Saturday, October 18, 2008

Vestiges of Racism

I’ve had racism on my mind this weekend. We’ve traveled to the Midwest to attend a wedding and to visit family.

The first negative situation came when my mom told me that my grandmother, her mother, will be voting for McCain. My grandma is a lifelong democrat and we share the bond of caring about social issues that the rest of our conservative-minded family rejects in favor of lower taxes. I was surprised and disappointed this spring when she rejected Hillary Clinton, saying that the Presidency is a job for a man. She supported John Edwards. I guess she meant the job is for a white man, because she’d rather change parties than to vote for Obama.

“Grandpa would turn over in his grave if he knew I was voting for a Republican” my grandma told my mom. It seems he’d jump even higher in his grave if she were to vote for an African-American or a woman for President.

I always knew my grandfather had some racist notions and I always appreciated that despite her upbringing, my mother was able to teach us to respect and value everyone regardless of their skin color. I hadn’t realized my grandmother was also racist.

“That’s why we never told anyone that Brian (my brother by adoption) is 25% Mexican,” my mom told me. “They wouldn’t have accepted it.”

A cousin of mine is now dating a woman of Hispanic origin. Everyone in the family seems to like her. Even my grandma said nothing but good things about her. But you never know what’s below the surface and that’s sad.

The next racist incident this weekend occurred during my dear friend Jessica’s wedding. She married a Vietnamese man named Luc who she has been dating for years. Luc’s parents immigrated from Vietnam, apparently with the hopes that their children would limit their choices of spouses to the small percentage of Vietnamese in the U.S. When Luc’s older brother married a Caucasian divorcee, he was banished from the family. Until the wedding yesterday, no one had met their five year old daughter.

At first it was thought that Luc’s parents wouldn’t attend the wedding. Then, not only the parents, but all the siblings agreed to attend. The whole family would show up in support for their son, which seemed a wonderful thing. The fact that they skipped the rehearsal dinner to go to the casino was probably not a good sign. But most disturbing of all was the parents behavior at the wedding. They didn’t show up for photos, they refused the flowers offered to them as parents of the groom, they greeted the mother of the bride only when she chased them down to introduce herself, they refused to speak English, and most hurtful of all to Jessica, they exited out a different door than everyone else so that they wouldn’t have to greet or acknowledge the bride. Of course, they didn’t come to the reception.

I think their treatment of her is the most blatant and direct racial discrimination I’ve ever seen. Yet while so much attention is paid to Caucasians discriminating against others (like my grandparents) this is an extremely open, accepting and welcoming Caucasian being discriminated against. I thought it was heartbreaking that her sister offered a kind toast welcoming Luc into the family, but no one from his side spoke welcoming her in.

Both she and Luc have overcome prejudices on either side of their families to love each other and build a life together. But it seems like their future children will face the same future as the five-year-old daughter of the banished brother – with no contact with the grandparents and uneasy relations with other relatives.

I want River to be able to love whoever he wants to. I want him to be able to build a family with a woman who loves and appreciates him. I could care less what color her skin is or where she comes from.

I try to take comfort in the fact that all of these people are old. My grandma is well into her 80s. Luc’s parents are grey and aging. I know that such attitudes aren’t dead among younger people, but I hope the prevalence is less. I hope that River can grow up in a world in which love of any and all kinds can be appreciated for the beauty and the happiness it brings. I just don’t understand the point of condemning people for loving.

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