If the internet is a route to any one emotion, it is a route to begrudging. Resentment, disapproval, seasoned with envy.
A friend posts another friend’s rant about “white people” mocking South Asian accents. Referring to his white public schoolmates in America as “colonizers”–as if conquest and colonialism were white innovations. As if Little Olivia Orientalist at Washington Elementary in Ohio had abandoned her see saw and laid stake to his backyard. As if some children walk about indifferent to what he knows, which is that these little children have less right to be horrible than other little children elsewhere because they are horrible white children.
I respond that he has no right to begrudge them their meanness. Mean children prone to ridiculing those who are different come in every color, are located in every school. The fact of foreignness just means less creativity is required on their part.
It has gotten to be that, the moment we identify our victimhood, we begrudge the world its right to continue on stupidly in spite of our suffering. How dare they eat pizza while people are racist. Pay raises? What about colonialism?
So we begrudge people the right to their own trials, tribulations, interpretations and preoccupations while, ironically, we fail to assimilate theirs.
I’ve seen posts begrudging “white people” complaints. Accurately put these would be urban, wealthy people of all colors everywhere gripes. Apparently these are wrong since people elsewhere are poor and have more serious gripes. Fair enough, whining about a cell phone case = dumb.
In some way, though, what I am trying to put my finger on, is a basic unfairness of expectation. An essential ‘othering’ (excuse my language) in the assumption that the victim would somehow be doing things differently if the shoe were on the other foot. That a world full of self-depriving activists would be possible or even desirable. The former, I’m sure, we can rule out; the latter I’m sort of dubious about. Think of the lack of humor! Just kidding.
But a similar, perhaps false, distinction comes with wishing a special brutality on our colonial moments.
I don’t happen to believe there is any great difference at the cores of the oblivious rich and the suffering poor, nor between the brutal colonial administrator and the brutal local dictator. When redistribution has happened, forcibly, such as during the Russian Civil War and after, no utopia erupted. The leadership moved into luxury hotels. Poor boys joined the Cheka and kidnapped people for bribes. Redistributed land was later reconsolidated and millions were starved. Great Leaps Forward did not cure brutality or corruption. Quite the opposite.
White people have been cruel, some of them, at least, sometimes at home and sometimes abroad, but not more so than brown people, at home, and in the past, also abroad. I don’t think I believe that the greedy violence of the foreigner is different in nature than the greedy violence of the minions of authoritarianism in one’s own country. One thinks of the assertion that Spain during her Civil War, or Italy following its unification, essentially colonized and exploited violently their own people. Is a woman less raped if she is raped by a countryman? Does a child starve differently when starved by nationalist policy?
The curse of the devoted history student is coming to understand that there is neither a racial particularism to cruelty and indifference, nor to the choice to herd the monsters into the basement and shut them up there so that one can savor his or her momentary joys.
The irony, of course, is that by racializing ridicule or colonialism or any of the rest, one reifies the very categories that one ostensibly seeks to tear down. It can even be an excuse for violence within–the desire to prevent the violence from without. At some constructed color group is not where the finger needs to point if it’s to lead us to a better world.
I would wager that if there were a world average of racist attitudes, extracted impossibly from the inner thoughts of every human, no one ethnic group would excel at it. And if we treat colonization as an historical act (rather than a convenient vector for our personal sense of affront) carried out locally, internationally and all throughout history, we know that no one group is particularly guilty of it, except by the politicized convenience of periodization.
I know as an American individual that brown friends and European friends mock the American accent, usually by holding their nose whilst speaking and saying “dude” and “hell yeah America!” and so forth. I know that I’m told that I bombed Hiroshima, in a way that I never hear Japanese friends told that they raped Nanking. Or Arab friends that they continued to enslave Africans long after the ‘West’ had flipped on that institution.
And I know, as a Southerner, that should I let the accent of my childhood slip out, usually in some fit of tipsy nostalgia, quiet judgment on my backwards backwoods cretinism will be passed. And when the speaker doesn’t know where I’m from, that judgment might be loud, as a European colleague basically gagged the other day when I mentioned a student might want to study at university in Texas. Another colleague, who knows my origins, looked suddenly alarmed at this unintended gaffe. I gave her a calming smile and waved away the warning words on the tip of her tongue.
And I smiled at my Texas hating friend, who now looked confused, and offered some helpful statistics on the high rankings of my alma mater in engineering and the natural sciences, etc. etc.
So she had some woefully misinformed ideas about Texas. Everyone has his or her prejudices. I did not begrudge her these, anymore than I begrudged the rest of the world going about its business when bad things were happening to me. I wish people were not racist, but I don’t begrudge them their humanity. It’s a common work in progress.