Monthly Archives: May 2016

On the subject of … isms

On the subject of isms, phobias, and … others(ism)?

Xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, sexism, racism, class-ism, elitism … are they really different?

Some of my acquaintances, co-workers and associates seem to think so.

I, like much of the human race, have been subjected to a number of “isms.” Racism is a theme that pops up frequently in my life, as does sexism. I believe I have experienced elitism, and class-ism, as well as xenophobia.

I know that I encounter racism here in America on a regular basis. I encountered it also in Italy – where, by the way – it is much more blatant, but far less frequent. It appears to be more effortless in America, and more of a thought-out, deliberate process in Italy. I suspect it is our long and gloried history of slavery, but that is another discussion.

I recall once when a lawyer friend of mine, who is brilliant, black, female and well-endowed, complained about opposing (white male) counsel treating her disrespectfully. She labeled it racism, while I labeled it sexism. We pondered it, but couldn’t really see the difference in how the two are conveyed.

On yet another occasion, I was discussing homophobia with a white, gay male co-worker. Of course, the issue of racism came up. However, he made it a point to tell me that homophobia was different from racism. I wasn’t sure I agreed, but conceded to his singular experience of homophobia, and his reference to black, gay males who made it a point to tell him that they were “black first, and gay second.”

Some time ago, I attended a workshop with a white, female friend of mine. The workshop was designed to create awareness around racist practices, and to begin discarding those practices and healing from them. At the end of the workshop, my friend spoke about racism, and sexism, stating that “sexism is different.”

Very recently, I wrote about the elitism of some in the San Francisco Bay Area. An acquaintance who is white and female, sent me a private message on Facebook in response to my blog. In it, she admitted to experiencing the elitism and snobbery of those in Marin County, but pointed out that I have a “double whammy” of dealing with elitism and racism.

I’ve heard the “double whammy” label before. It’s usually referencing the racism and sexism minority women have to deal with, rather than elitism and racism. I suppose that I could argue that I now have a “triple whammy” to deal with, or on some occasions, a “quadruple whammy” depending on whether or not I’m in the U.S. or abroad.

How are the “isms” different?

Well … they are about different categories of people, i.e., African Americans vs. Latinos vs. Asians vs. women vs. homosexuals vs. people from other countries vs. religion vs. economic status vs….?. Of course, a Latin American female, who is poor, under-educated, gay and a recent immigrant could face a number of isms and phobias. A recent white, male European may face only one. A white, Muslim American female could face three.

It seems that the only one who doesn’t face any “ism” in this country, is a white, financially comfortable male. Of course, some of the white males accuse others of “reverse discrimination.” But, that’s not really an “ism” and that it exists at all is open to question. Again, that’s another discussion.

So the categories are labels that some well-to-do white males have created and used, and are used by everyone else to categorize, label, and create divisions and differences.

And, most of us have bought into these labels and categories, and are convinced that they somehow make us different.

Does it feel different?

If someone is abused and called a “nigger,” does it feel different from being abused and called a “conniving slut?”

If someone is abused and called a “dirty faggot,” does it feel different from being abused and called a “towel-head terrorist?”

Does being called a “bean eater” feel different from being called “poor, white trash?”

Does “I hate you because you’re a woman” feel different from “I hate you because you’re black?”

If someone can explain how the impact is different, I’d love to hear from you.

Right now, at this very moment, I believe that the impact is the same. I believe that all of the “isms” are designed to make you feel smaller, convince you that you are somehow less, provide an excuse to discriminate against you and treat you badly. I believe that they are designed to disenfranchise you, to separate you and make you believe that it’s “us vs. them.” And sadly, I believe that those who cling to the belief that they are different, need to take a long, hard look at their own “isms” and insistence on clinging to what they believe is some thin sliver of privilege.

I believe that abuse, discrimination, bias and prejudice all feel the same to the recipient, no matter its label.

There is no difference.

phobias2

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California or Texas?

I recently went back to California for my daughter’s graduate school ceremony. And, I experienced yet another culture shock; one that may be obvious to most who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and is almost certainly obvious to those who are visiting or just moved there.

Bay Area folks are snobs. Maybe even elitist. And just a bit smug with a disturbing superiority complex.

Believe me, I didn’t want to see or feel this. I didn’t want to believe it when I saw and felt it. I wanted to deny it, to say that I was imagining things, that I was wrong. But, I wasn’t wrong, and it wasn’t my imagination.

Right now, I live in Texas, in a small city of 100,000 with an Air Force Base nearby. There is diversity here, albeit not on the level of the SF Bay Area, but it exists. The people here are warm, friendly and genuine. The shopkeepers remember you, and greet you. The store clerks chat with you and ask you how your day is going. The university students are open and gracious. Almost everyone says “ma’am” and “sir,” as in ‘Good morning ma’am, how are you today?”

If you walk into a specialty market, there is no air of ‘I know more than you’ or ‘you should be grateful I’m taking your money.’

And shockingly, Texas is supposed to be one of the bastions of racism. Believe it or not, I got more racist attitudes walking down College Avenue in Oakland, than in walking downtown here in Texas.

The ‘white’ people here speak to me. They address me respectfully. I can’t say the same for those in northern California.

Here, there is no air of privilege (white or otherwise). There is no snobbery or attitude of ‘I’m better than you.’ If I walk into a store, market or gas station, there is no look of ‘why are you here?’ or ‘aren’t you in the wrong neighborhood?’ The kicker is that I was in a 99 cents store in Berkeley (of ALL places). A young, white woman was with me. The clerk addressed his questions to her, and ignored me, even though she’d said nothing to him, and never indicated she was paying for anything. “She is WITH ME,” I pointed out to him; he mumbled a half apology. What the what???

In northern California, there is an insidious, underlying and murky river of racism that is played out everyday, in almost every encounter with the ‘white’ people who live there. Everyday, after venturing out into the Rockridge neighborhood where I was living, I wanted to take a shower. I wanted to wash the layer of snobbery, racism and elitism off my body, and out of my psyche. It was disgusting and repelled me. Amazingly, none of those I encountered have probably ever felt that they exhibited and exuded a distasteful and disgusting air; one that was almost tangible and seemed more animal like than human.

Thanks go to the spirit in gratitude that I don’t live there anymore. I don’t know if I ever will again.

College Avenue
College Avenue

The chicken
The spirit of Texas!

Missing Home

I never thought I’d say it: I miss the Middle East. I never thought I’d even think it. But a wave of missing the Middle East has been slowly, almost imperceptibly, rising and barely ebbing inside me everyday. I am going through a culture shock that sends tiny little jolts through me, and wraps around me like an abaya covering me from head to toe.

Racism shocks me. Not shock like surprise, but shock like “are these people still that stupid?” Shock like the realization that people actually still think that such a thing is legitimate, that there are people who still believe that the color of someone’s skin matters. That somehow it says something about who that person is. This is a shock, but rather than feeling angry, I feel sympathy for those people, and I try to stay away from them.

I miss the anonymity I had in the Middle East. I was an Arab, an Egyptian, a Sudanese, or just an American.

I miss the slower pace of life. Hardly anyone in the culture was ever in a hurry. Things could wait. They could get done today, or tomorrow “inshallah” (God willing).

There was an atmosphere of trust. You could put your purse down in a restaurant and go to the restroom. A shopkeeper would leave you in his shop to go and get change. There was no fear of being robbed or ripped off by someone.

Greed is not human nature. Greed is not universal. It is a particularly American nature. Almost everyone in the USA who provides a service or goods or any kind, is trying to get every cent they can out of you. Americans worship the dollar, and worship it at the expense of our health, well being, and safety. And somehow, amazingly, along the way, Americans have accepted this. I don’t accept it, and being in a culture that does makes me feel just a bit out of tune with my surroundings.

I miss the chivalry I received from the men and the courtesies I received from the women. Just basic human courtesies that we have forgotten to use in my home.

I miss the generosity. Anything someone had, whether it was a pack of Ramen noodles, a soft drink, or a sumptuous dinner, they would share, and would insist on sharing. If you gave someone a compliment or admired their earrings, watch, or bracelet, it was immediately offered to you. Of course, upon learning this, I was careful with my flattery. I had to insist on not taking expensive jewelry or clothing from women to whom I had given a compliment.

I miss the taxi drivers we used regularly. They were careful not to overcharge us. And, if we had accidentally left our purse or wallet at home, they would pay for our groceries, or clothing, or whatever our shopping charges were until we could repay them, not to mention a ride back home.

I miss the clear skies and the evening call to prayer. I miss the warmth and genuine delight I got from strangers when they discovered I was American.

I miss the Middle East.