Big Smoke

’cause it’s hard to see from where I’m standin’

Pinkwashing

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Sarah Schulman is somewhat nonplussed by the willingness of the gay and lesbian community – having newly earned their civil rights – to allow themselves to be co-opted by conservatives as a hammer by which to beat Muslims. Indeed, Israel is trying to fight its PR war against Palestine by pointing out that they are more tolerant of gays (conflating this to mean that the injustices they regularly inflict on Palestinians is glossed over by showing how socially liberal Israelis are, because liberals don’t do such things, et cetera) and Germany and the Netherlands found new allies in their fight against Muslim immigrant communities.

I’ve seen something like this before.

Back where I used to work in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, the building (or as they call it now, the “campus,” ever since the large school was closed) houses four schools. All of these schools are divided by racial lines. Three of them are Black/Latino – in that there are literally no white students – and the last one is an “international” school with mostly Asian/Middle Eastern first- and second-generation students.

The Black kids didn’t like the Chinese kids. The Chinese kids didn’t like the Black kids. We couldn’t house them in the same place at the same time. Even during regular schedules, there were altercations on a daily basis where the Chinese kids (cutting classes by wandering through the Black schools) would treat the Black kids like potential criminals, and the Black kids (cutting classes by wandering through the International school) would taunt the Chinese kids with “ching chong” jokes. Punches got thrown.

So the teachers got together and decided they would have to give these students a primer on racism (and yes, the all white teaching staff did note the irony and the awkwardness of having to teach Black students about racism) but here’s where it got interesting: When asked in Social Studies class about the subject, it turns out that a lot of the Black students more or less defined racism as “bad things that happen to Black people.” As such, what they were doing to the Chinese students was categorically not racist because Black people, being victims, are perennially incapable of racism.

And the Chinese students? While they acknowledged the difficulties they faced with difficulty of language barriers and social exclusion, they were taught that Black people were untrustworthy, and that was the end of that argument.

So it came as no surprise to me that some gays didn’t mind being used to further ostracize immigrant communities in Europe or that, for that matter, some Jews didn’t see anything wrong with treating people like second-class citizens in Israel due to their ethnicity and faith. As it turns out, there are a fair number of people of any background that view prejudice only within the frame of their background, no matter how much lip service they give to the greater good of universal civil rights and social justice.

Abstraction – empathy – is a hard thing to teach.

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