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Some thinky thoughts May. 28th, 2014 @ 12:01 pm
I may be a bit running late on particularly thoughtful commentary, but I still want to rant slightly on something that's annoyed me recently: to wit, people calling out Mark Cuban as a bigot for saying he'd cross the street to avoid a black youth in a hoodie or a white skinhead.

Primarily because: yes that's bigoted and that was his entire point. Essentially, it could be boiled down like this:

Mark Cuban: I think everyone has prejudices. I, for example, have these reactions in certain circumstances, which is totally bigoted of me, but what's important is what we say and do, not what we think.

Certain Sections Of The Media: YOU ARE A BIGOT YOU HAVE PREJUDICES

Me: What is wrong with you?

Because he actually made a very good and true point. You can't help your prejudices, at least not in the short term. But you *can* decide how you're going to act, and what you're going to say.

Having racist thoughts doesn't make you a bad person, doing racist things does.

I'm now going to talk about my parents in a way that they might not like, but this is an important thing to me.

My parents both grew up in South Africa. Obviously there was pervasive, thoroughly institutionalised racism in all sorts of areas and ways all around them. Neither of them liked it, enough that they decided they didn't want to raise their children in South Africa the way it was or was becoming, and in 1982 they left their homeland and their extended families to move to a foreign country they had never even seen, for the sake of a better life for me and my sister.

I am in awe of the courage of that decision, the sacrifice they made.

However, as I've grown older and watched *them* grow older too, I've become more and more aware of another, ongoing campaign they've been fighting against the influence of the Old South Africa, all my life and possibly all of theirs.

See, my parents are both firmly agreed that Racism Is Bad. But they hail from a society that was deeply, insidiously racist, and a certain amount of prejudice seeped into them nonetheless.

And from what I can tell, they've spent their whole lives fighting it, and fighting even more not to pass those attitudes to their children.

With an adult's perspective, I can recognise the way my parents have, in defiance of average behaviour, become more liberal as they get older, generally speaking. But I can also, thinking back, recall the times when my parents would freeze, just for a fraction of a second, and then be firmly positive in their totally-not-racist reaction to something.

The impression I'm left with is that sometimes my parents' instinctive reactions to things are racist, but my parents are better people than that, and have made the deliberate decision that those thoughts will not decide their actions.

And I admire that. I think it shows tremendous strength of character, I really do. Throughout my childhood I was taught that people of other races are sometimes different, but never lesser. That differences should be respected - you should pronounce people's names properly, even if they're foreign to you, that you should respect their customs when you are their guest, and try to make them feel comfortable when they are yours.

It was my mother, I'm fairly certain, who told me the story of the great society lady hosting a dinner in honour of a foreign ambassador - the kind of dinner where there are a dozen different forks, with "correct" cutlery for every course. When the soup was served, the ambassador, to the shock of many guests, picked up his bowl and drank from it directly, rather than using the soup spoon, tipping it only away from him, and slurping decorously.

Whereupon the hostess, with utmost poise, lifted her own soup bowl and drank from it, then continued her conversation as if nothing was amiss. Some guests followed suit, others did not, but the ambassador was not embarrassed by his error at all.

I have, on occasion, become the instant favourite of friends' foreign relatives simply because, when introduced to them, I listen closely to their names and make sure I'm pronouncing them correctly. To me, this is the most basic of politeness, because if you're casually mispronouncing their name, how are you doing anything but casually disregarding everything about them that doesn't fit your own cultural preconceptions?

... post locked because it's very rambly and off-the-cuff trying to think through things.
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