Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ethnic Diversity


The common wisdom around Portland is we're not very racially diverse.  I'll be the first to cop to Oregon's sad history, in having it in the law books that you couldn't be here and be black.  Says who?  Who were these anonymous authorities no doubt claiming Biblical Authority when push came to shove?

On the other hand, to get right to it:  obsessing about race is what blinds one to ethnic diversity.  You heard me:  thinking in terms of race makes you stupid about ethnicity.  A fool.

We all know this, when we stop to think about it.  A racist can't tell the difference between a Mexican and someone from Guatemala because they're all just Latinos, as if that were a race.  Or as if White were.  As if there were races.  That's a big "as if" says Ashley Montagu, respected anthropologist, but who listens to him?

Portland is extremely diverse, ethnically.  We have people from many lineages from Southeast Asia, Indochina in particular.  My first real job, when I moved back to Portland in the mid 1980s, was in a refugee resettlement agency, a federally funded NGO (oxymoron?) helping Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians... get a toehold in this "New World" (certainly new to them, in many cases).

But if all you can see is "races", you miss out on so much.  Remember Boris Yeltzin?  Funny guy.  He came to North America once and said, to this effect:  "hey, why do we fight so much, we're all just white guys, right?"  I thought that was funny but folks were in no mood for boorish humor.  Yes, I've been to South Africa.  Yes, I write "stream of consciousness" (so do you, but we all conform, based on feedback from the locale).

So look, I'm an alien.  As in ET we could just assume.  I have a US passport (have since the 1960s -- jet setter here) and know how to recite the pledge of allegiance, though rarely in adulthood are we required to do so.  Quakers, BTW, do not swear oaths on the Bible.  We're alienated by such quaint customs and think they belong in the dark ages passed.   We're more like Humanists (ethical) in that way.

Racism blinds one to the true dimensions of human diversity, which lie along other axes than those of arbitrary genetics, a grab-bag of attributes, owing to which we say we're more or less pure (i.e. a "pure black" is closer to the archetype, as would be a "pure white" versus various brands of Mongreloid, the "one true race" for the rest of us -- you believe this BS?).  You'll come to Portland and see a lot of "white people" missing completely they're "white Russian" half the time (check Wikipedia).  Don't quote me on "half".  I'm not omniscient, OK?

Nevertheless and in spite of the above rant, I did find this joke funny, and have repeated it:  "Portland.  You're so white your blackest neighborhood is named Albina."  LOL.