Thursday, January 18, 2007

postal scrotum: Charles on racism

Charles writes:


What and who only get tangled if you believe that your race defines you. Same thing with the sinner/sin distinction: they only get mixed up if you believe that the sin defines the sinner. Semantically speaking, of course, the sin does define the sinner, but since people who use this formulation generally accept the idea that all people are sinners, a more accurate formulation might be "hate the sin, love the person who is struggling with it." I realize that the issue is more complex than this in reality, but I'll leave it at that because it's not the main point of my email.

Back to your original dilemma--the discomforting idea that your students' reaction to you is racially motivated. I think it's more likely that your students feel comfortable around you because you are funny and easy to get along with, but these qualities are not as visible or easily pigeonholed as your race. Your students are probably drawn to you because of your harder-to-define qualities and are only attributing this attraction to your race after the fact because it provides (for them) an easy answer. But just because someone says they are motivated by something doesn't mean they actually are--it could simply be a justification after the fact.

This doesn't solve the problem of implicit racism in your students' attitudes--they still look to race for the answers--but I think it should relieve some of your worries about "amicable racism." If anything, the racism becomes less amicable, since making the (necessary) distinction between your close relationship with your students and their racial justification for that closeness reveals the fact that the racism itself isn't friendly. If your students had a problem with you (say with your poor jokes or non-rising pole), they could just as easily attribute that to your non-Korean half. What it comes down to is an unwillingness to see beyond the us/them (or, more fundamentally, self/other) dichotomy and recognize that those boundaries can be crossed.

I probably used too many words to say that, but I think you get the picture.



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