Friday, November 06, 2009

Not about teaching

Not about teaching (NaSchoWriMo/NaBloPoMo 6)

Matt Gabriele has an interesting and typically good post up about the shootings at Fort Hood. I don't have a lot to say about it, except this: the first thing I thought was, "some soldier has lost it." I wasn't all that surprised. It's not like it doesn't happen in other jobs, although now that I think about it, it seems to happen less in really high-stress jobs. You hear about police and firefighters killing themselves, but not so often opening up on their co-workers.

Anyway, the second thing I thought was in response to hearing the gunman's (when did we start using 'shooter'? it sounds wrong to my ears) name. What I thought was, "oh, shit." Because the minute his name was announced, the speculative reasons were never going to be about whether being in the military during wartime might have had anything to do with it. They were not going to be about being a Muslim in the military when we are at war with mostly Muslim. They were all going to assume he was a terrorist and that his being a follower of Islam was pretty much the entire explanation.

As I mentioned at Matt's, I overheard a conversation today where one person who had been in the military said that soldiers were just conditioned not to trust brown people. It wasn't a racist thing, just understandable. Soldiers would see all blue-eyed people as a threat if they were constantly attacked by blue-eyed people. I understand the point. I even believe that the person I overheard meant it. But I don't think it's true. I think it's also one of the inherent problems in this country: we say that we are a melting pot, or salad bowl, or interesting stew, but we forget that all of those descriptions are predicated on the idea that, no matter where a person is from, that person can become every bit as much an American as your average person of white European descent. Legally? yeah. But even then, apparently that only makes a person "technically" American. Um ... here's a newsflash: The US is a nation of immigrants. All citizens are "technically American." Even if you leave out the naturalized citizens, it's pretty easy to be born a US citizen and be of a different racial/ethnic/national background to your neighbors. That's supposedly one of the things that makes this country strong.

Maybe it does. But isn't it odd how, knowing that, some of us still can look at a person and assume that he or she is 'not a real American' based on the colour of his or her skin, or the way his or her name sounds? I think that's one of those examples of privilege, in case you weren't sure. That is, yes, we'll believe you are as American as the white guy (or in this case, possibly also the African-American guy), until you do something wrong. And then, you will not be seen as another American, just another terrorist. If you're white and you do something this terrible, it's going to be very unlikely that the first motive people ascribe to you is that you hate the American Way of Life. That's not something the average white guy has to deal with. Ever.


Ahistoricality said...

We are a naturally clannish animal: defining in-group/out-group is one of the first things we do, it seems. What makes the US interesting is the way we've complicated the process....

Digger said...

It is absolutely based on skin color. I'm an immigrant to the US; when people bitch about "those immigrants" I say, "I'm an immigrant." The response is invariably, "I didn't mean you." To me, it's a culturally-permissible cover for racism.

Bavardess said...

Joan Scott recently published an excellent book called The Politics of the Veil, on French republicanism and its fundamental inability (at a philosophical level) to full assimilate certain 'others' into the French concept of 'citizenship'. In her case, she was talking about French people of North African descent who are still considered 'immigrants' in some way even if they are 3rd or 4th generation French. It seems that some of the same philosophical issues may be at the heart of these contradictions in US culture, where people can be technically and legally citizens and even US-born, but are still 'other'.