Thursday, January 15, 2009

Unintentional Racism

(A make-up entry). When the topic of racism comes up at our school, I've noticed that people are often outspoken about not being racist. However, I've seen several incidents that brought to light some people's unawareness (which is a word, surprisingly) of other races; specifically in regard to depictions of them.

In Spanish class we often play games to practice the material that involve drawing on the classroom's white-board. There were several incidents in which groups drew pictures that were seen as offensive by our teacher. The first problem was when a group created a drawing of a man's face with hugely exaggerated lips. Weeks later a group drew a picture of Santa and colored the face in with black marker, which resulted in something that looked a lot like black-face. Both times the teacher erased the pictures, explaining that she was not comfortable with them and that they could be seen as offensive. Many students seemed agitated by this and demanded to know how the drawings could be offensive especially if they didn't intend for them to be. Some wondered why it mattered if it "didn't bother them." One student even said, "Isn't it racist to interpret it that way?" I sat there silently fuming, because whether or not it was racist to interpret it to be offensive (an idea that seemed ridiculous to me; realizing that possibility is simply being aware of and sensitive to others' viewpoints) the fact is that it could have bothered someone. What was more concerning than the pictures themselves was that most of the students seemed more interested in rebutting the teacher's reaction and proving themselves innocent than in realizing that they had just done something wrong. Most seemed confused as to what they had done and didn't appear to be guilty or ashamed, only irritated that they had been accused of something. I realize that sometimes people make mistakes and do things without thinking. But it concerns me that no one seemed willing to take responsibility for the drawings, willing to acknowledge that they had been ignorant and done something they shouldn't have.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cultural Hybridization?

A couple of facts stated in "What Is Race, Anyway?" triggered my imagination. When I read that "interracial marriages have quadrupled in the last 20 years" and that "intermarriage blurs the line between races," I started thinking about how it may be blurring the line between ethnicities (and therefore culture) as well. People of different ethnicities, which can partly be defined by “race” (as in skin color) have distinct cultural traits— unique traditions and beliefs. If categories are being defied as a result of people passing their physical traits on to children, then it seems logical that cultural categories aren't sufficing either. I speculated on what the distant future might bring with continuing intermarriage of people from various regions. Will it someday lead to the creation of a sort of global "race"—defined as skin color I suppose—since people will have mixed so much that eventually there is little distinction? Will people be so exposed to other ideas and lifestyles that one day there will be little difference among cultures, and maybe instead an overall “global culture” resulting from years of hybridization? This may sound out there, but think about how life will change if over a long period of time people constantly become more aware of the world around them. Right now knowledge of foreign languages is regarded as increasingly important because businesses are going global. “More Americans are foreign born than ever before” and are having kids who “often marry outside their nationality.” Who knows how world-minded humanity will become. A global culture may sound detrimental to individuality, but on the bright side it might at least help everyone get along a little better.

And an unrelated note about something I noticed in the article, since science was a big focus: Olson stated that "according to recent studies, only a small percentage of the differences between human beings are accounted for by genes we now associate with race." Well, duh. There's hardly much to differ in human genes anyway; we share 99% of the genetic makeup of chimpanzees, so humans can't be all that different from each other scientifically in regard to race or anything really.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Watch This

ABC News and reporter John QuiƱones recently created a series of reports that investigate the reactions of people (mainly Americans) to ethical dilemmas presented in staged scenarios filmed by hidden cameras. All the bits I've seen are interesting, and some of them relate to the ideas in Caucasia.

There was a touching segment edited out of this video when the man who spoke up for the Muslim woman said his son was fighting in Iraq and that he was deeply offended by the ignorance and intolerance he had witnessed (and would never buy from the bakery again).

And that guy who gave the worker/actor a thumbs up and then said QuiƱones isn't an American? Seriously, wtf?

This video's a bit longer, so if you don't finish watching it remember that there was only one police call about the white boys vandalizing the car. During the same time period police received two calls about suspicious (black) men who were lying down in a car and supposedly looked like they were getting ready to "rob somebody." The "suspicious men" were sleeping.


Monday, December 15, 2008

All Things in Moderation

I noticed what I thought was too much of a good thing in Speaking in Tongues: figurative language, something meant to liven up writing by using words in descriptive ways to paint a picture for the reader. The sheer amount of this language in the story (especially in the beginning) seemed over-the-top to me. I appreciate ZZ Packer's attempt to create vivid images for the reader, but the extreme number of metaphors incorporated into the piece (they're in practically every paragraph) actually distracted me from the story, annoyingly calling attention to themselves.

I'll admit it wasn't all negative. How could I contest "but Marcelle had developed the contemptuous languor of a zoo animal whose cage had been banged by too many people" or "their eyes blinking the slow and steady concerned flashes of car hazard lights"? There were some cool bits of figurative language, but I thought they were overshadowed by the multitude of others such as "the teachers standing by their doorways like sunglassless Secret Service agents" and "a sky the color of suburban swimming pools," metaphors that left me wondering, Really, is that necessary? (Not to mention thinking that "sunglassless" is a very awkward word.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Sweet Word (Or Two, While I'm at It)

A couple of words jumped out at me when I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five, words that came up (purposefully I think) when Billy Pilgrim met Kilgore Trout. They seemed too funky to pass up, so I ran to the computer to look up definitions and then Google the words to see what kind of bizarre sentences would pop up first.

Harangued: lectured, or in more amusing language, delivered "a bombastic, ranting speech or verbal attack"
SH-V use: "The boys were harangued by a man in a full beard."
Random Google Find: "Nicole Kidman Harangued by Unruly Facebookers" (an article title)

Lugubriously: mournfully or dismally, especially in an exaggerated manner
SH-V use: "As Trout lugubriously slung the bag from his shoulder, Billy Pilgrim approached him."
Random Google Find: "Speaking lugubriously, he sounded like he should have been at a funeral rather than a wedding."
(I found this after I saw a link for the word on "a social network for people who love words." It's called Wordie, and it's "Like Flickr, but without the photos." So it says.)

And another note relating to Trout: he told Maggie White that he is afraid of Doberman pinschers. Dogs seem to be a motif in the book, and Princess was noticeably a German Shepherd. Wikipedia says the Doberman breed also originated in Germany. Whether Vonnegut was intending anything with this connection, I don't know.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What and Jeff?

The sentence from chapter one of Slaughterhouse-Five that states, "We were Mutt and Jeff in the war" is accompanied by my enthusiastic annotation of "Yes, Mutt and Jeff!!! I kind of know what that alludes to." (The excitement of feeling smart lead to all those exclamation points.) But since I only "kind of" knew what it was referring to, I decided to look it up. I've only heard of the term once before, when a longtime friend of mine's mother decided to start calling the two of us Mutt and Jeff, since we vary in height by about five inches. We were both really confused, and she explained to us that Mutt and Jeff was an old comic strip with one character that's ridiculously tall and lanky, and the other short and squat. The names stuck.

Wikipedia informed me that the American comic strip written by Bud Fisher was extremely popular in the early 1900s. It was something of a slapstick comedy that followed the adventures of two friends. Interestingly enough, Mutt and Jeff were also codenames for two WWII spies who worked for the UK and lead Germans to think that the 1944 D-Day landings would be in Calais, not Normandy. It seems that Vonnegut would be aware of this connection, but I'm not sure if it was intentional.

The comic strip version. But Britain did have an airborne division in the D-Day invasion...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Death of a Puppy

When I originally read “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner,” I interpreted the narrator to be an animal. Yes, I did realize that a ball turret gunner would probably be a really messed-up creature if it actually did exist and later learned that the name refers to a type of airplane. However, it interested me that the poem seemed to impact me differently if I interpreted it to be narrated by an animal (something that seemed more vulnerable) instead by a human, a more common point of view. I was reminded of conversations from AP Composition about The Things They Carried, a book about the Vietnam War with several scenes in which animals found themselves in unfortunate violent situations (a puppy strapped to a mine, a baby water buffalo attacked by a soldier). The indignation expressed by the class after reading these passages was understandable; I won’t deny that the acts were shocking. Still, it was interesting that these incidents seemed to demand more of the class’s attention than the sufferings of the people who were involved.

Stories of human casualties far outnumber those of animals killed in war—are we simply taken by surprise when they pop up and react accordingly? Maybe the animals' innocence is what affects us—they are harmed by something that they play no part in, that they do not understand. Of course, some people in Vietnam did not become involved by choice and many people in war (at least in that war) do/did not completely understand it. It seems that we should then logically be just as concered about those people as the occasional animals encountered in the stories.