Archive for the ‘America’ Category

A funny thing happened to me on my arrival in the US this week.

July 9, 2015

I’m a white guy who lived in America for a few years. Being a foreigner I could maybe see this issues around American racism and/or sexism a bit more clearly than Americans could (in America), or I could (in England), because I was less aware of the things people take for granted (and I was trying to work things out).

One of the more surprising things that me when I was living in the US full time was the number of times I got pulled over by the police. I think it happened maybe three (or sometimes four) times a year, every year. On one occasion I was even pulled over by the FBI, though that was understandable, I was taking a bunch of pictures of the Federal Court Building in Phoenix, AZ (which I can see might be viewed as odd), In my defence, it’s a large glass building (i.e. a greenhouse) in the hottest places in America, so in my head I was thinking “the designers of that building are crazy, the electricity bill to keep that building cool will be enormous” (which one of the FBI officers who came to check my id conceded might be true).

The discussions I had never lasted too long, though the number of stops I had might be viewed as…. excessive given I think I’ve been stopped maybe twice, if I’m generous, by the police in the whole of my the UK, and it always ended up focusing on whether I had ever been to San Antonio (one officer tells me there was a suspect with the same name there), or whether there were illegals in my car.

The other oddity I remember was being spoken to in Spanish (in banks, supermarkets, or other places I queue). It happened at least as much as the the interactions with the police, and usually at the end of summer, when I’d been in the sun a fair bit (I don’t sunbathe, I just tan real easy). I’m guessing this happened because I tanned after long times in the Texas sun, and,have dark hair and eyes, so I’m guessing I can look slightly more Hispanic on occasions. Again, they weren’t being mean about anything, it was just them telling me they spoke Spanish, before they asked me what I’d like to do.

Anyhow I said all that, to say this.,I flew into the US earlier this week, and was “invited” for interview by Customs and Boarder Protection, when I arrived at the place where they take a look at your passport. THIS DOESN’T BOTHER ME, they’ve a job to do, and though it took up 45mins of my time, I KNEW IT’D ALL BE COOL IN THE END. And it WAS cool too, the officer said, someone had been using my first and last name as an alias and they felt they had to follow it up (I’ll be honest, I was surprised that this caused me to be stopped, as my name isn’t uncommon).

What did surprise me was the number of Hispanic individuals they “invited” for interview. There were maybe 20 people who CBP had asked to talk to. One was African-American. Two were non-Hispanic whites, the rest were Hispanic. I’m assuming that that skew was just a coincidence, but I suspect it would look odd to the more naturally dubious.

I’ve been watching the BBC coverage of dog meat consumption in China

June 21, 2015

I live in China, and have for almost 5 years, this after a good chunk of time in the US. When I first moved here there wasn’t a day that I didn’t think “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” This varied from the obvious like spitting, crazy ass driving, the way people talk to each other, toilets, the smells, and public urination, to the weirder, like dog eating, and the way guys of my age, and older, are very touchy feely. The gaps between those “Wait, stop, what, you do what again?” moments are getting further apart, but I still think it’s happening every month or so.

I have made a conscious effort to be less judgemental of differing cultures, after I didn’t do myself any favours in the US by questioning things they did that I thought of as weird (it still blows my mind that Dallasites can’t see the incongruity of priding ithemselves in being part of the “moral majority”, despite being the big city with the most sex shops per capita, and having adverts for sex shops on the radio when you’re taking your kids places).

I said all that to say this. The BBC are doing a thing about dog meat consumption, and how wrong it is. I don’t eat dog meat. I never have, and never will, but can someone explain why people who eat meat have an issue with people in other countries, with differing cultures, eating dog? I could understand it if dogs were on the verge of becoming extinct (maintaining genetic diversity on the planet is good), but they aren’t so why are they hung up on it, when they eat meat themselves?

The only people who have a leg to stand on are vegetarians, for everyone else, can you explain why eating a non-endangered animal, like dog, is any more wrong than eating cows, pigs, or chickens?

The Latinos in Hollywood display at LAX

October 7, 2014

I was at LAX airport on Sunday, and they had this big display about Hispanic/Latino actors and actresses in Hollywood. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Los Angeles has a large Hispanic population, and it’s always good to display positive examples of ethnic minorities (if for no other reason than to say to potentially bigoted white folks that there’s nothing to fear).

As I was looking at it, I decided to make a list about who expected to be on display (it was set up so I couldn’t see all those on display immediately). On my mental list were Desi Arnaz, J-Lo, Martin Sheen, Jimmy Smits, Héctor Elizondo, Edward James Olmos, John Leguizamo, Michelle Rodriguez, Andy Garcia, Danny Trejo, and Eva Longoria.

I mean no disprespect by this, but my list was better than that on display in the airport. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that I missed some (I’m not a 12 year old girl, so didn’t think of Selena Gomez, I don’t watch crappy reality television, so Missed Mario Lopez, I’d never heard of his wife, so missed Courtney Mazza, and I didn’t recognise the older Hispanic actors they mentioned because I don’t know much 1960s American TV). I’m slightly embarrassed I missed Anthony Quinn, and I was surprised to learn Madeleine Stowe and Rita Heyworth is/was Hispanic.

The ones I got that the display missed were Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo and Danny Trejo. I tried to think why these actors were missed out. I could immediately see why Danny Trejo might not be included. He’s a good actor, and he’s cleaned his life up since he was a kid, but he did have “issues” in his youth which might make people risk averse. to him

The thing that irritated me was the exclusion of Martin Sheen, and I started wondering why. He’s famous enough, so was it because he had an Anglo name? No because they had Anthony Quinn and Madeleine Stowe up on display. Was it because he’d changed his name (making him less authentically Hispanic)? Well he might have been born Ramón Estévez, but Anthony Quinn was born Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca. Was it because he’s only half Hispanic (if there can be such a thing, his mothers name is Mary-Ann Phelan)? Hmmm I don’t like the argument, and I don’t believe they’d use it. Is it because he doesn’t speak Spanish (I have no evidence for this, but I read somewhere that J-Lo doesn’t speak much Spanish, and she was up there. It can’t be because he wasn’t born in Los Angeles either, because Selena Gomez was born in Texas, and Andy Garcia was born in Cuba.

Part of me thought “Meh, maybe they just forgot him.” till I read the sign by the picture of Jimmy Smits which said “one of the first people to play a Latino President on network television”. That sentences reads to me like gymnastics to avoid including Sheen, and that really does make me wonder why.

Ok, so maybe America can’t handle what it does to their….. poor? Or minorities maybe?

May 20, 2014

One of the things that I liked about America, when I was living there, was that it made me more aware of my own tendency to stereotype. The thing was that I saw their stereotypes, and they were different to mine, they shone a light into the dark recesses of how I thought.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We all do it. We just do. It’s a simple shorthand, and while they’re not always accurate, we still use them until we stop and think, at which point we’d probably say “Well I don’t mean it like that….”

My favorite stereotypes in college focused on how diverse the university was (it was diverse, the lecturers were white, the jocks were African American, and the gardeners Hispanic). My favourite “diversity” piece though was the college prospectus. They interviewed foreign, white, and hispanic students, asking them to explain how cool the place was. The problem I had was with the pictures. They had picture after picture of students sitting round “discussing” and “thinking deep thoughts.” In a lot of them it had 3 or 4 white kids looking as if they were teaching the African American kid something. I know it wasn’t meant to be that way. The people who took the picture didn’t mean it to be that way, but if you looked at how they were stood, it looked like they were teaching the African American something. And it was never the other way round. It just never was. That made me laugh, because the Americans never saw it.

Today, I read an article (or more accurately, a book review) about the Duke Lacrosse Rape case in the Wall Street Journal. The book focusses on the former prosecutor in the case, as he tries to defend his actions. The article itself was pretty skewed against the book, which shouldn’t be surprising, given the students were described as innocent, and won damages against the District Attorney who brought the charges against them,

What surprised me was the vehemence against what I saw as a pretty innocuous statement of the obvious on my part. I said something along the lines that the District Attorney tried to use intimidatory tactics (to get a confession) that might work with the urban poor, but which wouldn’t wash against the better off, because they were better educated, and could afford better lawyers.

Well in the last 12 hours I’ve been accused of “Seeing racism everywhere.” Apparently it’s African Americans who are holding themselves back, with their anger against white society, and despite the fact that Americans have a number of laws that disproportionately target minorities (crack vs. powdered cocaine sentences, and the enforcement of the death penalty), I need to get over myself and stop seeing racism everywhere.

This made me laugh. Is America such a “Look out for number One” society, that they can’t see institutionalised racism when it’s slapping them in the face with a wet cod?

An interesting conversation with a student.

November 23, 2013

As I’ve said before, I teach in China. This is my fourth year here, and I like to think I’m pretty clued into the culture, the kids, and how the kids at my school think. Well, just when I was feeling comfy about all that stuff, the kids go and do something that makes me think…. wait, what, run that by me again.

Last time I checked, China was communist, so, perhaps naively given the conversation I had, I assumed they’d be familiar with notable communists of the past (most notably Lenin, Marx, Stalin, Castro, and Guevara). Anyhow, the school I work at had an art display by local artists, and I noticed the kids were looking, so I wandered over and saw them looking at a portrait of Che Guevara. I could tell the some of the students were confused as to who he was, so I asked the students who he was, and what he’d done. I got the blankest of blank stares, and admissions of cluelessness..

When I asked them who said “December 7th -a date that will live in infamy” they decided on “the President at the start of World War II” (which I’ll give credit for). I followed this up with “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for you country” and got “US President again the one who was shot” (which I’ll give credit for too). Finally I asked ” ‘Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.” They got very excited by that one, and came “Black leader, he was shot too, said in Washington.” It’s been a few hours now, and I’m still surprised the kids knew more about American political leaders than notable communists.

Does this comment sound maybe a tiny bit suspect?

November 22, 2013

I saw this post about the lack of diversity at UCLA the other day…….

In it the author argues that there’s something wrong when there are only 48 African American males enrolled in the freshman class at UCLA this year, and 32 of those managed to get in (at least in part) because of their sporting prowess (they’re being selected for collegiate athletics programs), and of the original 48, only 36 will graduate in 4yrs.

Now I know the arguments about it being a socio-economic issue (African-Americans and Hispanics tend to earn less, and so are less likely to have the expectation of college in the future because of impoverished family backgrounds), and I know that people are wary of affirmative action, but part of me is still somewhat shocked by a woman saying “I was the first person in my family to get a college education. You have to elevate yourself. You can’t blame someone else for not elevating you.” Part of me wants to yell “Oh come on really? You’re really going to make THAT argument?” I mean 150yrs ago in American African-Americans were property, women couldn’t vote, and poor children we sent up chimneys and down mines.

Sure, things are much better now, but women and African Americans still earn less (it’s actually GOT WORSE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS SINCE 1979), people still dressing up in black-face and assuming its ok, Jim Wright (the Texas Democratic politician) unable to register to vote (for reasons which WILL harm minorities disproportionately), and we’ve got people saying you can’t blame someone else for not elevating you.

I mean…… Jeepers.

Don’t do something just because you can.

April 25, 2013

I was looking at the coverage of the Boston bombing, and found this picture of a poor guy on a wheelchair, being rushed off the scene with most of his lower left leg missing. It was published on the Huffington Post, but it had to have been publish elsewhere too. I found an AP picture that had to be taken by the same photographer seconds later on the Daily Telegraph website.

Anyway I said that to say this. Just because something can be published, doesn’t mean it should be.

Incidentally, I’m not usually one for plugging things, but have a look at this, it’s a fundraiser for the guy concerned (y’all know what the American medical system’s costs). It might be worth donating to: