Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Being Paranoid vs. Being a Target

I'm returning, once again, to the topic of racial paranoia, because over the Labor Day weekend I was in West Virginia visiting some friends. And over the course of three days I became aware that I must have had an invisible sign on my forehead that said "Please stare at me long and hard." While I think some of the staring was out of curiosity, there were distinct moments when the staring felt hostile. And it's hard for me to unpack whether it's because I was with my white boyfriend (which means we constituted an inter-racial couple, the only one I saw in the 3 days of our trip) or because I was visibly Asian and hence different and hence not from there (aside from looking at my face in the mirror, there were no Asian people I saw over the course of 3 days--not at rest stops or restaurants or gas stations or supermarkets or the Hampton Inn we were staying at).

I, obviously, felt paranoid. Even my white Southern boyfriend, born and raised in a Southern Capital, felt uncomfortable with the evangelical and conservative overlay we felt, at times, hitting us on our travels (which only increased my paranoid feelings, because if my white Southern boyfriend is feeling like West Virginia is uncomfortable TO HIM, you can only imagine what I was experiencing).

However, I want to be clear about one thing: nothing bad happened to us. Nothing was said. Nobody bothered us. While I may have detected a certain curtness with our Shoney's waitress (that's right, we ate at Shoneys: and for anyone traveling out there--DON'T DO IT! ONE OF THE WORST MEALS OF MY LIFE. But we were hungry and tired and looking for something quick near our hotel that wasn't fast food). And while the woman at the Dairy Queen could not take her eyes off me--kept staring at me with an expression on her face that indicated that she had stepped into something foul and unpleasant, nothing was said, nothing was done.

Which means, that all in all, it wasn't all that bad. Uncomfortable? Sure, but it is vastly different from experiencing the effects of real institutional racism.

Which is the topic of this post: The Jena 6. Again, for a more succinct (and visual) summary than I can provide here, please go to the link on the Racialicious website:

Link to Jena 6 case:

The African American teens in Jena, LA experienced people putting nooses on a tree, a man who aimed a rifle at them, being beat up at parties, and overall harassment and abuse. That's real racism. I mention this not to say that my paranoia isn't warranted--it comes from a place where I fear what is happening to these African American students could happen to me in places where I'm obviously a curiosity, at best, or an item of hostility and possible abuse, at worst. But the truth is, as much as I think it's folly to rank racism, the history of race relations in the South, of racism against African Americans in places like Jena, LA is a long and deep and troubled one. And it is different, my experiences as an Asian American woman, are different than the experiences of young African American men.

1 comment:

Grady said...

The Jena 6 case.....what a horrible case of racism. 20+ years for a brawl. The guy that was beat up went out the very same evening. He wasn't that badly hurt. 20 years for a fight? you gotta be kidding me. People should know about this...