Monday, September 15, 2008

On Little Brown Americans

Three responses to Little Brown Americans stood out for me. All are from expatriate Filipinos.

George G., an associate Biology professor at a Jesuit University wrote:
I can understand how people seek the familiar. The essence of the phrase "birds of a feather flock together" lies deep in our biological roots as social animals: we tend to seek the familiar because it offers us a safe and comfortable environment amenable to survival. And as visual creatures, humans do tend to favor visual features as a primary determinant of familiarity (Humans are not the only creatures in the world to do this). So in situations such as elections, people who do not think carefully about the issues (or who are not educated about them) tend to make decisions based on this familiarity.

The trick to getting past this whole issue of race and gender is to educate onesself, and/or to think about the issues very carefully. We have two primary job applicants that represent not only themselves as individuals, but two large political organizations that have different agendas and approaches to doing the job of running the country. I think it is important for people to think carefully about the job description of "President of the United States", what it entails, etc., and then see who is best suited for the job.

(On an unrelated note, I find it ironic that, due to the requirements of citizenship, most naturalized citizens know more about American government than many natural-born Americans do!)

While campaigning strategies and voting often becomes a practice in "gut feelings", familiarity with moral stances (abortion, gay marriage, etc.), or generation of negative feelings about the opposing candidate (see: all the TV ads now...), this cannot be the way we make a decision that has so much impact on our daily lives as a country. I think we have to look as this process as we would when we hire job candidates. Do we pick people who are nice, friendly, and of the same skin color as us (but who could potentially screw up your business), or do we select someone who can do the job? We have to take the same amount of care and consideration as we would if we were selecting someone to manage a multimillion dollar property (because in many ways, we are!).

That's my two cents...
Inge D., a doctoral candidate, shared the following thoughts:
Your post was provocative. A couple of thoughts came to mind:

1. We have never been formed as a people to think along the lines of party politics. I wonder how many Filipino immigrants have been able to attune to the distinctions. Our own brand of Filipino politics has been about personalities, about the attractiveness (and I do not just mean, but include, physical characteristics) of the politician running for office. Ours has also been about voting for status quo and whoever opposes status quo (even in word, not necessarily in structural action or change). I do not know if we as a people have had the opportunity to learn about democratic and republican philosophies, economics and values and how these will affect political decisions.

2. Because of our learning around such distinctions being in the possibly nascent stage, I wonder if we might make choices based on single issues or on what most affects us, or even on stereotypical labels, e.g. "pro-choice" means pro-abortion so I must vote Republican. I read a very emotional egroups post by someone campaigning for McCain because he is pro-life. Only later was that post responded to with a more nuanced argument that being pro-life extends also to other issues, such as opposition to the war, support for the needy via provision of greater social services (e.g. medicaid, public school education, health care for greater number of people), all of which are democratic issues and also signify that they are pro-life.

3. It takes much courage to say what you did -- but yes, I wonder about why folks shifted from Hillary Clinton to McCain. And I don't think this is something limited to Filipinos, although our culture might have its own dynamic around it. Like it or not, this is more a visceral and affect-bound factor than it is a purely intellectual choice and we need to acknowledge unconscious (yeah, okay, I had to put that in) motivations around preferring white over black, or even around gut-level feeling safer with white than with black.

Just some thoughts. And to validate and affirm your courage, I will dare sign my name!
And an individual who wishes to remain anonymous wrote:
... this might be a bit much for some folks, but ... there is also a piece around unverbalized associations to white and black, to purity and impurity, to cleanliness (translated: honesty) and to the unclean (sin), to light and dark, to resurrection (white) and to death and underworld. This is not an intellectual distinction but an unconscious one, one formed by symbolism and metaphor. I remember a theology lecture on creation, sin, eschatology, and the professor was, if I recall correctly, speaking from the perspective of hermeneutics and Paul Ricouer. But how also to explain the spontaneous anxiety and irrational fear we have when there is a black man on the street with us at night and we are alone, versus a, for example, white man walking his dog? Who feels less dangerous, less threatening?
The individual made it very clear that this is not a pejorative comment against people of color. He does not want anyone to misread this and think that he "just labeled black folks all the negative stuff attributed to the color and the metaphor."

No comments: