Friday, October 01, 2004

Worst. Day. Ever.

Well, I was called a racist today by a co-worker, for some odd and arcane reason I'm not sure of. The situation is that my wife's bellydance troupe is going to dance at a restaurant this weekend, but the guy who owns it, of apparently Armenian extraction, doesn't want any blondes dancing because it's not as 'authentic.' And, of course, I find this offensive. Not just because my wife happens to be blonde, but because it's a racist attitude to have. It's like inviting a band to play music at a coffeehouse, but the black member of the band can't come because the owner doesn't want him there. It's not at all like typecasting a part for a play, i.e. casting a black person as Iago, for example. Bellydancers in America come in all ethnic flavors.

So, the co-worker said that I was 'sooo misinformed' and that I just didn't understand his culture. Yeah. I don't understand his culture. Nevermind that I studied cultures in college (I majored in Cultural Anthropology, emphasis mine).

She then proceeded to tell me that my attitude was racist, because I didn't understand his 'culture,' and that I wouldn't have been offended if he had wanted only cute, blonde haired girls to dance. Which is such utter bullshit that I can't even comprehend it (and of course, I'm sure her condescending tone and attitude towards 'cute blondes' is lost on her, but I appreciate the irony). I told her that she was offending me, at which point she said, in a very very condescending tone "Oh, I'm sooo sorry." So I just walked away before I said anything I'd regret. At which point I proceeded to cry on another co-worker's shoulder. Yep. Manager On Duty over here, crying.

I could go into the absolute reductio in adsurdim that is this position of absolute cultural relativism that this co-worker seems to have. But I won't. It's absurd on the face of it. Sure, I could justify my position by pointing out all the barbaric practices that are regularly practiced by other cultures, including female circumsicion and other forms of gender oppression, but I don't think I really have to. If oppressing or discriminating against other people is in your culture, then no, I don't respect it. I understand it. Perfectly. But I despise it.

I don't think that this man, this business owner, this immigrant to my country, understands our culture here in America. Despite our history of shortcomings living up to our ideals, our culture is based on mutual respect and tolerance, and a belief in basic human rights, including the right not to be oppressed or discriminated against, on the basis of ethnicity, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation or any other reason. And anyone who doesn't understand these basic values, or respect them, is welcome to stay here. But he shouldn't call himself an American. Because he's not.

And yes, I'm completely for cultural tolerance. But there are things beyond the pale. For example, the Aztecs practiced ritual human sacrifice. That was a part of their culture. It was a deeply held belief that if they did not sacrifice people to the sun, that the gods would destroy the world. This was a sacred belief to these people, so sacred that it caused them to do unspeakable acts of torture and murder. All in the name of religion or cultural belief. But they were wrong. The conquistadors came, and the Aztecs fell, and the human sacrifices stopped. The sun did not go black, and the earth was not destroyed. A belief can be sacred to someone. They can believe it with all their heart and all their soul. But that does not make that belief true. And the moment that their values and beliefs cause them to oppress or discriminate towards me, then really, in a way, they and their culture have declared a type of war on me. And mine.

Look at Armenia, and the surrounding cultures in the Caucasus. There are many balkanized (look at the eytmology of that word, by the way) culture groups, tribalistic societies, essentially, living in a relatively small area, north of Iraq and Iran. It's next to Georgia, and Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran. And they all hate each other. In 1992 Armenia invaded Azerbaijan. That's cultural understanding for you. In 1994 a cease-fire left Armenia in control of about 20% of Azerbaijan. I'm sure everyone is familiar with their near neighbors, the Chechens. The Chechens hate the Russians, and vice versa.

What I'm saying with all this is that the attitude of this man is not atypical for the type of tribalistic society that he comes from. And it's also the reason that so many small ethnic groups in the region keep getting attacked by their neighbors. They don't have a culture of tolerance of their neighbors. The kind that America aspires to.

So the next time some asshat wants to discriminate against someone else, because of their 'culture,' I'm still going to say that they are an asshole and a prick. My stepmother was raised to be racist against black people, and was until the day that I last saw her. It was a part of her 'culture,' if you will. But that didn't make it right. She chose to continue to accept and embrace that arbitrary cultural value, based on no kind of rational reason or justification, even after she was an adult. And for that, she was a racist unAmerican asshole. The same goes for the guy who doesn't want my blonde wife to bellydance at his restaurant. I wish that unAmerican asshole would join the rest of us in the 21st Century.

Rant mode off.


Blogger Wahoo said...

You're getting all wrapped up in the cultural aspect of this. Your coworker is just a moron. Plain-old run of the mill dumbass. As is the restaurant owner. And you can't argue with dipshits. It will only leave you frustrated. It's offensive that the owner wants the troupe to put on the blackface and sing mammy, but it's nothing to get into an argument with a fuckwitted coworker about. I'll go back to minding my own business now.

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