Thursday, August 24, 2006

Why are the temps all so racist? Part 2

Before I begin with tales of MyRC 2, it has been brought to my attention by Lauren that I did not give a proper background to my post yesterday. See, the specific thing that MyRC 1 said yesterday, in many contexts, wouldn't necessarily be racist. However, if such a thing was said to antagonize another co-worker, knowing full well that the intended result would be achieved, it dances a little closer to racism.

For several days, the topic of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict had been vollied back and forth in the room. My Jewish co-worker has displayed an unbending and some might say militant support for everything that Israel has done, to the point of not being able to listen to any amount of criticism. Without getting into her specific viewpoints, suffice it to say that she's acutely sensitive to comments regarding those of Jewish background, whether politically or religiously. In that context, and in combination with the dismissive tone used in delivering the comment, MyRC's description of the shop-owners as "gruff Israelites" really did smack of being a racist comment. I could be wrong. Feel free to correct me.

So MyRC #1. Also known from my Myspace Blog as RIF. RIF is short for Racist Ignorant Fuck. As in "Why Zach. What did you call this guy over and over again, in a virulant ranting manner, while in a conference room in a large, respectable law firm, stopping only because the phone rang and it was likely to be your supervisor?" "Well, to be completely honest, I don't remember all the things I said, such was my fury. But i definitely did call him Racist Ignorant Fuck."

RIF was a late 20's early 30's ex-patent lawyer who graduated from Fordham Law here in NYC. He "practiced" as a patent attorney for a few years here in teh city before he was let go (they told him because there wasn't enough work, but I suspect otherwise). So he decided to travel the world. When I met him, he was stateside earning some money so he could move to Russia this fall. Actually, he was too thrifty/cheap to live in the city or sublet a place, and couldn't be bothered to commute from his parents house in New Haven CT during the week. Thus, he lived in various backpacker hostels from monday through thursday, sharing rooms and scoping out the hot 18 year olds.

Now, you'd think that someone who is dedicated to exploring the world and experiencing other cultures is a relatively curious and open-minded person. you'd be totally wrong in MyRC/RIF's case. Here are some of the highlights of his various viewpoints:
  • There was the theory there should be no welfare. All people should be forced to work for their money. They should be paid by the government at a rate below the minimum wage. They should also have a curfew, and if you weren't outside this class of people, you had to be indoors by 10. Now, when he talks about this, he's talking about people "out in the ghetto" who are mooching off society, living it up with their cable tv and easy lives. In short, the poor mostly minority groups who live there, largely of African or Caribbean roots. Granted, i haven't spent much time in the real ghettos in the NYC area, but one trip on the train through areas like East New York and Flatbush and you'll see that people aren't living it up...
  • Americans are inherently more valuable as human beings than, say, Iraqis. Not combatants or those attacking us, mind you. Just in general.
  • His solution to the insurgency in Iraq - go to an area, get any 50 people whether they're involved at all or not, and kill them. Scare all those people.
  • If their fellow man is in dire trouble and in need of help, all Indians (sub-continental asian, not native american) will crawl right over the top of their fellow man in pursuit of a few dollars, as they are all greedy filthy creatures.
  • He was really excited about hanging out with these 3 british guys in the youth hostel. "They hated Arabs too, so that was cool".
  • He can't figure out why white supremacists are always painted in such a negative light in the media/movies/tv

There are some other things worth mentioning about this guy, such as his desire to lower the age of consent to like 14 or 16 at the oldest, his delightful views on marriage and other relationshippy things, his unbelievable misogyny, and just his general utter stupidity. But really, the point here, and I don't know how well I've been able to communicate this a few months after the fact, is the overt racism.

The common thing about both MyRCs is that they say things that are by definition racist and have no conception that what they are saying is racist. They would or did deny that they were racist and don't see anything objectionable in what they are saying. But if you stop and think about the statements for half a second, you'd see that they are reducing an entire race of people to a specific belittling comment.

My issue with all of this is how does one deal with it. Do you call them on it and try to show them the error of your ways? Do you ignore it or turn up your ipod and pretend you didn't hear it? Do you agree to disagree?

Well, i suppose i should get back to "working". Feel free to show me the light in how to deal with MyRCs in general.


1 comment:

Benjamin Gorman said...

I say confront him. I know from experience that this will probably not change his view. I have the luxury of controlling the may work space. I don't tolerate any hate-speech of any kind in my class. I make kids write me essays if they use terms like "gay" and "retarded" pejoritavely. (Once I slipped and called an actor's delivery of a line in a movie "retarded" and so I wrote the same essay I would demand of my students and read it to the class the next day. They were amazed that I would do it, but I thought it was important to be consistent.) I can't control my brothers-in-law, though, and I've had it out with two of them. One is definatley not racist (he's a quarter Mexican and married my Korean sister-in-law, so that's no big shock) but my other two brothers-in-law have shocked me with things they've said. One tried to argue that he wasn't racist but only used the "N" word for certain African Americans he didn't respect, and I did my best to point out that this wasn't individual criticism but selective racism because he was choosing such an ugly and implicitly racial term. I didn't change his mind. The other is an unabashed racist, and even when I showed him that he is the product of immigrants and matches his sweeping criticisms of other ethnic groups in almost every way, he still wouldn't change his mind about white supremacy. Still, I think it was worth it for two reasons. One, I let both know that I didn't find it acceptable. Two, I was loud enough to let everyone else in earshot know I wouldn't accept it either. Consequently they keep their racism to a low boil around me, and my only slightly less racists sister and sister-in-law keep theirs quiet, too. By all means choose your battles. If the guy's just trying to get a rise out of you, wait to confront him until he slips in front of your boss. I think you've already made it clear to him and your other coworkers that you don't agree or want to hear it, and thats important, but if you can make an employer see that this jackass' racism is making a hostile work environment for you, maybe you can also create a real world consequence for this guy. We might not be able to change people's views, but we can make them hide their more shameful ones, and that's progress.