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On the Racism of the Future
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It’s often said of an “ethnic” restaurant that you know it’s good when you’re the only one in there who isn’t of the given ethnicity (and by “good”, this obviously means something more like “authentic” here). The implication is that it must be pretty authentic if it appeals so much to the sensibilities of people for whom it is their native cuisine, that the restaurant is popular with such people.

This oft-heard remark turns on an observation about race in general, but not any specific race, so I don’t think it’s racist by today’s conception of that word. However, something occurred to me. With the increasing mixture of world populations, and the birth of generations who are no longer native to one particular ethnic population, this remark with both lose its relevance and quite probably become racist.

Why would it be racist, though? Well, it would be assuming that anyone of a particular physical appearance was of a particular ethnic population. For instance, I am three parts United Kingdom heritage, but someone trying out pub food just after arriving in Canada from some (mostly) ethnically-uniform country would be wrong to use my presence in the pub to support the conclusion that the food must be pretty authentic to Irish, Scottish, or English cuisine. The ongoing mixing of Caucasian/white/whatever populations has long ago crossed the threshold where the distinguishing characteristics have nothing to do with the ethnicity of such a person.

So, in a future where people still look like a particular ethnicity on the outside (or appear to be due to other things like name or first language) but where most people are actually of a more diverse heritage, concluding that a, say, Thai restaurant must be pretty authentic because most of the people in there look Thai would be racist, since the generalisation that people who look Thai must be fundamentally Thai will be racist itself.

I wonder if this process of appropriate generalisations becoming inappropriate generalisations accounts for the perception that the older a generation is, the more of its members tend to hold racist views? Is it just a matter of the world moving out from under their feet? In a sense then, we must feel sorry for their loss of touch with the moving target that is reality at the same time as rejecting the legitimacy of their views. Will I one day become a racist without noticing it? Will my children be sufficiently embarrassed by me that they won’t be able to correct me, and I’ll age with the illusion of still being of a liberal and progressive mind?

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Will I one day become a racist without noticing it? Will my children be sufficiently embarrassed by me that they won’t be able to correct me, and I’ll age with the illusion of still being of a liberal and progressive mind?

Gah. That's a terrifying thought, isn't it?

I *like* to think that I'm aware of my race and gender biases (I am of course not free of them, and I believe that anyone who claims to be needs a reality check), but of course there may come a day when society moves forward and I am stuck with old ideas... or, heck, maybe it's already happened -- I could be deluding myself now. Maybe my ideas were fine and dandy for a specific time and place in my past, but are not an accurate reflection of my current reality.

For now, I think it is *generally* valid to draw information about the authenticity of certain ethnicities of food service establishments by the apparent ethnic demographics of the patrons, but that is largely because many members of the visible minorities one bases these conclusions on are in only their first or second generations in this country.

By golly that was a hideous sentence.

Anyway.

The above excessively worded concept is of course completely invalid if my assumptions regarding recency of migration *and* ethnic homogeneity are false. I realised just now that I also make assumptions -- completely contrary to the evidence of my own social cohort -- that many of these ethnic groups are homogeneous, largely avoiding intermarriage and culture changes due to foreign influence.

Gah! I'm racist! Despite my best intentions!

You, my dear, should consider a career in critical theory ;-)

Mmmkay. Back to work.

There's a lot of seeming validity to the assumptions of homogeneity, but how much of that seeming is just self-reinforced perception? Yeah, it's kind of scary to think that, even being pretty bias-aware, one could be unaware of a more systematic bias.

I've always rejected the old saw that "you can't teach an old dog new tricks", because I always thought it was lazy thinking on the part of the metaphorical dog. Nibleness of mind and maintaining a probing self-awareness are, I hope, enough to keep my perceptions of the world moving fast enough to, if not exactly keep abreast of the changing world, at least keep pace with it, maybe lagging behind an acceptable amount.

It’s often said of an “ethnic” restaurant that you know it’s good when you’re the only one in there who isn’t of the given ethnicity (and by “good”, this obviously means something more like “authentic” here). The implication is that it must be pretty authentic if it appeals so much to the sensibilities of people for whom it is their native cuisine, that the restaurant is popular with such people.

I always judge such things by the languages spoken by the people in the restaurant, the accents of the waiters, and the clothes of the patrons, in decreasing order of importance. Actual race doesn't come into it.

Yeah, there's some validity to that distinction, and there's a conversation below about decoupling the superficial characteristic of "race" from the significant characteristics that just happen to currently get associated with race.

Still, though, in the future I'm postulating in the post, even those things will become less and less reliable indicators of the food that one's fellow diners eat at home. So, even though at present they're reliable indicators of ethnic background, and by extension, what sort of food they eat at home, eventually it could come to pass that the colour of one's skin, the language one speaks, and accent one has speaking that language, and the fashions one wears, might have nothing to do with what sort of food one grew up eating. They all just happen to be positively correlated today.

I wonder if this process of appropriate generalisations becoming inappropriate generalisations accounts for the perception that the older a generation is, the more of its members tend to hold racist views? Is it just a matter of the world moving out from under their feet? In a sense then, we must feel sorry for their loss of touch with the moving target that is reality at the same time as rejecting the legitimacy of their views. Will I one day become a racist without noticing it? Will my children be sufficiently embarrassed by me that they won’t be able to correct me, and I’ll age with the illusion of still being of a liberal and progressive mind?

I'd have to say that, yes, in 40-50 years, we will probably be embarassing younger relatives by saying things like "Oh, look, Chinese food, I love Chinese food!"..."Uh, no, grandperson, this is Canto-Fijian West Coast fusion." or "Grandperson, you're SO antique! They're all eating soylent green in China, they call this 'San Fransisco food' now." (Not to say that the Chinese nation, or Asians in general are cannibals ...;) )

I say this, because I regularly encounter people like D, my coworker, who likes it when the asian Xerox guy comes, cuz 'they're so dedicated and hard working, but horrible drivers.' I would bet that she doesn't think she's racist: However, I perceive her to be, because I was taught that racism isn't just negative opinions or shunning, it's generalization and stereotypes. Our kids will probably view 'racism' as something like 'the act of catagorizing people by perceived heritage, ethinicity or nationality.' (or at least I hope. there's a chance our kids will think that eugenics are nifty, and I might have to eat my young.)

This doesn't mean I think we shouldn't examine our biases, seek alternative view points, and do examinations like the above. We just need to accept that hey, we have been raised with racial and therefore racist concepts, it's part of our intellectual background and so the work of de-racializing the world will be harder for us.

Look up some of Stuart Hall's stuff on race as a floating signifier, it's awesome.

I would bet that she doesn't think she's racist:

You know that really hits the nail on the head for so many people. Not even for racial issues but many issues were any form of prejudice comes in.

I don't actually have anything to add that I can think of; I just wanted to say, yeah, that's right on target for the sort of things that I'm thinking about here.

Exercises like this are important for maintaining conceptual flexibility, I think. Also, travel, and just general awareness about the rest of the world and the diverse viewpoints it holds. Mine are good, and I like them, but I'm sure there's lots that other viewpoints can still teach me, and that I can use to better inform my own. Keeping that willingness to absorb and integrate novel perspectives is the most important thing I can think of to mitigate that embarrassing-the-grandkids future.

are they serving Soylent Green in China again? ... and here I thought they were being nice to the budhists again.

... soylent green ... they say the taste varies from person to person.

I've been told that about Indian resturants (to be specific) twice within the last year. I know nothing about how authentic the Indian food at these places are, haveing never been to India to check. People who say things like "SOOOO authentic" or whatevere are pretty full of crap anyway. I mean most "ethnic" food is really nothing of the kind. It's a mixture of expectations on the part of the dinner and the recipes of the cook. There are social as well as economic factors to take into acount in any "ethnic" cuisine (side note, I fucking hate the word "ethnic" becuase it seems like it's a new word for whatever derogatory term we were using in the 50's)

Chinese food for example is greatly different depending on the region the particular person comes from and what social status they held while there. The sort of food we (most americans anyway) think of as Authentic Chinese simply does not exists. Different dishes vary greatly from on province to another and that's even assumeing that the person in question could afford the ingrediants. I was once told that a particular dish (I beleive it was a beef and some specific pea pod mixture of some kind) would never really exists because if you could afford beef you woudn't bother using those cheap ass pea pods. Chop Suey was basicly invented in San Fransisco, if the tale I was told is correct as was Pepper Steak and Almond Boneless chicken. Besides, American Chinese is far more flavorful, fatty and meat based than French Chinese which has a tendancy to be more sweet and sour based than Canadian Chinese is. One area to another the flavors change.

It's all just themes of a style since in many cases the ingrediants avaliable here may not even be the same they would be using over in where ever because of shipping difficulties and just variances in food production standards. A Green Pepper even if it is the exact same variety of plant will have a different flavor depending on where its grown because of the elements in the soil. Vidalia (sp) onions are a perfect example of this phenomana. I could go on longer but this is getting pretty lengthy as is.

I just look for a place where the floor is clean and the food tastes like something I want to eat. That's all the really matters anyway is if the food is any good to you. It really doesn't even matter if someone just walked off a plain from Mainland China and told me that the soup he was having was "just like Home" because if I don't like that kind of soup, I'm not gonna eat it. You've got to just run trial and error like anything else.

Oh yeah, I'm on board with that. Who gives a flying fuck about being authentic or not, good or bad is what matters. Ask yourself: where did the "authentic" practitioners get their qualities from in the first place?

And, news flash, just like European Canadians, ethnic Canadians sometimes go to a restaurant because it's trendy in their circle, not because it's good.

Yeah, all my cerebral diarrhea aside, I'm much more interested in eating food that's enjoyable than worrying about whether the food is "correct". I do like to try new things, though, so I do have an interest in "authentic" cuisine because the way it tastes is aimed at a different set of taste-sensibilities than those I was conditioned with by the food I grew up eating. But, I like "authentic" Indian as much as I do fusion West-Coast Indian food—they're just different, and I'm not a purity snob (well, anymore—I did go through that phase).

And, oh yeah, I hear you about the use of "ethnic", which is why I put it in scare-quotes the first time I used it. Alas, there certainly is a concept to which it refers, so to be able to talk about it, I'm stuck using the currently-approved euphemism for "dem for'ners". Until we stop collectively having the concept of "us" and "them" delineated by hereditary culture, we'll keep on inventing new politically-correct terms to replace the old ones that have been around long enough to get steeped in the prejudice to which they refer.

I'm against deploying the word 'racist' here. You think people with Chinese heritage might know something about Chinese food, well damn, you might as well join the KKK now.

The opposite of prejudice is not total blindness to reality. You're talking about inferences which are usually correct, based on real personal evidence, and which aren't even important in terms of social status. And you're flexible enough to abandon these tentative assumptions when you meet individuals who depart from the norm.

The whole thing is self-contradictory anyway. Why do you assume that visible minorities mind you making assumptions about them? You're just arguing for a default assumption that drawing ANY information from someone based on appearance is wrong and offensive. A lot of people are proud of their heritage too.

Example of where the line is crossed. Here's an interaction I observed:


(Salsa music is playing)

Canadian: Hey, $Mexican, why aren't you salsaing? [FINE]

Mexican: I'm never learned how. I'm no good at that. [FINE. He acknowledges it's normal for people from Mexico to learn to salsa]

Canadian: Of course you are! It's in your blood. [NOT FINE: he elevates $mexican's heritage as determinant, over his own individuality, even in the face of contradictory evidence]



Can we just slot race into a normal category, like everything else? We need to make assumptions to survive. If someone asks me what it's like to grow up in Vancouver, I'll correct them and say sorry, I moved here. Same thing with most stuff about race.

Anyway, I totally agree with the substance of your post, that physical appearance is less and less a reliable indicator of culture.

Can we just slot race into a normal category

Holy crap, it took me a long time to parse that. I kept wondering what toy cars had to do with it...

I totally agree with pragmatism in assumptions, since we, as beings who survive by our ability to discriminate sense-perception, need to categorise things and make decisions based on minimal data.

I do think that a lot of assumptions derived from someone's appearance are appropriate, given a lack of data otherwise. As you say, the solution to prejudice isn't willfull ignorance, but self-awareness and continuing evaluation of one's assumptions. If someone on the bus is ragged and dirty and has bloodshot eyes, I could probably make some guess as to their economic status or their substance-use habits, but those aren't really necessary—all I need to get from that data is that I probably want to avoid getting mixed up with them, as they obviously don't have it together and might just cause me trouble were I to get involved with them. Assuming they're a druggie would be invalid, but assuming they're somehow dysfunctional would be valid.

I think increasing the social perception of race as just another superficial distinction is a good thing, but it's got a long way to go. It's too easy for people to conflate that superficial characteristic with other things when they can often correlate highly, such as language barriers, different social backgrounds, religion, and so forth. Race is just the catch-all that people hang these differences on, though by itself, all things being equal, it would be a meaningless distinction. I have hope though: at the turn of the century, being Scottish-Canadian meant you were obviously Protestant, and being Irish-Canadian meant you were obviously Catholic, and yet these popular conflations are gone today, and being Irish- or Scottish- or German- or English-Canadian or whatever is just a meaningless factoid about any given "white" Canadian. Soon enough, the same could be said for being Chinese-Canadian versus Scottish-Canadian. Hell, I'm more Taoist than I am Christian and I'm European-Canadian, and yet there are Chinese-Canadians who are more Christian than they are Taoist, so it's already begun.

If someone on the bus is ragged and dirty and has bloodshot eyes, I could probably make some guess as to their economic status or their substance-use habits, but those aren't really necessary—all I need to get from that data is that I probably want to avoid getting mixed up with them, as they obviously don't have it together and might just cause me trouble were I to get involved with them.

So *that's* why we haven't been getting together. I promise I'll change out of my work clothes next time, and I should catch up on sleep this weekend...

Race is just the catch-all that people hang these differences on, though by itself, all things being equal, it would be a meaningless distinction.

Yeah. Actually, it's more like race is created to serve this purpose. People find physical characteristics that roughly align with some other distinctions, and voila: a race.

it's already begun

I think those exceptions were always there. Christianity never gained complete dominance in Western culture. Same thing everywhere else: few cultures are perfectly homogenous.

Nowadays, dissenters can be so open, they can recognize each other even across cultural barriers.

I wonder if this process of appropriate generalisations becoming inappropriate generalisations accounts for the perception that the older a generation is, the more of its members tend to hold racist views? Is it just a matter of the world moving out from under their feet?

Goddammit!! You punk upstart bastard. Here I was, at work, enjoying the mindlessness of my day, when you had to go and make me think. Beyond that, think about something that actually caught me off guard.

That process of the world slipping me by as I pass through time is something that I am aware of (as a 30 year old working in a high school, I am introduced to it daily), and it does bother me a bit, but I had not thought about it from that angle.

So, I guess ... thank you for being a punk upstart bastard. *thpfft*

Glad I could be of service to my crotchety elders! ;-)

I figure that, so long as I keep tracking the world as it passes me by, I won't get caught by surprise and suddenly feel "old". If all goes according to plan, I should be eighty and still feeling the "right" age.

People from other countries always assume, I'm from there too. "Oh, are you Turkish / Italian / Spanish / etc, too?" In one of our shops that has a high frequency of Turkish customers I am regularly spoken to in Turkish. When I'm abroad in mediterranean countries, people always think I'm native.

Usually the sentence "Well, you don't look German" pops up. I always ask back: "So what is "German" for a look?" Nobody can answer. I'm honest, I couldn't neither. People are right, in a way, because I'm not born here, but that's it. I came here as a baby, I'm as German as everyone but hardly anybody who sees me thinks that.

I think this kind of "racism" will ultimately die out because in a few decades it will be very hard to tell where somebody is born. My children for example will be German, born and raised here, but will have Southamerican blood. It is really interesting to think about which racism could evolve, because prejudices will never die out.

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