Friday, February 04, 2005

The Two Faces of Racism

My wife and I deal with racism from both of our respective neighborhoods. Interracial marriages have been historically discouraged from both sides of the age-old ethnocentric skin game. When we lived in the Mat-Su Valley, it was my wife’s turn to endure nasty comments from some extraordinarily violent hillbillies. She learned flattering terms of endearment, such as, “Clooch, Salmon Cruncher, Squaw, and Ice Nigger.” Sometimes it’s simply hearing a redneck saying the word “native”, in a disgusting tone, like it was a dirty word. It may seem like these brain damaged folks are just having fun with her aboriginal ancestry and skin hew, but the underlying sentiment is clear, racial chastisement is a damn good method for reinforcing moronic separations of the races.

Don’t think for a second that ignorance and racism lie strictly with these white folks. My wife frequently apologizes to me for racial slurs and xenophobic quips slung from her Eskimo friends and family. Just like the aforementioned brain damaged folks in the Mat-Su Valley, Eskimos are equally capable of repeating archaic declarations of ignorance. Won’t we ever tire of hearing natives parrot the well-worn label of “half-breed”? As far as I can tell, the last of the pure blooded natives are enjoying muktuk in the Senior Center.
On our last trip to Anchorage, we were checking into our hotel room and after all the paperwork was completed, the cheerful clerk gave me only one key. I asked for two, one for myself, and another for my wife, the good-looking native gal next to me. At that precise moment there was a dramatic shift from cheerfulness to disapproval. “She’s with you?” she asked. I answered rather curtly that she was indeed with me and asked her if there was a problem. Her reply was, “There better not be any drinking.” It may be just company policy to screen customers who are intoxicated, but to screen customers on the basis of skin color and Siberian eye structure is a reoccurring stain on the trousers of the great state of Alaska. Come on, a few highly visible drunken natives in the streets of Anchorage and Fairbanks doesn’t mean my Eskimo wife will get hammered and destroy the hotel room.

Ok, maybe we should be a little more understanding and examine the job this hotel clerk performs for all of us rural Alaskans. I’ll bet it’s really stressful when a village customer of any color, shows up for check-in, thoroughly plowed. This I understand. I dread meeting my rural neighbors in Anchorage or Fairbanks because my wife and I frequently get stuck chauffeuring carloads of loud and obnoxious village neighbors with money to burn, and bellies full of beer. I enjoy drunks, when I’m drunk. When sober, it’s as stressful as being the driver for a really short bus.

Heck, just last summer, our North Slope Borough Mayor was arrested in Fairbanks, for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, drunk, at four am. I’ll admit it, I’ve the done the same thing, and on numerous occasions. Only difference is, in my case, racism serves as my benefit. My blond hair seems to camouflage my reckless behavior. We can stop the legitimization of these asinine racist assumptions by curbing our own goddamn behaviors. My own self-indulgent urge to shove my Nordic snout into a bucket of Alaskan Amber as soon as I get in town only further contributes to our greatly exaggerated, yet lousy reputation as hard drinking rural Alaskans.

As stated before, my pretty wife is an Eskimo. Her tragic, yet typical childhood taught her the hard way that her culture has yet to genetically adapt to liquor. Therefore, in the spirit of enlightened self-interest, she abstains from drinking alcoholic beverages. Ya see, it’s simple, her liver is distinctly different from mine; her liver lacks key enzymes that quickly break down Finnish white wine (vodka) into its headache rendering components. The late Dr. Jan Shackles once told me “regardless of prohibition, a Mongolian can’t change its spot.” She further lectured that my liver is a “genetic archetype” passed down from my ancestors in Scandinavia. The drunken Finn jokes sound similar to drunken Irish jokes. Take my word for it, high tolerance ain’t no blessing. I ‘spect it don’t matter if yer skin, or hair is colored red, or blond, other cultures judge us most by a few lousy examples they see sleeping on their sidewalks and begging for change in the streets.

A hunnert years ago, I sat with a journalist from Remote Alaska in the bar at the Captain Cook and watched a drunken elected official lecture the whole bar why white people are responsible for all the problems in rural Alaska. I never voted for the dame, but I was sure embarrassed. Ya see, I’m personally responsible for all my rural neighbors, and she was one of them. What was painfully obvious was that the rest of the crowd was laughing at her, not with her.

I see no remedy for the hatred of other cultures, or your own. Ain’t no law against simply disliking other folks, or yourself. Gated communities discriminate on the basis of wealth, universities discriminate on the basis of intelligence and academic proficiency, yet this is completely legal.
I’m guilty of memorizing and repeating multitudes of stupid limericks that cast other types of folks in less than flattering ways. I cracked up my Eskimo hunting comrades by converting cruel native jokes into white trash humor. Making fun of non-Scandinavian white folks is just as criminal as my wife reciting her favorite Athabascan dumpster-diver jokes. Aunt Rachel lectured that when I point a filthy finger at an odd colored person and recite nasty slogans about their ancestry, I’d see three fingers pointing back at me. Common sense ain’t common.

Stealing a quote from Dr. King, a man should be “judged by the content of character and not the color of his skin.” Until we all get this through our thick heads, it looks like we’re condemned to a goddamned Arctic existence that Hobbs described as “nasty, brutish, and short”. No culture is better than any other; they all seem to work just as good as the next. As Voltaire eloquently penned over 300 years ago, “no culture has a monopoly on beauty and no religion has a monopoly on truth.” In recent long distance philosophical phone debates with David Craig, I’ve asserted that the soul has no skin color or man made cultural attributes. He responded by simply saying “that’s fascinating.” Sure, and I could’ve been born bright.
In remote Alaska, its funner’n heck to abuse Asians. I didn’t use the term ‘Orientals’; in this era of Political Retentiveness I’ve been advised, only rugs can be oriental. I’ve also been advised from numerous Asian cab drivers, restaurateurs, and retail clerks what it’s like to be a minority in rural Alaska; it’s disgusting. I won’t lie to you, I’ve enjoyed the slogans and jokes designed to insult and injure Asians. In my grandfather’s time, a lynching drew a profitable crowd for street peddlers and food vendors. I’ll admit it; you’ve likely spotted the author cheering in the audience.

When our daughter started schooling in Seattle, her math skills tested two years behind her classmates. Her teacher told me, “She should be doing far better than she is, all my other Asian students test at the top of their class.” I almost unleashed a few manifold racist ramifications, but as a kid, I was frequently slapped for having a smart mouth. I now know when to keep it shut. Ya see, my generation views teachers from an entirely different perspective. Rule 1: they hit. Rule 2: they hit really hard. Life is too short; I didn’t even have the guts to inform her that my daughter was an Eskimo.

I’m of the opinion; we can counter stereotypical notions about our blessed remote communities north of 70 degrees latitude, in both Alaska and Scandinavia, by simply behaving responsibly. (What’d I say? Common sense ain’t common) About a hunnert years ago, whilst driving through Pike Place Market in Seattle, our daughter pointed at some roadside indigents and sidewalk inebriates and said, “look mom, natives.” Call me a dumb ass, but I nearly busted a gut laughing. My wife’s glare and subsequent stern lecture informing Sara Magnum that she was also a “native” and that she should be broader minded, was more appropriate for the writer.

I promised my wife a hunnert times I wouldn’t laugh when our daughter repeats my stupid off color jokes, and that I would really mean it when I scold her. Ya see, my wife is right you know. We ain’t doing Alaska any good if we let our daughter grow up parroting bigoted humor, like her thickheaded father.
Like my pretty wife says, it’s our own lousy behavior that reinforces the nastiest beliefs about our respective cultures.

Karl Ewing and Bessie Tikik
North of 70 Lat. Barrow, Alaska





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