Response to A. Gringo

Gringo said…

Dear Old White Guy, Why do old white guys hate Mexicans?

—  A. Gringo

Hey, what’s not to hate about one more use of accordions?

But seriously, folks, I wish I could be as funny about this as Gustavo is.

Good question, Gringo, but badly phrased.  Most OWGs do not hate Mexicans.

But a sizable portion do, probably because they don’t know many Mexicans, and think of them collectively rather than individually.  Thinking in broad generalities about a group of people tends to push out some rather obvious things, like the fact that a granfalloon like “Mexicans” probably has about as many saints, geniuses, jerks and morons in it as any other 100-odd million people.

(Note that some young black guys hate Mexicans, some Mexicans hate Mexicans.  In a sense, you could ask why anyone hates anyone.)

But this is a blog that’s mainly been about political activities, so I’ll try to address it in the sense that I think you mean.

It’s that phenomenon you see in the comments on the OC Register site, and the demagoguery politicians use, trying to blame people’s troubles on “illegals”, usually code for those people who are “different”.  It resonates with enough people to swing an election once in a while.

Dislike for a group that can be identified as “different” is such a common thing in so many cultures that there’s a temptation to treat it as a universal human trait.   If you want to see the worst extremes of ethnic prejudice you’ll have to go outside North America nowadays.  Lately, we’ve really been lightweights when it comes to tribal warfare (Africa) and 500 year-old blood feuds (Balkans).  The American genocides of the 19th century are long forgotten, especially when we talk about “human rights”.  (One of the great monuments to denial in history.  Remember how Hitler found it unthinkable that Americans would object to his Final Solution, seeing what the U.S. had done to the Indians — “Who, me? Genocide?  I’m just buyin’ some land over here.”)

Hate is usually stirred up when there’s money behind it.  There was certainly money behind wiping out the indigenous, and the same is true for harsh treatment of “illegals”.  A worker who’s afraid to go to the law doesn’t have to be paid, right?

Factors that make it easy for moneyed interests to promote hate might include isolation and ignorance.  Americans have the latter but not the former.  Our mass media should have made us a lot more sophisticated than we are.

Relative to other people who have plenty of exposure to the world around them, being uncomfortable with the “other” is something for which North Americans are unusually well-positioned.  It’s part of having a really large “nation-state” to begin with.  There aren’t many places in the world where it’s possible to walk 1,000 miles in a straight line and hear only one language spoken along the way.  North America is one.  Russia might be another. Certain coastal routes around Central or South America might be another.  The length of Japan, if you could walk it.

100 years ago, this might not have been possible.  There were still large communities of Cajuns, French Canadians, Pennsylvania Germans, Dutch descended from 17th century immigrants, indigenous Americans, and recent immigrant groups (not to mention Mexicans in the southwest), all speaking their own languages.  “Nation-state” is another word for one culture having wiped out others.

The World Wars had a huge influence in forcing German-Americans (the largest immigrant group) to assimilate.  Lotsa Schmidts and Brauns became Smiths and Browns in the last century.

People often speak of the Civil War as a great unifying thing for the U.S., not politically, but culturally.  Never before had so many guys from all over the country found themselves gathered together, forced to take orders in one language.  WWII  probably finished that job.  We baby boomers might have grown up in the largest culture one could call “homogeneous” that the world has ever seen, because our fathers were nearly all in the service together.  And the draft continued until 1973.  That work of compulsory uniformity stretched long after WWII.  (As the motivational poster says:  “SLAVERY:  It gets shit done.”)

Ok, so at home we grew up in a very large homogeneous culture, compared to others.  It’s not the kind of isolation that central Africa or the backwoods of Albania might suffer, but it is a kind of isolation.  Kinda like the echo chamber of the U.S. mass media.  That’s one thing, but there’s more.

It was a standing joke in my childhood to speak of the “ugly American” tourist who expected that if he just spoke loudly and clearly enough, everyone would understand English wherever he went.  Remember those guys?  Well, it looks like they won.

It’s the isolation of being on top.  Most of the world is learning English as a business language, even where no British or Americans are involved.  A Japanese pilot, flying for a Japanese airline, landing in Japan, talks to the tower in English.  India and Nigeria each have more English speakers than the UK.

But then there’s the other factor that helps hate along:  insecurity.

Now, if you can, put yourself in the place of someone who grew up in this U.S.-dominated world, who never took anything “foreign” very seriously.  You’re looking for a job and you see “bilingual” in many of the ads, as you will in OC.

“WHAT???  I have to learn another language to get a job in the place where I grew up????”

Being bilingual (often one’s native language plus English) is a pretty common skill in much of the world.  Here, it’s not, unless you came from somewhere else.

I know, to someone who grew up in a non-English speaking household, the words “proficiency in English” in those employment ads can be intimidating too.

But there’s an assumption created by 60 years of hegemony that this is an English-speaking country, and the rest of the world is soon to follow.  U.S. hegemony might be coming to an end, and that assumption could be all wrong.  But it’s news to a whole lot of OWGs.

Hate is usually a response to some kind of threat, real or imagined.  The thought that one’s granfalloon is no longer on top can be frightening to many people.

Not the rich, of course.  They know they’re secure no matter what.  From what little contact I’ve had with members of our ruling class, I’d say they look upon racism and ethnic prejudices as a joke — a way of manipulating the poor bastards who keep them in power.

When people are spooked, they get dangerous.  Our rulers know that, and use it.  Any other questions?

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