The modern face of racism

<em>Racism</em> by temi00 on <em>Deviant Art</em>

Image: Racism by Temi00 on Deviant Art

Has anyone seen Lost in Translation? I’ve been catching up on some DVDs recently and I’d forgotten how good it is. I liked it at the movies but I think it plays better on DVD; it feels more intimate somehow. Bill Murray’s performance is wonderful and it’s a beautiful story.

One of the reasons I like it is the feeling of isolation in the film. Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two characters who feel increasingly isolated in Tokyo; surrounded by unfamiliar customs, they become drawn to each other. I wouldn’t say I feel isolated like that but I spent a lot of my childhood moving and the writer in me is always a little distant… I thought the film captured that feeling well, and Tokyo as well.

That’s why I was surprised when I read a past review of it on The Guardian’s website. Kiku Day is part Japanese and criticised the film as racist. She said that anti-Japanese racism formed the backbone of the film, from the jokes to the depiction of Tokyo and Japanese culture. “There is no scene where the Japanese are afforded a shred of dignity. The viewer is sledgehammered into laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways, desperately aping the western lifestyle without knowledge of its real meaning.”

Did we watch the same film? Where she saw a film about stereotypes and an exotic backdrop, I saw a film about disconnection; not just the disconnection between the two Americans and Tokyo but also in the direction their lives are taking. What I found interesting was the directorial style; it’s sparse and because the Japanese dialogue isn’t subtitled, it leaves viewers as disoriented as the characters. Perhaps that’s Day’s point as we see what Bob and Charlotte see, not the “real” Japan; but that doesn’t mean it’s stereotypical.

But I’ve never been to Tokyo. It looks like a beautiful city and I’d love to go there one day but obviously Day knows it better than I do. I thought Tokyo was depicted respectfully but perhaps she sees a caricature of Japanese life. I’m still not convinced, though… the film isn’t about Tokyo as much as the friendship between the characters; perhaps because of that it lacks some detail, but I don’t see anything racist in it.

After reading Day’s review I started thinking about the way race is depicted on screen. Some of my favourite actors come to mind like Denzel Washington, Lucy Liu and Zhang Ziyi, films like Crash, Monster’s Ball and To Kill a Mockingbird. But then I wondered about the films and shows I’d seen recently and with the exception of Crash, I can’t think of many which have depicted race well, particularly in Australia. The last Australian film I can remember seeing like that was Australian Rules, and before that Romper Stomper with Russell Crowe. As far as TV goes, the actors are still part of the supporting cast and are rarely very detailed; the way Indigenous Australians are portrayed is particularly troubling. Ideally a cast should be an accurate representation of our culture and it’s sad seeing such a narrow view still represented in the mainstream.

To be honest I thought we’d come further than that. It’s been 40 years since Star Trek had Uhura and Sulu, longer since To Kill a Mockingbird and In the Heat of the Night… shouldn’t we be seeing a more honest depiction of society by now or is that just naive? Perhaps the problem is as much political correctness. Racism has become such a loaded issue that people are overly sensitive to it; most people are respectful but mindful of what they say in case it’s taken the wrong way, and so for most films it makes sense to stick with a familiar cast and not make waves. I think that’s what happened with Lost in Translation. It’s a different kind of film and if you look long enough, you’ll find racism in anything, and Day saw enough to label it such. Really it’s the opposite of that but it does show how much racism is still a part of our society, the feeling it evokes.

I found this short documentary earlier and it’s a perfect example of the impact racism is still having today. It’s filmed by 17 year old Kiri Davis, who examines the importance young African American women place on colour. What stunned me was a scene recreating a 1940s experiment looking at internalised racism, where children were asked to choose between a white and a black doll and the majority chose the white doll. 60 years later it’s still the same. 15 out of 21 children said they preferred the white doll over the black, associating white with “pretty” and black with “ugly”. Worse they saw white as good and black as bad… it’s heartbreaking. No one should feel ashamed of their culture, their heritage, of who they are… but I guess it’s no surprise; how else could you feel, surrounded by such stigmatisation?

What’s so troubling is it leaves you wondering what we can do to change it and to be honest I don’t know. The problem is that racism has changed; it’s become subversive, an ideology permeating the culture that twists noble intentions to its uses. Economics, welfare, gentrification, poverty, all can be used as tools or justification for racism in the wrong hands. How many times have you heard someone say we shouldn’t donate to Africa because the money will be wasted, or that children should be removed from their parents because of poverty? It’s suggestive and almost makes sense, and that’s why it’s so dangerous.

The modern face of racism isn’t a group like the KKK or an individual. The truth is that it doesn’t have a face; it uses imagery and ideas to spread hate and often someone is not even aware of their own racism. There’s a test from Harvard which measures the difference between what we think we’re prejudiced against and what our impulses suggest. The results are very interesting; they suggest that most people have a higher level of unconscious bias than they thought. It doesn’t make someone racist but it does suggest a conditioning, which just shows how much racism surrounds us without our knowing it.

Perhaps racism is something we’ll never be completely rid of but I think the only way to start is by realising that we need to change the way we look at it. Racism has changed but we’re still approaching it like we did forty years ago; it’s not just a political issue but a personal one and unless people are willing to change the way they look at racism and themselves, nothing will ever change.

That’s why I’m still stunned by the review. Lost in Translation is a film about making connections and you’d think it’s a film that would create greater awareness of Japanese culture, not damage it… I guess Day sees it differently.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you think racism has changed? Have you ever experienced racism? If you’re interested in the IAT test there’s more about it here; I took it and it’s very interesting if you have time to check it out. And sorry for the long post! If you got this far I’ll owe you a coffee or something. ;)

The marriage gap

Why is it that some people dream of getting married but others are happy never getting married? Is it fear of commitment? Wanting to live in the present? Or do some people think about marriage so much that it becomes unhealthy?

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I’m someone who’s never really seen himself getting married. It’s not that I’m afraid of marriage; if I met the right person, I think I’d be able to make a commitment. Rather it’s that I don’t want to concern myself with something that’s outside of my control. I’ve never felt like I define myself by who I’m with, so if I meet someone, that’s great, but I’m happy being by myself as well.

A lot of people, though, see marriage as this focus that gives their lives meaning and it’s that kind of obsession that turns me off marriage. They plan it out years in advance and everything has to be perfect… I have a hard time swallowing that. Marriage needs work; nothing is ever just perfect because you love someone, but many people expect it to be. When I look at the divorce rate I can’t help but think that this idea of marriage plays a large part in it, people giving up because when everything isn’t perfect they think that the relationship wasn’t “meant to be”.

I guess I’ve been thinking about this because an old school friend contacted me a few months ago. I hadn’t heard from her for about six years and it was great catching up again, but one of the things she told me was that she’s engaged. I almost choked! Not in a bad way; I’m really happy for her. It’s just that in my mind I still see her as the fourteen year old girl I used to know and it feels strange to imagine her about to get married. She’s a few months younger than I am as well, so she was only 21 or 22 when she got engaged. But I guess when you know it’s right, it just is.

She’s actually the second school friend who’s been engaged now; another got married two years ago and seems very happy. I haven’t spoken to either of them much since, though… I’d like to but it feels strange. Part of it is the difference between how I remember them and who they are now, but there’s also a different dynamic when someone becomes engaged or married and it can be hard to overcome. That’s part of the problem here.

Some call it the marriage gap and it describes the way a friendship can change once someone is married or part of a long-term relationship. Friends who used to meet for drinks every week feel put out when their married friend starts to cancel; someone who used to think nothing of taking off for a weekend away suddenly has other commitments to think about first. The married friend feels hurt that his/her single friends don’t show more interest in their partner and becomes annoyed by the money they spend frivolously. Over time it brings added pressure to the friendship and it either changes or falls apart.

I didn’t use to believe in the marriage gap but recently I’ve changed my mind. There was a couple I met at my writing group who seemed to speak their own language and it felt like everything they were talking about went over my head. Other people felt the same way and we just weren’t on the same wavelength; it was the first time I’d really understood why it can drive people nuts. It was a little like what it felt like talking to my friends again; not that we didn’t have anything in common, but so much had changed… we were coming from different directions and just because we were compatible once didn’t mean we were now.

In the end I think that’s why once people get married they start to form their own circles, and why singles go out in their own groups. It’s natural; the common ground has shifted and it’s easier to share how you feel with others who understand… even if they’re not the same friends you’ve had for most of your life. In a way that’s sad because if you care about someone enough, you should be able to get past any differences. And many friends do. But for whatever reason the marriage gap is still quite common.

I know part of it for singles is that they often feel like they’re being pressured into getting married themselves. A few members of my extended family seem sorry for me when I say I’m not seeing someone… or seem worried. Thankfully they haven’t tried to set me up with someone (yet!) but they don’t seem to get that I’m happy by myself. Is it so strange to think that I’d enjoy my own company, that I’d rather be alone than with someone who doesn’t value me for who I am? And likewise married people feel hurt that their old friends don’t show more interest in their new lives, which is something I can understand as well. Marriage is the ultimate commitment; they’ve made a huge change in their lives and to not even try to understand that and expect them to be the same isn’t being much of a friend.

To be honest, though, I think the marriage gap is overrated. What it really represents is a breakdown in communication; neither friend expresses how they feel properly, and so they keep growing apart. But it also shows that we’re not aware of how relationships evolve over time. No friendship remains the same; it changes as our interests change, as we move into different periods of our lives. We shouldn’t expect it to remain the same, but a lot of people do. And that’s the problem. We think our friendships should be perfect (like our marriages) and last a lifetime, but you maintain any relationship by redefining it, by taking an interest in the person… if you don’t do that, the friendship won’t survive. And sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it’s better to let go of a friendship than to ruin all of the memories you shared.

For the most part I try to do that. Before meeting that couple at the group, I hadn’t noticed the marriage gap all that much and I get on well with most of the family friends I know who are married. And I like taking an interest in people as well, so finding common ground isn’t too difficult… that’s why I think that generally the marriage gap isn’t something that can’t be overcome, just something you have to work at. If I had a chance to talk to my friends again, I’d love to. I’d love to know how they’re getting on and see if there was a chance to get to know them again. I’m not expecting it, but who knows? I didn’t expect to hear from them the first time, so I’ll never say never. ;)

Anyway, it’s just been on my mind lately. I wonder what you think? Is there a marriage gap? Have you ever felt out of place in a social group? Is one group more responsible than the other? I’d be interested to know what you think.

The young and the old

Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Like when you’re out and you get that sense that someone’s eyes are on you but when you turn around, there’s no one there? I do and it drives me crazy. I don’t like people staring at me; it makes me feel self-conscious and I can’t relax when I get that feeling.

Of course most of it’s in my head but I’ve caught people staring at me before, so it’s not always my imagination. Sometimes it’s girls (occasionally guys) and it’s funny seeing their heads jerk away when I look back, suddenly interested in a speck on the wall. ;) I don’t mind that as much but what I really don’t like is when people just stare for no reason.

Yesterday I had an appointment and I had to wait a while before I was seen. So I did what I normally do; I took out a notepad and started working through some ideas. After about two minutes I got that feeling and sure enough, several people were just staring at me. Not people-watching like some do, just openly staring. In the end I ignored it but when I got back home it still bothered me. It felt like they were staring at me because I was somehow out of place, and it bothered me more later than at the time.

Most of the people were older than me and I think that was part of it. Usually I don’t feel like my age is an issue with people but every now and then it is. All through school I could talk to people without them knowing my age but when they found out, suddenly my opinions didn’t have the same weight. I’ve had people doubt my age in my writing (and this blog) because I don’t sound my age when I write. And previously I’ve been told that I think too much; I should just go out, have fun and be 23. Well, what’s to say I’m not? This is who I am and if I were any different, I wouldn’t be me.

I dislike ageism with a passion. What I’ve always found interesting, though, is that most definitions of ageism describe it as discriminating against the elderly. I don’t disagree with that but to me ageism can be against any age group and we often overlook the presumptions we make about youth as well. Yes, some young people can be disrespectful, but not all of us. We’re the iPod generation but most of us study and work just as hard as anyone else. Plus we have the added pressure of trying to find homes and jobs (often for the first time) in a global market which has changed so much since 9/11. Ageism can go both ways but not everyone remembers that.

A few years ago something happened to me which is just one example. I’d been shopping with my mother and we were waiting to get the bus back home when a man (about 70) came up from nowhere and shouted at me, struck me across the shoulder and head as he brushed past, and left muttering insults about youth under his breath. I’d done nothing and was well out of his way; he targeted me, but what I remember most is that only a few people noticed. If I’d done it I’d have been up on assault charges; he did it, and for some reason I must have had it coming. If that’s not ageism, I don’t know what is.

It’s strange the way we ignore young people. We look at youth as the future; we say we want to teach them and prepare them for life, but often it’s an excuse to shape them the way we want. We crush them of their individuality and make them conform, and soon see all young people the same way. But who’s to say we really know what’s best? There’s a case in Wyoming at the moment where three 13 year old girls threw french fries during their lunch at school. The police have subsequently charged them with “hurling missiles”, an adult charge. Hurling missiles… have you ever heard anything more ridiculous? They deserve disciplining but if you give kids a criminal record for a food fight, you’ll be doing it to every kid in school. It’s a knee-jerk reaction and it’s based on the fact that people try to control children, not understand them.

My personal view is that age is irrelevant; I get on well with people of many ages and what’s important to me is mutual respect. If someone is interested in talking to me, sharing their thoughts, that’s all I’ve ever needed. It’s something people underestimate about children as well, that sometimes they just want to be engaged and have a say in things. I think Katherine Hepburn said it best: “I have no romantic feelings about age. Either you are interesting at any age or you are not.” Isn’t that so true? You either find someone interesting or you don’t; in the end, that’s all the matters, not age or anything else.

So maybe I should be flattered when someone stares at me. They obviously find me interesting in some way… even if it does feel like a scientist dissecting a rat! Maybe next time I’ll say something. Who knows, perhaps I’ll find someone to talk to, or at least will be able to write in peace… on the other hand, I’ll be 30 before I know it. Maybe then they’ll leave me alone and all I’ll have to worry about is baldness. :)

Be My Baby

It sucks being single on Valentine’s Day. There’s just something about being out and seeing everyone together that feels very strange. Normally I’m not someone who gets that carried away with Valentine’s Day, particularly with the commercialism, but I like the sentiment.

Whenever I think of Valentine’s Day, I start thinking of Be My Baby by The Ronettes. I grew up with a lot of 60’s music around the house, so I must have picked it up at some stage. It’s one of my favourite songs and so what better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to post the video? It’s a great video; you can almost see the lip-synching! Some things never change.

I was remembering my first Valentine card earlier. It would have been about 15 years ago now and was from one of my school friends. She left it in our letterbox and I can’t remember what it looked like but she made it herself and it was very sweet. We’re still friends now, after almost 20 years.

I remember that Valentine because it represents what I like most about Valentine’s Day; the innocence of love. One thing which does bug me about Valentine’s Day, though, is how a lot of people see it as a gesture, using that one day to express their feelings. It shouldn’t be just that one day; we should always want to be honest with each other… in the end it’s better to say too much than to say nothing at all.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! Hope you have a good one. ;)

Would you want to know?

Here’s a question for you. Imagine you’ve spent years trying to find the love of your life; you’ve dated and fallen in and out of love, but never found that special someone. Then finally you meet someone and you just click; it’s not something you can explain, you just feel an immediate attraction and it’s like you’ve known them all of your life. Soon you know it’s love and you can’t imagine being apart. You get married and start planning to spend the rest of your lives together… and then you discover that you are brother and sister.

That’s the story which has been coming out of Britain over the last few days. It’s so sad and what makes it even sadder is that they’re twins, which is why their connection was so strong. Their birth was normal (not in-vitro) and they were adopted by separate parents and never told that they had a twin. It wasn’t until after they were married that they discovered the truth. Now their marriage has been annulled and it’s sparked debate over whether children should have more access to the identity of their birth parents.

Supposedly this is very rare and you’d hope it is given all of the circumstances that would have to occur, but here’s my question. Imagine you’re in their position, a day before you’re about to hear the truth… would you want to know? If someone offered you the chance to know the truth but you knew it would destroy everything, would you still want to know?

I’ve been wondering about this since I heard the story, and I would. I believe it’s always better to know the truth, even if it’s incredibly painful. But I’ve read a few blogs which haven’t been as sure and honestly I can understand that too. It’s an incestuous relationship and if you knew you’d be repulsed, but for several years they (and you’d hope their families) thought they were a normal couple. It certainly would have been “easier” for them to go on in ignorance, if not “right”.

They must be living in their own kind of hell. To have formed that connection, then suddenly have it broken without the possibility of it being restored… I find that almost unimaginable. Not to mention it’d be impossible to see each other as brother and sister, so they’d actually be losing two relationships… the only good thing is that they didn’t have children. There was a case in Germany where a man served a two-year prison sentence after fathering four children with his sister; they’d been separated at birth.

It’s made me wonder about something else as well, though. Here I’d rather know, but what if I could find out the day I was going to die – is that something I’d want to know? Honestly, I’m not sure… a large part of me says yes; if I knew, I’d have time to say goodbye, time to live my life. But I think as well that I’d be more afraid of death if I knew; I’d know what I was losing, feel time slipping by… I’d rather value each day as it comes and I can only do that by not knowing… just as I’d rather not know if I’m supposed to meet someone, so I can value the relationships on the way.

If there’s one thing I want to take away from this story, it’s that. It’s so easy to take everything we have for granted; our homes, relationships, health… I’d hope something like this wouldn’t happen, but still, one day we might find it all gone. Better to cherish what we have now than have regrets later.

What about you? What would you do? Is there anything you’d rather not know? I’d be interested to find out. ;)

The Garden's End

Image from Stock.Xchang

The Garden’s End
CJ Levinson

Unlock the chains around your heart
Let me find a way inside
Let me see where your thoughts begin
And where your hopes and dreams die
Everything you wanted means nothing now
No one noticed you but me
I’ll dream of you · tonight

If I could raise the dead with words
And see through your lonely eyes
Find you again at the garden’s end
Would you still occupy my mind?
Cast out from everything you know
There is nowhere you’d rather be
I’ll weep for you · tonight

Once I dreamt of another world
Of the sun and moon and stars
Walking beside you, I was a better man
But all dreams fade with time
And this place could never have been our home

Do you lie awake next to him
Surrounded by your sorrows in the night?
No one wanted this after so many years
But your heart knows it’s the only way
It’s too late to start again
And too hard to say goodbye

If I could hold you now
Look upon your face
There’s so much I would say
My heart goes with you · tonight

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