About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Pardon Me, Your Prejudice Is Showing


I really hate the word tolerance because of the (not so) hidden connotation of the word, which is "to tolerate."  Let me be clear, tolerance is not acceptance.  You tolerate a root canal, you tolerate a tedious business meeting, you tolerate a drunken uncle at Thanksgiving. 

In other words, you tolerate things that you find miserable, uncomfortable or unpleasant, but because of necessity or social niceties, you put up a front to avoid reproach.  You bury your actual feelings to play nice.

And every time I hear people preach tolerance, they are actually saying "I know you don't like (insert prejudice here) but you have to act like you do, because that is what is socially acceptable.

In a way, the South, with it's rampant bigotry and racism is better off than some other places in America.  (And I know, in a way, I am praising the South with faint damns.  I can't believe it either.  It may be the only "nice" thing I say about that region for a while, so enjoy it while you can.) 

Why are they better off?  Because in the South, the un-evolved attitudes are in your face and open, which means you can fight against them.  When someone is spewing racist, chauvinist, or homophobic crap openly, you can confront them.  You probably won't change their minds, but at least you can open a dialog.  Have enough dialogs, and eventually, people might realize that their attitudes have little or no basis in fact, and they might actually evolve.  I know it is not likely, but there is a chance, and I will try to be optimistic here.

And even if you don't change the mind of the idiot, other people who hear the discussion, and hold similar beliefs but aren't set in stone on them, might reflect on their own attitudes.  It takes a long time, but even George Wallace eventually recanted his racism.  If such an avowed segregationist can evolve, I have hope that anyone can.

But back to the issue of tolerance; in many parts of the country, people preach the gospel of tolerance, which suppresses the dialog, while allowing people to hold hatred in their hearts.  They say, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, that you can't have that attitude.  You have to tolerate, just like you do anything unpleasant.

You see this in the criticism of President Obama.  Most Republicans know that they cannot actually come out and say, "I don't like having a black man in the Oval Office," so they code their words.  They call him arrogant, which, when directed at a black man, has a meaning that is different than when it is directed at a white person.  They call him a socialist, a alien, a traitor, and many other horrible things, because they cannot say the one horrible thing they really want to say.

The closest time anyone ever came to actually expressing their real thoughts was when the Teabagger was crying, "I want my country back."  That articulation, had it actually been discussed, might have torn open the wound of racism.  Even though it would have caused fresh bleeding, we might have been able to clean out the infection beneath the scab and let it actually heal.  Call it racism penicillin.  (And that may be one of the most graphic analogies I have ever used.  Sorry if you were eating when you read this.)

But this is not a phenomenon limited to the right side of the political spectrum, you find it on the left as well, and this is where "tolerance" really shows it's ugly side.

The perfect example of this is Boulder, Colorado, home of some of the whitest people on earth.  I mean this in both senses of the word: the "Stuff White People Like" sense; but also the actual demographic sense.  There are very few genuine minorities in Boulder.  By genuine, I mean actually having different skin color or a true ethnic name.  What constitutes a minority in Boulder is someone who had an American Indian in their ancestry, maybe 150 year ago, and who proudly checks the Native American box on their EEOC form.  There are also many people who claim that ancestry, but genuinely respect their heritage, and go out to learn about it.  I'm not referring to them, I'm talking about the people who hang a dreamcatcher in their window and smoke peyote to "get in touch with their people."

Boulderites also worry about buying "Fair Trade" coffee that doesn't exploit indigenous people, stopping the South American sex trade, and freeing Tibet.  They love their minorities, as long as those minorities don't live in Boulder

And this is where the ugly truth comes out.  My family has lived in Boulder for five generations, and for five generations, Boulder has put forth the front of being one of the most progressive cities in America.

Except, my great great grandfather, who when German when being German was like being a Mexican today, had all of his neighbors come unglued every time he'd make mutton stew.  They said it smelled bad.  Eventually he started going to his son's house to make it because, as he said, "the people in Boulder were too uppity."

Fast forward to the 60's, at the height of the civil rights movement.  Boulder was really behind that as well, until a black family  moved onto the block where one of my parents friends lived.  Then, every single house on that block whet up for sale.  Civil rights was fine for the South, but when it came to Boulder... well nevermind.

In the nineties, a CU student was beaten almost to death, just for being BBIP. (blatantly black in public)  While he was being attacked, his attackers screamed racial epithets at him.

Also, every time the city council tries to bring in low income housing, people have a meltdown.  The city has shut down all of the mobile home parks within the city limits, and moved them outside of Boulder.  Consequently, at each end of the city are large trailer parks housing the people who cannot afford to live in Boulder, but are lucky enough to have jobs or classes there.  I guess being poor is also a problem for the people in the city.  When the Dali Lama came to visit, they loaded all of their homeless on a bus and shipped them to Denver, so he wouldn't see them.  I hope you appreciate the delicious irony of that one.

And this is what I'm talking about with tolerance.  Most people paper over their prejudices, bury them, don't talk about them, but the prejudice keeps cropping up.  And when it does, they come up with convenient explanations about why it isn't actually prejudice. 

We don't hate Obama because he's black, we hate him because he's not "American in his heart."  Mike Coffman, a U.S. Congressman from Colorado accused the President of that last part yesterday, actually claiming that Obama "in his heart, he is not an American." 

We don't hate Mexicans, it's just that they are draining the national budget and not giving anything back.  Except, in terms of net revenue, without illegal aliens, Medicare and Social Security would be bankrupt in half the time than current projections.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

It is time in the United States to stop hiding behind "tolerance."  As I said before, tolerance is something you reserve for your ability to endure something distasteful or unpleasant.  You should not just tolerate people.

You should accept them, fully and totally.

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