Friday, June 15, 2007

Heh, I Just Remembered This

In case it's not obvious, I prefer a bit of anonymity around here. But, if you want to know my ethnic make-up, well, Scotch-Irish would play a big part in it. Not the only part but, you know, Ireland is a really nice place, I've visited there, and I probably wouldn't mind going back one day. Stay with some relatives again.

Anyhow, I mentioned how when I was in college where, of course, Asians were slightly overrepresented as an overall percentage of the population in the student body that I, in fact, had some friends of the oriental persuasion. Friends of all different sorts of ethnicities, when you get down to it. Which was a bit of a change since I was coming from a pretty homogeneous and, largely, whitebread suburb. I roomed freshmen year, for example, with an engineering student from Bangladesh – who was a rich asshole – and he rode with a posse of foreign nationals from the east, some of them were pretty cool. And also with a music student from the west coast who just happened to be Thai. We still talk from time to time. When we get together it's something like this:

This is my black friend.

No, I mean, I'm not trying to say that I have a token Asian friend so that makes my casual racism a-okay. Just that I'm a fairly liberal person and UofM was a fairly liberal school with a lot of diversity – we were fighting the whole affirmative action battle while I was there – and I met all sorts of people. People's race, people's backgrounds weren't exactly ignored but they weren't exactly an issue, either. At least not as much, I think, as it would have been for my parents or earlier generations who seem stuck in the polar world of black/white race relations; the one that leaves me with such guilt and anxiety about even bringing the topic up. The picture for me had a lot more shades of brown, so to speak – more aligned based on culture rather than skin tone and those lines are only going to continue to blur as time goes on. Which is, you know, a good thing.

People are always going to be tribal, they're always going to gravitate towards likeminded individuals, sure, but also to people who share their experiences and outlooks. I don't think ethnicity will ever be a complete non-factor, I think people are still going to want to sit, for example, at the cafeteria table with people who look like them. But I also think it was about as big a deal that the black kids liked to sit with other black kids as it was that the poly sci students liked to sit with other poly sci students. There wasn't any judgement, any exclusion, any deliberate attempt to segregate. It's just a matter of people finding comfort with their own group. As long as there's some exchange between those various tribes. As long as, say, you get an art student who likes to eat with the engineers at lunch while discussing literature with the English students into the night at a coffee bar, then you have a flow of ideas and people between those various groups. Same thing with various racial/ethnic camps. It's all right to take pride in that sort of thing, to derive your identity, in part, from all the history behind you. But you just don't want to get carried away with it all – you should be opening up possibilities, not closing down opportunities.

So, yeah, anyway, I hung out with all sorts of people in college. And it being college, there was plenty of late nights and opportunities to vent some stress when cramming or hanging out or whatever. When you get a bunch of young people sitting around and trying to figure out their lives and mix in copious amounts of substances of varying legality, well, the jokes and insults can start to fly. It's, you know, bonding. You get together and you rip into each other mercilessly for anything and everything. About grades, about girls, about clothes, about having just spilled that drink all over yourself in the middle of the restaurant, and, yes, about race. The kind of thing that if someone walked in on it – say, our parents – or overheard without the context of friendship and familiarity could easily misconstrue as hurtful. But, really, I think that the boundaries coming down only shows how far causing each other pain was from our minds.

I had some good cracks myself, I think, but for whatever reason I can't remember them. What I do remember is a particularly hilarious exchange with this friend of mine who was Chinese. Born in Schezuan, I think, he and his family moved over when he was, like, five and settled on the east coast. And we met because we were staying in the same dorm. Cool guy, we traded barbs pretty often. And I mention all this because while I was writing the previous post, the memory bubbled to the front of my mine of this guy – the one gave himself an anglicized name after watching a James Bond movie – curling up his lip in a sneer of contempt and, proclaiming, with his slightly reedy afterimage of a Chinese accent, “The Irish. The only people stupid enough to base their economy on the potato.”

We all fell over laughing our asses off. What can I say? Motherfucker got me good.

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