist, most without even knowing it. After a while, it even gets rather humourus, though not enough to make life here very pleasant. Notice the piece in Sunday's Op-Ed section about the "white" reporter woman being told to get out of a "Mexican" town in California? Yup, many if not most of the "Mexicans" appear to harbour feelings about the "Anglos" that range from outright hatred to quiet contempt. And then of course, there's the "black" politicians and their "triumph" when winning public office from a largely "black" district, which says of course that as far as the "blacks" are concerned, only "blacs" can represent "blacks". And then as you've note there's the white racists. For myself, I've resolved the matter to my complete satisfaction. I'm simply Anti-American!

GreenDaddy said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Glide, I agree that all kinds of people can be racist including Mexicans, African Americans, Indians, etc. Usually, the racism that gets talked about most is White racism because generally, in America, White people are in positions of authority and their racism has an actual impact on people's lives. But sometimes, non-Whites exercise enough power to hurt people with our racisms too.

I can also see why you equate America with racism. It's clearly written into our constitution. Slaves were considered 3/5 a person when counting the population for voter districts. But the American identity, more so than any other national identity, is treated as infinitely redefinable. It doesn't matter what happened twenty years ago or two hundred years ago, we can dream up a new, non-racist America right now. At least, that's what Americans usually think.

I'm not quite that optimistic. I think we need to acknowledge our history and we have to address the current injustices that are a result of that history, even as we reinvent our national identity as nonracist.

morton hurley said...

I've been wanting to comment on this post, but not quite sure how to summarize my thoughts as they are many and scattered.

I grew up in Mississippi and was subject to a lot of racism due to my Hispanic background (my father is from Peru). I got teased and into fights because of my background... but it didn't stop at the school yard.

When I was much older, I started dating an African-American woman and my grandfather (on my mother's side) wrote me a letter saying that I was no longer his grandson. It was only after we broke up (for a completely different reason) that my grandfather would speak to me.

I am a mixed breed of a person. I suspect that there will be more mixed breeds in the coming decades and people such as those who subscribe to the idea of racial purity (a la littlegeneva) will be fewer and fewer.

My favorite line from the movie Bulworth summarizes the whole concept:
All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction.

Two comments on religion: (1) Happy Rosh Hashana! And (2) while I am a devout monotheist, I find it hard to peg my spiritual beliefs to one religion. I believe there are many paths to God with none being easier or perfect.

GreenDaddy said...

Morton, thanks so much for your comment. It made me very happy.

Lou said...

I read this in A Separate Peace yesterday, and I think it applies here also: "It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidites, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart."

Racism is rampant the world over and the one thing we all have in common is our humanity. We should remember that. Again, great post.

Lou said...

Oh, I meant to comment about Morton's comment as well. I recently read Life of Pi--about a boy who is Muslim, a Christian, and a Hindu...he chooses all paths