Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Pooh on Race

As tommorow, many bloggers are blogging against racism, I thought I'd get a jump, epsecially since my mother, who is more knowledgeable on the subject than myself, has provided me with a guest piece for tommorow.

My first real experience with racism was at about 11. I was fortunate enough to have made the cut for a hockey travel team going to what was then Yugoslavia. Hockey has never been an especially diverse sport, there being many all-white teams even at the NHL level. However, on this team there was one young black kid, J. While in Yugoslavia (Zagreb, so now Croatia), it seemed none of the locals had ever seen a black person. They constantly walked up to J and touched his hair (he had a mini-fade at the time). While there did not seem to be anything malicious in these actions, I remember feeling vary uncomfortable for him, to be singled out in this way. He had a non-confrontational demeanor, so nothing untoward happened. But I always wondered how that made him feel. (Of course being an 11 year-old boy, I did not ask...)

The next real incident was a few years later, in high-school. I attended an "alternative" school. Open campus, no bells, no detentions, an emphasis on personal repsonsibility. Unsurprisingly, the school was exceedingly liberal. It was also very white, with probably 80% of the student body being caucasian.

A fairly unique part of the school's culture where the murals in the halls. A student could propose artwork for a section of wall, and if it was found to be acceptable to a joint student-faculty commitee, the student could procede to leave his mark. A kid a few years older than me had lost an eye at a young age in an accident. Despite this, he became a very talented artist. In an effort to express his frustration at the strange looks and remarks he was subjected to, he proposed a mural.

The piece was entitled 'racism'. On a backdrop of a rolling field. A group of several amorphous, Simpson-like figures stood in a circle. Some where tall and thin, some short and round. One was red, another blue, another polka-dotte yet another plaid. The one thing they had in common was an orange circle in the middle of their chests. They were standing in a circle. Around a similarly amorphous figure with a yellow triangle instead of an orange circle. This figure was being lynched. At the top, in simple letters, was a single word: "Racism".

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this mural was highly controversial, and was eventually removed. But I always thought that it expressed in simple, visual terms the sheer irrationality of hatred based on something as immaterial to human interaction as skin color. I wish I had a print just as a reminder and possible object lesson.

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