Living With Racial Bias or What
by Rev. Will. Harrison Jr.
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When I say living with racial bias I am referring to a handful of different things. The first was growing up in a home and community life where bias towards another person based on their ethnicity, culture, ancestry, heritage, background was common and strong, from most everyone I knew. Yet I also came to understand that even though nearly everyone around me was like this, even in School, it was because of the "bad element" within those groups that caused such an unpleasant reaction and response. Sad to say that because of this the likelihood of everyone in a particular group being "lumped together" with all the others was very high. There was also the racial bias I experienced firsthand from Mexicans who thought I was one of them to Americans who thought I was Mexican to South Korean Nationals who had a problem with me because I was American and represented a portion of our society that they hated. That's just a very brief rundown. You'll have to read "The Rest of the Story"
Today in our Society and Culture in America and elsewhere this is something you find all over the world, yet more and more people are being willing to differentiate between the 'bad apples" in their bunch instead of looking at everyone in those groups as bad. Even I have come to the same realizations in so many cases. While in my youth and living at home, especially before I became a Christian at 23 I didn't like the "racism" as it was called so often anyways, but after I became Born Again In Christ I began to take on God's views in the Bible. But even he had a uniquely different approach to those of all of humankind who were of the type that seemed incompatible with a reasonable lifestyle in their respective societies. To me it is clearly a character problem as well as a moral, ethical, and even Spiritual problem, with the latter being the greater of them all. But then we have all known of people that when they get their "spiritual life" on the path that it can still take time to "weed out" all of the behavior, views and values that are incompatible with the Kingdom of God and of His Christ. We all have our own "issues".
And then the other aspect of living with racial bias came from my involvement with the Mexican/American peoples of the Southwestern United States. I never expected to see this let alone experience it first hand but because of my marriage to a Mexican American Indian girl it came to me. Keep in mind, I believe there is only one "race", the race of mankind made by God, yet with many ethnicities and cultures, etc. But I realize it is partly a matter of semantics and partly a matter of using extreme terminology to make a point. I myself have mixed into my gene pool a background of Russian/Ukrainian/Slovak/Slavik ancestry, as well as Native American Algonquin Indian and even Dutch/German. As a result of all this mix I have a darker more olive colored skin and sported a large and very dark moustache [like you would see on a Russian/Ukrainian] along with my very dark brown hair. [ getting really gray/white now] So when I was with my wife somewhere in public where no one knew me, I had a very strong similar appearance to a great many Mexican Americans and because I was with my wife who has black hair and the Mexican/Indian facial features, I was treated, right along with her, in a way that displayed peoples "assumptions", and biases based on those assumptions. The interesting thing was though, I seemed to be able to somehow fool those we met who were as my wife was, and because they didn't know me, assumed I was Hispanic/Mexican and would immediately begin to talk to me in their particular dialect and treat me very clearly as, "one of their own kind". Actually it felt really nice partly because I wasn't used to seeing them behave towards non Hispanics in this way, but they didn't know, yet. Well before very long either my wife or myself or both of us would explain to the person that I not only was not Mexican, but not even close. Even my Native American Indian connection didn't seem to help. But, as soon as they found out, immediately, within milliseconds I was being treated completely different than before. And not just different but the wrong way that they would usually behave towards “Whites”. After a couple of minutes they would realize what they did and began to show signs of embarrassment and because they were deep down probably reasonable and nice people, [most of them] they would “modify” they way they were to me. I knew though that it was partly because of my wife’s sake and partly because I was a Minister. There were many times though where they would get upset with me in sort of a “cloaked” way, because they either felt deceived by me or they could tell that it many cases I wanted the “friendlier” way they were treating me to continue, because I suspected what was going to happen eventually. It really became a very awkward situation pretty much every time and for a while afterwards until we all finally figured out how we were going to behave ourselves towards one another. This may sound silly or petty or shocking or who knows what to you but it’s all true. What a journey and education I was getting.
When It came to my wife’s family in Texas, they knew ahead of time from her who I “really” was and they didn’t like it because of their stronger than usual Mexican Nationalistic views and values and their aversion to any attempts to “Americanize” them. They even ended up saying that I ruined their sister, partly because of my “white ways” and partly because of my white Christian ways that she adopted. [she didn’t adopt mine. We became Born Again at the same time]. There were still many Mexicans though, even after settling down after the awkward times still were uncomfortable with me, and that’s always how it will be. My point still being that, a particular group is made up of many different views and values about these things and others and should not all be seen the same. No matter what their apparent “racial” place is. Yet a very great many, especially after I became stationed in Phoenix Arizona in 1978, probably most Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, or Indians who came to know my wife and I personally came to really like us and treat us very well, as they would one of their “personal inner circle” of friends. Both my wife and I have always been very easy to get along with anyways and we try not to “play favorites” either. She will tell you that her Mom and her Grandmother always told her to marry a “white boy”, even though she knew almost none and didn’t even speak much English.
The other aspect of this odd Mexican connection to me and my wife was on the “other side of the border”, if you would allow me to be so bold as to say. On the American side, so to speak. When my wife and I would come around Americans who were not Mexican at all and who were either born here or not, but were primarily of European or Asian or other descent, the same exact thing would happen to me as when I encountered Mexicans. Especially again when my wife and I were seen together, somehow I always immediately “looked” more Mexican/Hispanic that I thought I was. And as soon as the white/anglo person would discover who I really was, the disrespect and aloofness and pompousness and so forth would cease. Yet again, because my wife was there and they discovered that they were discovered by us, after the awkwardness wore off, they would try to be as “cool” to the both of us as they could be. And I’m sure you realize it was partly because they were embarrassed to be “found out” and did what they did, [ not because they changed the way they were to me from unfriendly to friendly] but because they knew that they were behaving inappropriately. Period. Have you ever done those things or saw someone do them. It’s really embarrassing and incredibly awkward at the time, especially while you are trying to hurry up as fast as you can to get your moral and social bearings. I didn’t have that problem but I certainly learned quick and hard what it was like to be a Mexican to the Whites, and a White to the Mexicans.
It is also difficult to comprehend and accept that in Mexico today and in the hearts and minds of the millions who have been here a while now, that they are still offended and hold a grudge about losing the part of the United States, the Southwest, that once was their territory. Their recent President openly stated to some of his trusted colleagues that his people were involved in a “re-conquista”, a re-conquering, of the lost territory. PBS did a TV documentary type of program where they went to Mexico to try to determine from the people there themselves why they insist on coming over here. And a large percentage of them echoed the same sentiment about wanting to somehow, someway, “take back” what America “stole” from them, but only the Southwest. Even many of the Native American Indians in our country wish they could do something similar. I have also discovered in my travels and research that there are still way too many people that talk and believe in their hearts and minds and souls as though the Civil War is still not over and never will be. Including when I was in Basic Training in the Military and you are bunked with dozens of men from all over the United States and it’s territories.
Is all of this really necessary, especially now after this long later. If it were America that had been invaded from across the Mexican border by Communist Central Americans back in the seventies or eighties, as the Movie “Red Dawn” portrayed, a great many American Patriots would be continuing the “resistance” until today and beyond. And it would most certainly have the “look and fell” of being racist. Again, this is all way more complex than merely a “Race” problem.
Lastly, on another side/walk, only a couple of years after my marriage, I experienced and saw another type and level of racial bias and all of it’s trappings. It was when I was in the US Air Force and stationed in South Korea by myself for a whole year, without my wife. I was now in another land entirely, very far away from “the West”, [which was now East from there] In South Korea during that time period [I don’t know if it has changed since then] there was some Western and American influence in language, culture, society, customs, etc. especially in the larger towns and cities far more than in the rural areas. Yet it was their own designed mixture of things in order to not lose their individual [South] Korean identity. To me it was like stepping on to another planet in another galaxy. Very dramatic contrast of everything and definitely culture shock, to all the senses and more. But all of that aside, I still noticed that even these people far away from America and the west and not as Westernized as I’m sure they are today, still exhibited and demonstrated the same kinds of “difficulties” in dealing with those not like them, or even those who they weren’t even sure exactly what they were. Mankind has always had an instinctive need to categorize and “cubbyhole” things in order to feel secure with all of the multi-tasking we all have to do and for numerous other reasons. Because of this we see a lot of behavior and conduct characteristics that seem blatantly racial. But they are not all necessarily. You see, this is one of the reasons we all struggle so with all of the issues surrounding all of this “stuff”. It’s because of this “categorizing” and “assuming” we do while were trying to get a hold of things that can cause more problems. Especially the assuming part. We all can get into a lot of trouble faster than a New York Korean minute with that one.
On top of all of this there were the problems their own people had with children born of half G.I. and half Korean. I was shocked and dismayed at how they themselves explained it to me. Even the government as well as their culture and society viewed these children as “non-persons” and many times they were given up at birth and put into an orphanage. Only the orphanage was not allowed to receive any funding or assistance from the government or business or anyone else. And whoever took the responsibility of operating the orphanage would forever become an outcast of their society and culture and would have to depend entirely on secret private donations of food, clothing, fuel for heating and cooking, and most other basic needs. Usually it was the Christian Churches who stepped up to take care of these children and find a building for them to live in. If they ventured out they did so at their own risk because there was always that percentage of the greater population that so hated these half-breed children that they would even assault the adults taking care of the orphanage. Some friends and I who were stationed at the nearby base would go to this orphanage on whatever weekends we could to spend time with these children for about a half a day and play with them or just hold them. Every time we went the children would cling tightly to all four of us the entire time and many of them would be weeping or crying hard each time. They weren’t being taken care of well at all but not because the few daring volunteers didn’t care, there just weren’t enough of them and their source of daily needs and supplies was not always there. One of reasons I mention these details is just to demonstrate how strongly a purist nationalistic mindset can showcase itself contrary to what we might think is reasonable conduct towards another human being. And these children, albeit “half-breeds” were still human beings, made originally in the image of God. Yet these indigenous people’s views and values of how they as a Korean people were to exist overpowered any sense of human compassion and dignity. Thank God there were and always will be those who will “buck the system” and reach out to the needy, even at their own peril. One of my close friends at that time and myself were assaulted on the way to the orphanage one Saturday by a Korean National man who had his hands around the throat of my friend and was going to choke him, possibly, [who would know] to death. Because of our reactions [and our prayers] at the time he relented and let go, announcing something in his language we weren’t aware of. I also had a very close friend who was one of these half-breed Korean men whose Mother had at one time been a prostitute for the servicemen. He told us as best he could of his struggles and adversity all his life trying to “belong” to his Country and their people. One time his new wife, who he had rescued from a life of prostitution and himself and their baby had fallen victim to carbon monoxide poisoning, which is quite common there in many places because of the way they heat their homes in the cold weather. Their baby had died and his wife went into a coma with severe liver and kidney damage and of course probably brain damage. He managed to get a hold of me and a Pastor friend of mine who was an African American Man on the base at that time. He was a Pentecostal preacher and him and I went to see this man where his wife was laid ill in the coma and we prayed that God would do a miracle for her and her husband. A few weeks later we found out that she had come out of the coma and was fine with no damage to her brain or anything, that they could tell. But all of this time this man and his former prostitute wife were married for just those few years, they found it almost impossible to get proper medical care for themselves or even their baby because of the “gene pool” being mixed with White. It wasn’t simply a hate for Americans. It was a problem with American GI’s getting Korean girls pregnant and the Korean girls being allowed to go into prostitution with them because of the money.
We see this same kind of thing here in the United States. We would have a similar problem with those circumstances as well. Maybe you or I wouldn’t treat those in the same spot the way they were treated in Korea but there are many here who would. To me this goes way beyond simply “hate crimes’. Those are really too ambiguous and generic of terms. This a way more complicated and complex set of issues with a broad scope. Do we always know how to deal with and treat those who do things that we feel are crimes against our people, even America. Their justifications, as I mentioned, had a lot to do with a response to things they felt were morally and ethically based and not just simply “racial”. Yet we on the outside looking in can only see the horrors of what they were doing in particular and not care about the extenuating circumstances. Yet we have done the same thing ourselves here in our own land. Who’s right, who’s wrong and why, how, etc. It’s just not as simple as some would make it sound. Just simply because there is an apparent “evil” being perpetrated person to person, doesn’t make it unacceptable and wrong. What about the way people suffer who are hanged or shot for their crimes? There are many who say we shouldn’t, as truly enlightened civilized people allow that. Yet there are also those who feel that the punishment fits the crime. Yes, to me this whole issue of what may be labeled as “racial bias and/or discrimination”, etc. quite likely could have a lot more behind the moment than we know. We really need to be very careful with our assumptions and judgments, because they usually lead to rash and many times, regrettable decisions, until we get all the facts. As a society and a culture we have to be able to determine where “lines” of acceptable behavior and conduct are and then have the courage and steadfastness to hold to them. Just like the issue of what is called “racial profiling”. It isn’t always the type of horrible things it is made to sound like. If a community has a lot of “level three sex offenders/pedophiles”, as some do, and the vast majority of them are almost always of white/anglo ethnicity, you can be sure that there will be some conduct and behavior at least by the authorities to closely monitor white adult males as much if not more than others. The same with Militant Muslim Jihadists who have stated their position to do harm to Americans whenever they can. We would be irresponsible to ignore that in the name of “civilization”, and not monitor all of them more closely. But there are also agencies and professionals trained to do that so that it won’t be left up to the general public. Again I mention all of these things just to help bring out some of the complexities of these issues, both in comprehending them and dealing with them.
More to come soon………………………………
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