With the strong dislike of who is now my former roommate and sharing this dislike with another artist in my former building via gossip, I learned a new word: Ethnocentric.
In my dislike of this bigot, I was being ethnocentric. That is, as if, his cultural background absolves him of personal responsibility for his backward opinions, including negative things said about people of color, people living in the projects, even to much my chagrin, once comparing women to a pieces of property. It don’t matter even if such women work in the sex industry. Dehumanizing another via classism, racism, or sexism is distasteful, in my personal taste of things. I’m not sure if my ascribing one’s bigotry to personal upbringing of a particular ethnic heritage is justified, but either way, I was being ethnocentric. See, I know the word now because I embodied it perfectly. What I’d like to recount though is also my experience of bearing the brunt of other’s ethnocentric attitudes towards me.
As an immigrant myself, I can vouch for the countless rather astounding examples of ethnocentric behavior I’ve experienced. I’ve been in this country for the majority of my entire life; yet, I still encounter microaggressions related to my ethnic background and if not outright, racism (funny point to bring up, since I’m white), definitely examples of having encountered ethnocentric behavior aimed at me.
While living in California, in Los Angeles, with frequent trips to work in San Francisco, I found it especially appalling in the Bay Area. Not sure if I was intentionally mobbed in a highly-coordinated fashion by some idiots with nothing else to do; or whether ppl in that particular region, particularly the whites of that particular region, are a lot more conservative than they would like the world to believe.
For example, I could walk into a bar and have random men start speaking in what they determined was my native language based on the stereotypical national look that I exhibit. This look, ironically, is what is perpetuated by the media as emblematic of the look of most women in my native country. It’s a look of recessive traits. Yet, if you actually go to my home country or otherwise spend a substantial time around people who were born there, you understand that most people with my same country of origin do not necessarily look like me. Still, I would have men try to make moves on me in bars by speaking in what they deemed was my native tongue. Add the fact that these men are the protypical, untraveled, unworldly, American barroon, who lack any second language capabilities, and the whole situation just, sounds, wrong. Literally.
Dare I say they sound stupid, they quickly ascribe my bluntness to my country of birth.
Then, that one time I went out on a date from a dude off of OkCupid. He was a balding man slut who looked a little haggard despite being only a few years over 30, who had the audacity to remark that the reason I didn’t laugh at his lame joke was because English was not my first language. Never mind the fact that he seemed too dense to understand the very simple meaning of “no.”
Also, I’ve been asked whether my college degree is from my country of birth.
I’ve been labeled “foreign” in an acting class for the entirety of my duration in it, with no one even questioning as to how that label originated. Anytime I posited a question, the instructor would explain himself very deliberately. Once I finally got fed up, I turned to one of my classmates in my class and almost in tears, asked him why am I labeled in a way that is so ethnocentric, and his response to me was, “Ain’t you foreign?” A few years later, in response to my complaint via facebook post, this same person was one of the most firm in his attack against me because I had ascribed my NYC roommate’s bigotry and misogyny to his cultural background.
Then, when applying for a government subsidy from New York State to help subsidize my bazillion dollar a month health insurance premium (health insurance is especially expensive in New York!!!), I’ve been asked to provide proof of citizenship. If the name on my legal documents was listed as something more American, like Jane Smith for example, I would not face the same level of scrutiny as an immigrant. Just today, I’ve encountered the same thing when requesting copies of my independent contract agreement from a nightclub where I was contracted to work. In order to release a copy certain documentation, specifically a copy of my independent contract agreement, this particular workplace wanted me to prove to them that I was a citizen. Would a driver’s license do? No, send in a copy of your passport. That is considering the fact that I was already hired there, and have since completed my independent contract assignment with this particular establishment, with thousands of dollars made and declared as income-my 1099s should be on the way.
After the occurrence today, I thought I’d jot something down to express my annoyance. It’s annoyance, but it’s also hurt that I will never be one of you.
Not sure how other people do the whole immigration thing, but as for me, I waited four years to enter this country legally, which amounts to nearly half of my life at that point, from age five to nine. I’ve held a Green Card for close to twenty years. I’ve even renewed it, with the help of someone at my college, both financial and in the form of transportation to where I had to submit forms for renewal. All for naught, because as it turns out, thanks to a bill that Bill Clinton signed into law, I derived my citizenship through my mother who was naturalized during the narrow window of time when she actually had custody of me in America. With some effort and letter-writing, I got all my documents in order to prove that I’ve derived my citizenship, and had been a citizen since age 12. I’ve now 32.
I’ve done all my primary, secondary and post-secondary schooling in the US. Like most millennials in America with non-stem, non-tech college degrees, I’m thoroughly qualified to work at a Starbucks, though I don’t think Starbucks would hire me-besides, I’d hate working there, as much as I hate working any other retail I’ve ever worked. I’ve held a variety of odd jobs outside of retail too, all in the United States. I’ve had credit. I’ve had loans, car and student, all of which I paid back. I was not born here, and I never asked to be brought here, though I am not A Dreamer.
What else must I do to prove that I belong here?
I would say that I’m more American than some. I’m not so un-American as to espouse the unfashionable isms of someone from afar, who I’ve heavily critiqued at the expense of sounding like a bigot to others. Yet, I’m constantly ‘otherized.” As a white person, I’d like to say that one can be a victim of ethnocentric attitudes, microaggressions and racism too. Sometimes our way of understanding ourselves is by differentiating ourselves from others, and one way of doing this is by overemphasizing imaginary cultural differences rather than focusing on ways in which we may be alike.
I dunno, maybe that’s a human thing to do, regardless of where you live or where you come from. I’m starting to think more and more that bigotry is an inherently human trait. We all have the need to ‘otherize’ others, as to understand ourselves better and in order to make our own social core stronger. Nonetheless, cultural sensitivity, openness to a change of opinions and focus on similarity rather than our differences, may be a more productive approach for living in harmony and embracing the diversity that we so often like to tout as emblematic of America.