Friday, February 22, 2008

After about two years of posting, I've discovered perhaps THE major flaw in this blog business: just as soon as you decide on a post topic, something better and more interesting pops up, and the old topic goes out the window and you're left with nothing except the urge to write SOMETHING. It's pretty traumatic, actually, but the funny thing is, it dawns on you later that you would have been better off if you had just turned around and exchanged a couple words with, say, your 44 year old gay Italian room mate. His whimsical, self assured racism is like a breath of fresh air in the luke warm social atmosphere of intolerance that seems to characterize our society that "knows better." After growing used to mousy white men and their passive racism, their glances at the floor and locking car doors when black men walk past, there's something about hearing someone say they hate black people, Jews, gay men and Italians with clear conviction and white hot ignorance that's shocking and strangely refreshing. He's like an artifact, a crystallized specimen of something very old and poisonous, and watching him spit bile at all the peoples in the world he hates fills me with that same cocktail of dread and wonder that would toss around in my stomach watching a lion snap the neck of gazelle on National Geographic. It's the awe that comes with violence and watching something you know you can't stand to look at, but don't exactly know why when you think about it hard enough. The nearest I can come to is: it's just not decent to hate that many people.

Come to think of it, I've never heard him mention a group of people he likes, except maybe Americans. Then again, he never really misses an opportunity to snipe at them, like when he insists that Americans never go anywhere, not even to Arizona, so maybe it's not so much a love of them as it is a tender kind of ambivalence, a live and let live policy simply because he hasn't found a reason to hate them, yet. Though he's never expounded on why he hates black people, other than the fact that he's had a "bad experience," I assume he has some "reason" for it, some concrete and easily explainable series of events that would at least cast some light on the subject. Then again, an undefinable past experience is pretty much the reason he gives for hating all the people he hates: black people have a "bad attitude", Jews are "good with money, very intelligent and nasty", Italians are "horrible" and "loud", and gay men are "pigs" for their wanton sex practices. Aside from those words of love and understanding, I haven't gotten anything more specific out of Marco Polo. That, of course, is assuming I actually try one of these days; despite my best intentions and all the witty and enlightened things I think of saying the next time he slips on his nice fitting brown shirt, I end up sitting dumb-struck at the table, smiling when he's not looking and wondered where and when I am exactly. More than that, though, I try to figure out how this man, himself a gay Italian who has traveled enough to know the things he says about people can't be true, could hate Italians and gay men, or any minority at all, given the fact that he is keenly aware of his own minority status and seems to have nothing but contempt for those who hold it against him. I've come to accept hypocrisy as a part of the human condition, that you can't be 100% consistent 100% of the time, and that moments of weakness or sheer stupidity should be taken as they are and dealt with, but this is a level of hypocrisy that frankly makes me uneasy. It's the kind that makes you want to knock on the inside of his skull and yell right into his inner ear until he gets the point and baptizes himself with cooking oil and washes away his sins with whatever he has lying around the house. It's not just his own private psychological soft shoulder, but the great piece of wood in humanity's left eye, the gleeful and burning desire to chop people up into things you like and don't like, to hate because you can and because it's easy, and to sell ignorance for the truth in the comfort of your own kitchen.

He always has some "evidence" to support his claims, of course, like the fact that Israeli tourist aren't allowed in Malaysia because they're so terrible. That couldn't have anything to do with the fact that there's some prejudice against Jews in general in Malaysia, could it? No, of course not. Because, you see, the Nazis killed the Jews because Germans and Jews are too similar, too much alike for them to get along, and because Jews do everything better than the Germans anyway, the Germans were protecting themselves from getting screwed. Now, I do subscribe to the general theory that people, or groups of people, who are too much like end up hating each other. I can't spend more than fifteen minutes in a room with other people who identify themselves as geeks without wanting to choke them with the certificate of authenticity for their HSN Katanas or limited edition, gold plated World of Warcraft strategy guide, and the French and Americans can't seem to reach an agreement as to whose culture truly is superior and worthy of universal praise, but to imply that the Nazis killed the Jews because they thought the Jews would "out sneak" them, as it were, is insane and sounds less like an astute cultural appraisal of an experienced traveler, and more like a blabbering crazy appendix to the centuries of pseudo-theology and science that built the ghettos in the first place.

The fact that he is well-traveled tends to give the things he says a weight they don't really deserve, a weight he tries to use to break me of attitudes I should "get over," like not wanted to lie on my resume. Now, I would never claim to be the most honest man around, because I've lied about whether I liked a food, a movie, or even a person to make someone else feel better, but I would like to take this time and say quite self-righteously that I have never, and nor would I ever, lie about something on my resume. That doesn't exclude what I like to call the "Julienne Method of Job Application," the obligatory cutting up and stretching of past experience or positions to make it look like you've actually done more, but even then everything is true, just a little, "polished", you might say. He, on the other hand, seems to think I should just write something down that I've never done before, because, as he puts it "they'll never know." First off, that's not true; given the Orwellian potential of the Internet, I don't rule out my future employer's ability to know what I ate for dinner last night, or the names of the women I secretly wrote poems to, then erased at the end of an ill advised, three hour long, Percy Shelley-inspired declaration of doomed and unrequited passions. Besides that, I suffer from an over-active conscience and over-developed since of moral responsibility; I'd rather not get the job than snatch it under false pretenses. It's pretty stupid of me, but that's the way it is. And on the petty side of things, I refuse to take advise about how the world really is from a man who says things like "I hate blacks" and believes it so firmly that he doesn't want to go to the South because it's "all black down there." He actually tried to convince me that there aren't any white people in the South, to me, a white man from the South, after which he asked me what it was like to live around so many black people. Now, maybe it's because I'm not done with my education yet and haven't been taught how to answer such ridiculous questions, but all I could think to say was: "it's OK, I guess. I mean, they're people, so...." Enlightening, I know.

But enlightening is my business. I'll ever forget when I got that Email from Mrs. Turtledove, who told me how, while in her bathtub after a rigorous game of Bridge against those ghastly Cameron sisters, the Spirit descended upon her in the form of great flaming bird and healed her rheumatism. Her new found hobby of Roller Blading, she wrote, has given her a new lease on life. And that's why I do what I do, out of love of mankind and hackneyed metaphors, the salt and pepper of creation.


Blogger animezzo said...

You are a talented writer. There’s no mistake about that. It’s also clear that you majored in English; in order to make a story as vivid as you possibly can, you like to recount events descriptively and comparatively. Yet describing the racist sentiments of your roommate as being “ a breath of fresh air in the luke warm social atmosphere of intolerance that seems to characterize our society that ‘knows better’ “ strongly indicates to the reader that you do, in fact, condone his sentiments (to what extent remains unmentioned). The statement certainly lacks any sarcastic undertones which might have suggested otherwise. Sure, you basically attempt to contradict this conclusion as your entry progresses, but how effective were you? As you write further: “…there's something about hearing someone say they hate black people, Jews, gay men and Italians with clear conviction and white hot ignorance that's shocking and strangely refreshing” it becomes much clearer to me that you’re searching to bring artistic flare into your writing, but such attempts indicate you’ve more searching to do (either that, or someone needs to show you what true refreshment feels like).
Perhaps you do think that living in an environment where ignorance and hatred are preached to you on a daily basis is perfect fodder for a novel. Perhaps you’re right. Others have been able to do it. For example, Harriet Ann Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself is a riot. Here’s a link to an excerpt:
Clearly, this particular blog entry wasn’t written with people like me in mind. Chance would have it though, that today was the first time I’ve visited your blog. (I have taken the time to read other entries.)
I can imagine that it’s not a comfortable atmosphere for you to live in; honestly, this is what I prefer to believe. I hope that you’ll be able to withstand the pressure of this man’s bantering and negativity and allow yourself to revel in your own insight. Hopefully you aren’t turning to this man for any sort of advice!

4:49 PM  
Blogger Der verwirrte Ausländer said...

Thank you for the compliment about my writing. I appreciate it. But I can't help but feel that my post offended you in some way, and that that offense influenced your response to it. For instance, assuming that my comparison of his racist remarks with a breath of fresh air translates to an acceptance of or agreement with his views makes no sense in the context of the sentence; if the atmosphere is intolerant, how can more intolerance be considered fresh anything? The sentence was meant ironically. Perhaps it didn't come across as well as had I hoped, but it can't be taken as agreement or endorsement; the logic in the sentence makes that impossible. As for "strangely refreshing," the key words there "shocking" and "strangely," as in unexpected and unexplained. I had not expected his bigotry to be "refreshing" in any way, but I found that it was, although repulsive, an odd and welcome change from the diminutive, shame-ridden discussions on race that usually revolve around a self-serving need to prove how not racist you are. For unlike most forms of racism in our society, his views cannot be twisted or worked away through the use of semantics or redefinition; they're racist, and that's it, and a part of me found it strangely fascinating to be confronted with it and forced to look at racism straight in the eye without padding. The statement is not a search for artistic flare, but an attempt at honesty.

That this statement could also be a nod to racism makes no sense: he is "poisonous" and spits "bile." I think it's pretty clear that I don't share his sentiments. That's not to say that I don't have some racist or bigoted views (my surprise homophobia while living with him is a good example), because I believe everyone does, even if they are presently unaware of them.

That said, I think there was a fundamental misunderstanding about what the post was meant to do; it was not meant to refute his views by setting myself against them. It is a story about something that happened to me and how I felt about it at the time. I don't know how successful I was in "contradict[ing] this assumption" that I agree with him, because that never was my purpose to begin with. In fact, it is unimportant to me because I have no way of controlling what a reader does or does not assume. Assumptions are external events influenced by the reader's perspective and views, so your reading of "strangely refreshing" is unintentional and a product of your interaction with the text; I have no way of controlling it or refuting it, because I did not write it.

I think that most of your critique comes from the assumption that the post was more than what it is ("fodder for a novel," for instance). I made no effort to display myself as someone who is not racist, and my primary concern was not to prove him wrong (or myself right, for that matter). If there was and is a purpose to it beyond telling a story, it is to think these things over in their larger sense, what it means for the man and the world that these things exist at all. I don't think it's right, but neither do I think it useful to write essays on this subject whose primary focus is to denounce racism and racists. That's easy to do, and it side-steps the deeper and I believe far more interesting and important questions on the roots of these problems or the complex psychology that allows it in the first place. The post isn't AGAINST bigotry, it's ABOUT bigotry.

11:55 AM  

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