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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



But Would You Want Your Daughter To Marry One?

May 11th, 2008 by Rory Harper

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I think there’s a good chance that my entire post for tonight is NSFW, so you’ll have to go below the cut for it…

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I suspect that it’s impossible to talk frankly about race in this country without being accused of being either a moron or an asshole.

I’m going to step into that particular vortex today. I hope you’ll be kind, and consider me only a moron, when we’re done. It’s okay to not like my attitudes and perceptions. I just hope you’ll balance your reaction to them against my history of kindness toward orange cats and small children.

The trigger for this post is a recent Pew Research Poll that indicates that over half of self-identified Democrats over the age of 45 and those without a college education have some, ah… reservations… about the okayness of interracial dating. Those half are, in my humble opinion, morons and assholes. This is a non-subtle indicator of blunt, unexamined racism. And these are Democrats and leaners. Ghod alone knows what numbers you’d get from hard-core Republicans.

There are lots of other chewy nuggets in the survey regarding gender and immigration issues, with an analysis of what it means in terms of the upcoming presidential election, but I’d like to focus on the race thing in an attempt to keep this from turning into a 20,000 word post. I do encourage you to read the whole thing and draw your own conclusions. Mine is that the moronic racist assholes likely also score pretty high on all the other conservative values.

My continuing attempt to be less of an asshole or moron forces me to take out some of my attitudes and examine them irregularly. I still have a way to go before I feel comfortable with myself on the issue of race.

I was lucky in one way. I lived in Venezuela until I was nine years old, so I missed a lot of the early childhood imprinting on the race issue that can distort you for life. But I remember coming back to Hemphill, where my family had been carrying out its in-breeding program for a century, and going to the Dairy Queen with a main entrance for Whites, and a side entrance, around the back, for Blacks. The mental contortion you had to go through to make that make sense, to deliberately treat another human being that way, felt traumatic and weird to me, and is likely a foundation of my current attitudes.

Which brings up another subject – what we call our various ethnic groups. I know that race is largely a fiction, genetically speaking. But it’s a fiction that regularly slaps us upside the head in this world.

When I was growing up, if you exclude the actual ugly epithets, it was considered mainstream to call someone a Negro or Colored. Neither ever felt right to me. They felt mildly epithetic. But I was and am emotionally comfortable with Black. Nowadays, the accepted term is African-American, or Person of Color. Both feel too formalistic to me. A quick google indicates that there’s still some ambivalence out there about terminology on both sides of the racial divide. I’m going to go with Black in this post, if that’s okay with you.

Incidentally, I’ve always self-labeled my ethnicity as White, rather than Caucasian (which also feels ridiculously clinical), though I have some American Indian blood in me, and am pleased by that fact. I’ve been alienated from much of White mainstream culture most of my life, so I really self-identify as Hippie. Which was, to be fair, a mostly White cultural subset.

Our culture is less overtly racist than it used to be, though the fracture lines are still deeper and wider than we like to admit. But I spent my teens in a society that was quite overt. Racial stereotyping is one way to dehumanize people who aren’t part of your perceived group. Most of the stereotyping I grew up with always seemed bizarre. Here’s my personal Top Ten old-skool stereotypes about Blacks as a group, and the reaction I have always had to them:

  1. They like fried chicken and watermelons and soul food. A lot. – What the hell? I like fried chicken and watermelons a lot, too. How is this a bad thing? Screw the okra, though.
  2. They’re naturally athletic, and can dance better than white people – If true, I’m envious. I was lousy at sports in high school, and still am embarrassed at my inability to dance. It definitely kept me from getting laid on several occasions.
  3. They’re naturally musically inclined, but not toward classical music, which is too intellectual for them – Envy from me again. I struggle to be a competent musician. I seriously wish I had more natural talent. And Blacks invented the Blues, laying the foundation for, among other genres, rock ‘n roll. Both of which I love to the core of my soul. I can’t imagine a life without them in it. Thankyouthankyouthankou, Black people. Blacks invented jazz, too. Which I’m not a big fan of, but which can be easily as intellectually challenging as classical music, which bores me to coma. It’s too damn intellectual for me.
  4. The men have larger penises, and all want to have sex with White women, who are attracted to their larger penises — *sigh* Yeah, more envy. …Not that I have anything to regret in the Penis Department, mind you. The assertion about penis size has been proven to not be true. It has to do with what physicists call ‘resting states’. And, hey, I want to have sex with White women, too. It seems like a reasonable goal for straight men. Time for another uncalled-for confession – I’ve only dated one black woman. One time. It was a disaster, and I am still mortified. Her name was Jackie and she was a co-worker. I lusted in my heart after her, and liked her tremendously, too. I think she agreed to go out with me out of pity. She’d grown up an Army brat and was stunningly gorgeous. She was also much more sophisticated and knowledgeable than me. Penises did not enter into the evening’s events. I simply could not keep up with her brain. I like to think it was at least partially because she was a few years older than me, and that I’d be a better date now. She went on to become a locally-famous radio personality at KLOL, the best Rock ‘n Roll station in Houston. I guess she was musically inclined.
  5. They’re not as smart as White people – My personal experience has disproven that one on a daily basis throughout my life. I know for a fact that I have relatives that are dumber than the dumbest Black person I’ve met. Hell, just go visit any Wal-Mart and watch people for half an hour if you want to blow up this stereotype. The whole Bell Curve hypothesis has been thoroughly debunked, by, among others, the other Steve Gould, in his book ‘The Mismeasure of Man‘. I do confess that the latest research on the subject of intelligence, embodied in the movie ‘Idiocracy’, is compelling.
  6. They liked being slaves – This one is just insane. Read a little about the multiple slave rebellions. Contemplate what you’d do if you were placed in a similar situation, where you could be tortured and murdered casually and without consequence. Where your keepers had an entire society supporting them, had whips and guns and dogs, and held your entire family hostage. And where it was against the law for you or your descendants to learn to read. My grandfather traced our lineage back to Harper’s Ferry in Virginia, site of John Brown’s Raid. It’s likely that I, shamefully, have slave-holders as ancestors. Which fucking type of person do you think is more likely to be a fatally self-destroyed soul – someone held in slavery, or the person who holds them?
  7. They’re closer to their brutal, violent animal natures – See #6 above. Also, let’s remember which ethnic group invented and deployed nuclear weapons, Zyklon-B, and the World Wrestling Federation.
  8. They look funny and smell weird – No, you look funny and smell weird. A little perspective here, please.
  9. They want to take over – No direct evidence of that, that I’m aware of, just fear-mongering. However, if I and my ancestors had been treated so shamefully, and still were being treated so, I’d sure as hell want to take over. At the very least, I’d spend a lot of time being pissed off and working toward some monumental changes.
  10. They invented rap music and actually like it — ….. Okay. I’m still working through some issues on this one, I admit. Sorry….

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So, we circle back to that central issue. No matter how liberal, or sane, or however you might want to label your enlightened beliefs about race, what happens when it hits home in the most personal way?

Here are the Top Ten qualities required in a husband for my daughter:

  1. He must adore her without any limit whatsoever.
  2. He must be willing to joyously take a bullet for her and their children. Actually, take as many bullets as needed.
  3. He must be willing to help hide any dead bodies that she creates, knowing that she was fully justified in creating them.
  4. He must understand and be okay with the fact that I will kill him if he ever hurts her — if she doesn’t kill him first. In which case, she still has many friends and family remaining that will help her hide the body.
  5. He must allow Papaw (that’s me) to teach their children how and why to play the Blues and Rock ‘n Roll.
  6. He must be religiously acceptable. I’d prefer Non-Theist, but she’s Asatru, so I can go along with that. Other pagan strains of thought would be okay. Maybe Buddhism, too, though Buddhists are probably too peaceful to be a good fit for her brutal, violent animal nature.
  7. He must never speak a good word about George Bush. He cannot be a registered Republican, and he damn well better not ever, ever, ever admit to voting for a Republican. He can be a Libertarian or Democrat or Green, or, like me, a cynical Noneoftheabove.
  8. He must be willing to pay a vast herd of cattle in return for my permission to marry her. It’s okay if he gets the cattle to me one steak at a time.
  9. He must be at least willing to learn how to ride a motorcycle. He may ride a Harley, but he must not be a snot about it. He must be willing to swallow his pride and ride bitch behind her if circumstances call for it.
  10. He can secretly like rap music, but he cannot play any of it around me, nor may he rap in my presence. If he actually ever records a rap song, the marriage will be annulled and he will have no custody rights to the children.

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I don’t see anything in my list that will by definition disqualify a Black man from marrying my daughter. Color of skin pales, if I may be allowed the pun, in comparison as an important factor.

Except for the slight chance of a potential problem with #10.

Which, like I said, I’m working on.

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Posted in Dammit!, People, Personal History, Politics, Rachael is Awesome, Rory, Science, Sex | 12 Comments »

12 Responses

  1. Jesse Says:

    I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine last week that is relevant to this topic. Because neither one of us is prejudiced toward the other, race is a joke and a regular subject of humor. The scenario is as follows; He and I work together, and often choose to collaborate on team projects because we are generally regarded as the two most efficient on the crew. We were assembling shelves, in order of color, to install for a display in a home depot. He asked me
    “Where does this one go?” Indicating a black cabinet which he had assembled for the display, and after finding it on the blueprint, I simply stated
    “The black one goes in the back.” To which he replied
    “So what are you saying?”
    to that I followed “You heard me, the black one goes in the back of the bus”. Which prompted uproarious laughter, and I of course would not have said such a thing to anyone that would have taken offense to such a lewdly racist comment, nor if he thought that I at all meant more than anything other than to make fun of race discrimination. After we got back to work, Brandon confessed his true feelings of racism to me:
    “Jesse do you know how I know you’re not racist? Because it’s the white people who have to dance around the color of my skin, the ones that think it’s their duty to make me feel comfortable in it, who are the ones that judge me by it. If you really felt that way about me because I’m black you wouldn’t have the balls to joke about it with me.” I agreed that this was likely the case, then he relayed his first childhood experience with racism to me, and I felt obliged to use it as the conclusion of this comment.
    “When I was in middle school, I was one of two black kids there, and they were having a seminar on black history month in the library for the entire seventh grade class, the librarian was going over the politically correct way to ‘address an African-American’, and being that I was the only black kid in the room, she directly turned to me and said
    “You there, what do you like to be called, black, or african-american?”
    I was dumbfounded, all I could say was
    “My name is Brandon, call me by my name”.”

  2. James Hollaman Says:

    A friend of mine is white, her husband is black. They have had 3 kids together. Some one ask once if thier kids was black or white. She just could not believe the person had asked it, because she figured it didn’t matter they was her kids. i told her to next time just tell the person that they was grey…

  3. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Rory, what do you have against okra?

  4. Rory Harper Says:

    Jesse — Good post and anecdotes from you. You’re doing okay so far at meeting the criteria for marrying my daughter. Keep up the good work. Always keep #4 in mind, of course.

    …Oh, hell. Always keep them all in mind.

    James — I’m beginning to suspect that, at the very least, my generation, and the one that’s older, is going to have to completely die off before we have a chance of putting the racial idiocy behind us. That crap is so persistent and insidious, coming out in so many obvious and subtle ways. Your generation and the ones that follow are still going to have to be careful, though, to keep spitting the poison out. We are so deeply programmed to divide each other into Us and Them, and then hate Them for being different, in whatever way different is defined. I know that I still struggle with it.

    Mad — Besides the awful taste, you mean? Okra has hair, Mad! No plant that has hair should be considered edible. Ick.

  5. James Hollaman Says:

    sadly there are parts of the united states that still has problems with the color of people skin. My old store manager was a wonderful black woman. We got along great. She told me about the store that she was at before ours. She was hated because she was black. A few days before she got there a black man was found out as having a relationship with a white woman. He was burned on a cross. They let him stay there for a week before taking him down. (she got to see it on her way to work every day) it was down south some place, she would never say where. She didn’t want to make it seem like a bad place, yes there was a lot of bad people, but there was a few nice ones. She lasted a year there. She had to leave tho. Her boss there took and asked what he could do to make her stay, and she told him get rid of the hatred of the people. He looked at her and said good luck in her new job else where. He even knew that it was impossible to stop it. Till we teach tolerance to the young, i think we will be doomed to repeat our behavior….

  6. Jesse Says:

    But H-man!

    Number 4 is easy, I’ve attempted her life with crude black market radiologicals, experimental lasers, and any of your standard run of the mill battle-axes, war lances and flame-throwers; as well as attempted her emotions with season 3 of Lost and volumes 1,2, and 5 of Richard Simmons “sweatin’ to the oldies” to no avail. It seems that even my most time-tested and proven tactics of torture have no effect on Rachael, I fear you raised her too tough to be hurt, so in turn I do not fear rule number 4.

    As for number 2, dare I say I can take quite a few bullets the first time, but what if she is shot at after I’ve lost my meatshield effectiveness? If I am already in shreds from defending her against a mobster gang firing squad, then I cannot foresee being useful a second or if not then perhaps a third time. Perhaps I’ll have to come up with some sort of super advanced, technologically unreal, autonomously intelligent suit of morphing body armor using the materials I normally would have otherwised utilized in the making of my intercontinental ballistic missiles. I’ll keep you updated on progress.

  7. Ken Houghton Says:

    What do you have against rap music (where all the white reporters talk about how Marshall Mathers’s “diction” makes him exceptional)?

    The best moment (or many) in The Visitor is when Haaz Sleiman explains to Richard Jenkins that Jenkins is uses to four-beat rhythms, but African rhythms are three-beat. So the point about “classical” music may be denotatively true, but completely irrelevant.

  8. Rory Harper Says:

    Hey, guys, sorry to be slow responding to comments here. I’ve had the flu for about a month now, and am behind in EVERYTHING.

    James — Ick. Yeah, It’s gonna be at least a couple more generations, I think. If ever…

    Jesse — You are correct in that she’s tougher’n an old leather boot. Except for being gorgeous and Awesome, of course. But that doesn’t mean you get to relax. The main thing to understand about rule #2 is that I mean it both literally and metaphorically. I trust you to step in front of the real bullets. It’ll likely be after you have kids when you’ll learn about the other kind that Life Its Ownself will shoot at you and your family, the ones that wound and kill without piercing your physical body. And which you must step in front of if you are to take care of your family. I wish you the best when that happens.

    Ken — I kinda kid around about rap music. I also have been known to rant about modern pop, smooth jazz, and soft rock. All of which are music, but have no guts or soul.

    Rap, on the other hand, (and I admit to not having listened to it exhaustively), does often have guts and soul. But I can’t hear it as music. It’s ….. something else…

    Also, I don’t have much affinity for any musical genre that doesn’t have lots of guitars in it. What a surprise.

    I’ve heard some rap that I like a lot, but it tends to be the stuff that’s fused with other genres, like the classic Aerosmith/Run DMC thing here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8A0rhVG91U

    and a fair amount of Tupac. I liked the beatz in ’8 Mile’ but have generally been put off by most of the Eminem I’ve heard.

    I really like ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6voHeEa3ig

    In other words, just a beat doesn’t do it for me. I need some melodic content.

    Frankly, also, what I perceive as central themes in much of rap leave me cold. Lots of rage, superficial bragging and concerns with bling, glorifying violence, frequent hopelessness, and racism and mysogyny. Not saying a lot of it isn’t justified by the lives these men and women see around them, not saying there isn’t any depth. But little of it resonates with me, doesn’t reference the life I’ve experienced, even on metaphorical levels, so I find myself not seeking it out for the exceptions.

    Delta Blues isn’t a big thing for me, either, for what it’s worth. But once you get to the electrified Chicago Muddy Water – Willie Dixon stage, it starts being magic. And the themes of the blues are universal. I think the Blues will be around a long time after most other genres have petered out from repetition and over-commercialization.

    The good thing about rap is that it’s often about creatively and intelligently using language, as a tool and a weapon. I’m down with that.

  9. N.G. Says:

    Rap tends to bother me. One of my best friends listens to it whenever possible, and sometimes I think she doesn’t really realize what she’s singing along to. All I hear is a set of beats and idiots shouting sexist, racist, and violent comments into a microphone. The so-called “artists” who create this noise have no respect or empathy for anyone.

    Okay, now my rant is over, I’ll admit that not all rap is offensive, just about 80% of it is.

  10. John H. Says:

    Rap ‘music’ bites ass. There I said it. You may all rain abuse upon my head. Jesse keep in mind Rachel spent a lot of time in contact with Becca… My one real worry is that they team up… In that case the best case scenario is that we will manage to convice them that we should be kept alive to carry heavy things. Qapla’ John

  11. neen Says:

    I am a 50 yr old military brat. My father was a gay man. I have lived all over and dealt with many different cultures. I am also a high school drop out. The only thing I am bigoted against is ingorance.

  12. persky Says:

    Rory, if you like the Aerosmith/Run DMC you might like Keith Knight’s band the Marginal Prophets:
    http://www.marginalprophets.com/listen.html
    “Phat in the Whole” from the Bohemian Rap CD is a good place to start.
    (Keith’s long running weekly comic strip:
    http://www.kchronicles.com/
    and his new daily strip:
    http://www.knightlifecomic.com/
    are also worth checking out).

    The best rap group I’ve ever seen is Felonious:
    http://www.myspace.com/feloniousonelove
    Like the Marginal Prophets, they use a live backing band plus some very intricate beat-boxing*.
    “Free” and “The Music” from “Up to Something” and “Ethics”, “Plasticmen”, “Que es Suave”, and “Attain” from “The List” are good places to start.

    * The beat-boxing is a bit visual, so it doesn’t come across perfectly on the records — picture someone miming a complex DJ routine along to all of the acapella scratches and samples.

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