Sunday, December 4, 2011

Don't Open Until Xmas…Reflections on Racism

A few months ago I saw this card in a a display at the Miracle of America Museum in their "Civil Rights" Display case.  The message is as blunt as it is also frighteningly subtle. This relic of the past presents both a symbol of a less tolerant time and the sting of what lingers in American culture.

There was no context to the card, which was displayed next to a Klan's man's hood, a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., and an old advertisement of featuring Aunt Jemimah. It almost seemed as if this this particular display of civil rights was their own parody of civil rights, the chance to speak with "White Man's Burden" as a voice of authority of how things used to be just fine before this movement came about in the 50s and 60s. 

Living in Bozeman, for the first time in a long time, I feel the acute sting of being a minority. While this town is not overtly racist, there are many times I can't help but feel like I am being watched as the "other." For those who read this who are minorities, who have experienced being watched in a store as if they were a shoplifter, or felt needlessly harassed by individuals of authority, you understand. To those who have never experienced this, don't write it off as paranoia. 

The thing that is odd about my experience in Montana is that the level of ethnic identifiers people place upon me are severely blurred. Without a prominent Asian or Latino population, locals tend to lump me in with the ethnic group they are most exposed to, the Native Americans. And while I could pass as "Indian," that could be a double edge sword--many white people in Montana hold deep seated resentment toward the Native Americans and the same holds true for the Native population. 

I spent three days stranded in on the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning. This was my first time on "The Rez" and when I tell people about my experience most shudder in fear. But I felt right at home. The tow truck driver who helped me out (this was when I crashed my car), told me to go outside and get a bit of sun, and that I would fit right in. We both laughed out loud knowing that he spoke the truth and that if I was white, I would best be served by sticking to my motel room. 

So as I write this, the snow is falling outside my apartment…In Bozeman, there will be a White Christmas. But as for me, I plan to celebrate my bastard half-Japanese heritage with Pearl Harbor Day next week and Japanese New Year with my family in Portland. 

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