Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Racism and racial ambiguity in the Pacific Northwest

I've lived here for eight years, and it still gets me that there are folks here who think  I'm non-white. This tends to happen when I'm wearing a hat or clothes that aren't up to the yuppie standard. I'm a big guy, so they assume that I'm a large hispanic man, or that I belong to some other vague browned skinned ethnicity. I find all of this quite outrageous and funny, considering that my actual ethnic origins are Italian, Hungarian, Polish, and ethnicities lumped in together as "Anglo"---Irish, Scottish, Welsh, English.

 The fact is, mistakes like this don't happen in any area from Chicago east. No one in Chicago mistakes Italians or Hungarians for being hispanic, no one mistakes people in Detroit, and no one makes that mistake in New York City. Being from Detroit, the idea of never claiming to be someone you're not, if that someone is oppressed, was drummed into me. In fact, a recent memoir by a racist skinhead from Philadelphia recounted that three quarters of his crew were Italian. They may have been very confused on politics, but they certainly identified themselves as white.

In itself, being misidentified as Hispanic doesn't really bother me. I have nothing whatsoever against Hispanic culture, and even think that in many ways it's superior to mainstream Anglo culture. What pisses me off is the racism implicit in the misidentification, and the visible difference in treatment that happens when I take off my hat, my coat, and start speaking, revealing that I don't have a foreign accent and am  well educated. Hell, I even have a touch of Midwestern accent from living in the country for part of my youth, so I can even sound like a redneck if I want to. They're visibly relieved that there's not this big, crazy, Mexican in their store.

People are often apologetic after this unveiling happens, but if folks in the Northwest have that much of a hair trigger when it comes to race, why I should I be thankful to them for giving me better treatment?

Quite honestly, in any other part of the country, including California, this experience would not happen, and the people who had that response to slightly darker skinned people would be looked at as racist pariahs, but because we're here in the progressive northwest, home to social justice and liberal values, this experience of hair trigger racism is ignored, treated as if it didn't exist. This is not surprising, since many of those progressive Pacific North Westerners are the perpetrators. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

>They're visibly relieved that there's not this big, crazy, Mexican in their store.

LOL. Interesting catch. Most people aren't aware at this level of interpersonal dynamics, but I guess if it happens to one a lot, one would be.