Sunday, January 6, 2008
Calling All Racists
I read a book called World on Fire by Amy Chua. Not all of it. By the time I got half way through I'd had enough. I got it. The book was ostensibly about economics, racism and populations in turmoil. It specifically addressed the problems faced by wealthy, ethnically distinct minorities in various countries around the world and what to do about the violent racism of the envious majority in which they live. More or less. It was a while ago and I'm recalling.
It dedicated a chapter each to the Chinese in the Philippines, the Syrians in West Africa, the Jewish oligarchs in Yeltsin's Russia and some others which escape me now. It's worth noting that Amy Chua is a descendant of one of these minorities - the Chinese in the Philippines. That a book about the wickedness of peoples objecting to wealthy minorities has been written by a member of one of those wealthy minorities is - I don't know - is it too obvious to be ironic?
I don't know much about Amy Chua. I expect she's not racist. Ask a Chinese person in the Philippines if they're racist and they'll say of course not - they have lots of Filipino friends. They had a Filipino nanny too. And they've got a Filipino maid and gardener and chauffeur. And good ones too. They invite their families over for a little party every Xmas. And they like Filipino music too, not all of it of course. And Filipino TV and drama isn't bad, but not as good as Hong Kong movies and soaps. Mostly they just watch the news and that comedy show. They don't really groove on Filipino food. Sinigang is okay but really it's all too fishy. And It's not very good for you. You have to be careful because it's easy to get sick - they're not very clean, the Filipinos. And sure, they've had Filipino boyfriends but, personally, they wouldn't marry a Filipino. Really they're too different. It's important to marry someone who understands the culture and is closer to them, um... culturally. And their family would kill them if they married a Filipino! Not literally, ha ha, but they'd never hear the end of it. And they don't do too much business with the Filipinos - a little bit - they'd like to do more but you can't trust them. And they're unreliable. And lazy. And it's better to keep it in the family anyway.
Okay, that was just me channelling. But they're not racist. Not really. They're just another wealthy successful minority who own all the businesses and everyone else happens to be poor - the ones who live outside the twelve foot walls with broken bottles cemented to the top. Anyway, it's not the Chinese's fault that the Filipinos are all poor. If they were like the Chinese, they could be successful too. But they're not, they're too lazy. And they're poor and dirty and they smell bad. And don't forget, the Chinese were born there. Those fucking Filipinos hate them because the Chinese are successful and they're not. It's just envy. Really, they're racists.
How perfectly fucking tiresome. Never does Chua direct her the-trouble-lies-here gaze to the wealthy ethnic minorities. All of her questions revolve around how to deal with the problem of the restless natives. It doesn't occur to her to wonder at a people who, generation after generation, remain a perpetually distinct ethnic minority, or why that is, or what it means. Perish the thought! This may not be questioned. Yeah well, fuck that. I'll question it.
Think about marriage for a moment. It's not nothing. Kings and Queens of old didn't marry their sons and daughters off to the daughters and sons of foreigners because they grooved on the sexy accents. They did it because this single act was so significant in its symbolism that it could cement two peoples together. I'm not saying it was bullet-proof. But the intent was the intent and it was done because it worked. But never mind the symbolic, we can see it just next door. By happy coincidence it's diaspora Chinese again.
Ethnic Chinese don't exist merely in the Philippines. They're present in every country in South East Asia (and sure, elsewhere too) but Thailand is particularly interesting. In Thailand, unlike Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, the Chinese seem happy to marry the locals. Thailand is Buddhist and closer in food and culture to the Chinese. Ever mercantile, the Chinese are still broadly wealthier than the indigenous Thai - but really it's not that clear-cut. The line is blurred on account of intermarriage. Thailand has never had an anti-Chinese pogrom and they never will. Too many people have too many half-quarter-eighth Chinese nieces and nephews. Who's going to object to the superior wealth of their own relatives? The diaspora Chinese aren't completely racist, just selectively so. If they weren't too busy holding their noses and were prepared to marry the local people in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines one would see the death of anti-Chinese pogroms.
And nothing apart from marriage and kids is going to achieve this. Sharing food, holding hands, singing karaoke, shagging, buying and selling, thinking fondly - none of them cut it. None of them will tie a people together. It's the kids that count. It's the real world and simple shit like having kids is a big deal. It destroys racism. Nobody's Rule of Racism - If you're not prepared to have your children marry the locals and have coffee-coloured kids you're a racist and you can fuck off. Or to put it more politely by way of an imagined Department of Immigration question for people intending to immigrate - 'Are you prepared to have your children marry outside your race?' Ha ha ha ha ha. Fat chance we'll ever see that! The screams would be deafening.
Does that make me a racist? You betcha! In a world without irony, between the ethnically distinct minority who have historically refused to marry the locals and the locals who object to them, it's the locals who cop the racism tag. What bullshit. The racists are victims and the victims are racists. If you want to stick up for multi-generation distinct ethnic minorities you're defending their right to be racist. And this goes for all the other similar ethnic minorities who generation after generation refuse to marry the people they live amongst. I'm much given to metaphors. I use them all the time, it's fun. But now it's your turn. You tell me what metaphor you'd use for an entity that lives amongst a host population for hundreds of years, gets rich at their expense and actively resists being subsumed? What is that?
And anyone who wants to tell me, in a righteous and heart-felt fashion, about some great culture that I'm consigning to the dustbin on history - I weep for that culture. Just like I weep for all those other cultures now long gone. Minoans, Carthaginians, Romans, Etruscans, Illyrians - as many cultures as there are stars in the sky - all gone. Not the people of course, their descendants are still right there. Just the culture is gone. Which is what exactly? An intangible something or other. A state of mind. A dream. Fixate on a dream if you want to but it's a fools errand. And to lock it in your head and define yourself by it is something akin to psychopathy.
Here is the truth - The only certainty is change. This goes double for culture. All sorts of people who emigrate hang on to their culture... they hang on... still hanging on... and fifty years later go home and - find their culture gone, unrecognisable, existing only in movies and in their mind. They and their old mates down at the Hellenic Club, or whatever, were the last hold-outs. Bravely they soldiered on, keeping fixed in their head an amorphous idea of who they were. And when the kids grow up, marry locals, have hapa kids and the culture begins its slow death - I weep with them. It's a fucking tragedy. But what are you going to do? Stay racist? Teach your kids to do the same?
I expect so. But really people who define themselves by a delusional image that posits themselves as superior, or better, or 'other' than the people they live amongst, want to wake up. Without wishing to be rude, whatever reasons you have for remaining 'the other' are bullshit. Even if the reason consists of your parents and every single other member of your family piling on the pressure, it's not good enough. It just makes you weak willed, a person who lets others define them.
You're just a racist with an excuse note from your mum.