Monday, October 22, 2007

This is where we live.


(crossposted from Anti-Racist Parent)

This is where we live.

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I took our almost-three-year-old daughter to her first county fair. She got to eat French fries and funnel cake, look at cows, and dance like crazy to Los Lobos, performing live in a concert sponsored by an English-language magazine for second-generation American Latinos that the media company I work for publishes.

On our way out, we passed a t-shirt vendor selling souvenirs. I did a double take when I noticed the wide variety of t-shirts featuring the Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag on offer. “Take a picture, take a picture,” I nudged my wife, who reluctantly snapped a shot of the display of t-shirts with slogans like “Heritage Not Hate” and “If you don’t like my flag you can kiss my rebel ass.” The woman selling the shirts saw us—we tried to act nonchalant. But then I saw the kids’ shirts. I urged my wife to get a shot of the child’s shirt proclaiming “Daddy’s Lil Rebel” on top of the Confederate flag, but the shirt-seller saw her and shook her head no. Guess we couldn’t quite pass for members of her target demographic who just wanted to show her shirt designs to friends. Or maybe I just wasn’t too good at masking the look of shock on my face. [When googling for images of that kiddie shirt, I stumbled on this plethora of rebel merchandise for sale in that bastion of antebellum Southern heritage, New Jersey.]

This fair, by the way, made national news two years ago when it removed from its musical schedule a performance by local folk duo Prussian Blue, the Olsen twins of the white supremacist set. They were uninvited only after a classmate complained and told the fair folks what their act was really about. Apparently, they hadn’t known until then—despite the pair having performed at the fair the year before.

This is where we live.

In recent weeks, this has been the stuff of our local news:

•One of our city councilmen introduced measures to declare our city, steeped in its history of agribusiness and labor conflicts, an anti-sanctuary city vis-à-vis illegal immigrants and to declare English our official language.

•The city’s public high school district’s South High School celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. Its team name: the Rebels. Yes, those Rebels, and that South (and their colors are blue and grey, natch). Our paper featured some alumni remembrances accompanied by a photo of band buglers from back in the day with the stars-and-bars hanging from their horns. Wrote one member of the class of 1986: “Being an African-American student at a high school whose mascots are representations of the Southern Confederacy was peculiar, to say the least. Slavery ring a bell? Anyone?”

•A member of the high school board of trustees introduced a measure to require every classroom in the district to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.” The motto will be on flag-emblazoned posters donated by a non-profit run by a city councilwoman dedicated to putting up that same national motto in city halls across the country. The trustee, a former youth pastor and now founder of his own church, recently led the charge to change “winter break” to “Christmas break” and “spring break” to “Easter break,” and he originally ran for office because the board wasn’t strict enough in its partial ban of Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye.”

This is where we live.

A real-life friend and fellow dadblogger, Dr. Lo Siento, wrote of his concerns about raising his Asian American son in this kind of environment, shortly before moving with his wife and child back to Orange County. Recently, Mamazilla wrote about how some encounters with clueless racism has made her wish she could connect with an offline, non-virtual Anti-Racist Parent group of like-minded local moms and dads to share stories and strategies with, to vent to, to lean on. Though this stuff is never far from my mind, all this recent crap has made me think even more about the challenges my wife and I face in raising our daughter where we currently live.

I could throw up my arms and say, screw it, we’re moving, now. I could go crazy with anger and frustration, or get paranoid and see enemies everywhere. But for now, we live here.

And this is also where we live:

Did I mention that, at the County Fair, that Confederate t-shirt stand was just around the corner from a section of the fairgrounds devoted to Latino food and culture, and down the midway from food stands run by Basque, Italian and Mexican community organizations? (And we were coming from a Los Lobos concert.) It was a crowded Sunday night, and it seemed like families from all parts and communities of Bakersfield were there, having fun.

Those anti-immigrant resolutions in front of the City Council were voted down, after UFW legend and local resident Dolores Huerta led a diverse group of protesters to speak out against them and fill the council chambers.

Public opinion seems to be against our crusading school board trustee, who is seen and denounced by many as a divisive political opportunist who needs to be voted out of office.

This is where we live.

Every week, as part of my job, I make sure that a small cadre of local high school students take photos of fans at their schools’ football games and upload them to our website. And every week, I’m pleasantly surprised by what I see, photo after photo of interracial groups of friends, of families of all backgrounds enjoying the game with each other. Take a look at the photos from South High, where the majority of the students, like at many California high schools, are “minority” students, and you will not see the school it was 50 years ago, when someone thought it was a good idea to name a school after the losing side in the Civil War.

My wife and I consciously surround ourselves with a diverse group of friends, We support each other, we love each other’s kids, and, though we may not all share the same politics on everything, we all desire to create a better environment for our children. We complain when something pisses us off about this place not because we’re bitter and we’ve given up, but because, for the sake of our children, we can’t afford not to complain, we can’t afford not to get pissed off.

Because, at least for now, this is where we live.

6 comments:

creative-type dad said...

Wow.

Those Olsen twin-type girls are very scary.

SoulSnax said...

I confess that I once flew that rebel flag outside my dorm window in college, but only after my white texan girlfriend convinced me, "Honey, it's pride, not predjudice. If I was a racist, would I even be with you?" So I figured that even though we were way north of the Mason-Dixon line, it would be harmless. After all, my girlfriend was obviously not a racist, right?

But the rebel flag didn't last long on my flagpole. A Latina RA had contacted security, and it's only then that they decided to enforce the rule about not hanging anything from dorm windows. So my flagpole had to be removed. I had flown all sorts of flags over the previous year: the US Flag, the Jolly Roger (pirate flag), a rainbow flag, the Texas flag, the Israeli flag, the Philippine flag, etc. But the confederate flag was where they drew the line.

Later that same week, someone had scrawled some threatening hate messages on our floor of the dorm. There were also some white separatist newspapers left at black students' doorsteps throughout campus. This terrified everyone on campus, and the authorities were notified. Security was heightened, and tolerance demonstrations took place on campus.

Then my RA notified me that Campus Security wanted to meet with me and my roommate ASAP. When we met with campus security, It was obvious to them that neither I (the Asian guy) or my roommate (the effeminate guy) were the perpetrators of those racist messages. But the fact that racist acts took place immediately after I flew that flag is a revelation in itself. It seems that we inadvertently invited racism to our campus when we flew the "Stars & Bars." There's no denying the fact that the rebel flag is a "mating call" for a lot of white separatists.

Even though some rebel flag admirers may embrace diversity, that's not always the message conveyed by the rebel flag. Whether we like it or not, that flag instills fear and anxiety in many people. And those are valid feelings. Furthermore, if you already know that people of color will tend to steer clear of anything bearing the confederate flag, why would you display it unless you really wish to repel people of color?

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Just to clarify, the "stars and bars" is a different flag altogether... you are referring to what some call a rebel flag or confederate flag.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stars_and_bars

And don't kid yourself, there are many assinine tshirts there, not just the redneck ones.

Robyn said...

just to get it straight, this is california right? i think you said bakersfield. i live in michigan and there is a town near here where folks fly the confederate flag too. one of my friends had the feeling that in the south, you could maybe get away with the heritage argument, but elsewhere, that argument is even weaker.

anyway, michigan is also driving me crazy lately so i enjoyed reading about someone else in a place... sometimes less than ideal for POC.

Mama Nabi said...

Oh god, Boston Legal did an episode with these two white supremist girl-duo and I thought it was made up! NO WAY... isn't that child abuse, to teach your kids to hate?
I'd like to chuckle about the 'rebel flag'... except my in-laws actually don't see anything wrong with the confederate flag... and that stops me cold.

angie said...

i live in TEXAS! i see the rebel flag ALL the time . . .
sometimes i get tired of being the go-to-person-of-color/the only POC in the room/the POC who speaks up, but at the same time i also know that if I'M not the one saying anything, then who?