Celtic Diva's Blue Oasis: My Community Voices Column - Racism and Dan Fagan

Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Community Voices Column - Racism and Dan Fagan

On race, Fagan woefully off the mark

LINDA KELLEN BIEGEL / Community Voices

My job had sent me to St. Louis for two weeks around the July 4th holiday in 1997. St. Louis seemed like another world after I’d lived in Anchorage for 13 years.

One night it was close to quitting time and I needed directions. I was 5½ months pregnant and a diabetic, so it was better to shop at a grocery store than to eat in restaurants. However, I was at a hotel in the downtown St. Louis business district and for the life of me I couldn’t find a grocery store nearby.

I asked one of the co-workers and she kindly told me the closest location and gave me directions on how to get there. She also provided this caveat: “If I were you, I would make sure to go there before 7 p.m.”

I asked her why. She came closer in a friendly, conspiratorial way, “It gets a little dark there after 7, if you know what I mean.” Then, she actually winked.

I felt like I’d been struck by a thunderbolt. My stomach had somehow managed to find its way to the floor, there was a tornado raging in my head and the rest of me was having alternating hot and cold flashes. All of that happened in less than a second.

A calm voice came from somewhere and spoke to her. It wasn’t until the voice had finished speaking that I realized my lips had been moving.

“That’s OK, the baby inside of me is a little dark so I think we’ll be right at home.” If I had blown the tiniest breath in her direction, she would have fallen over. The phone conversations that had been going on inside of the cubicles had ceased. There were several folks whose eyes appeared over or around their cubicle walls for just a split second.

That was the moment I realized I had officially turned in my “white girl card” for good. I don’t compare my experiences with racism to the experiences of people of color; you can’t look at me and know I have a multi-racial family unless I’m with my daughter. However, folks have said that after babysitting her over the years, they’ve lost any misconceptions about Alaska being free of racism.

Several weeks ago, I saw an excellent quote from a blogger, digitalmuse, describing her impressions of all the middle-aged white men on cable media claiming to know what is and isn’t racism:

“No political analysts, nor Media pundits, nor anyone, in fact, who has not lived and experienced racism first hand can say what constitutes racism. If you have not lived it and don’t know what we all know and have to live through in our neighborhoods, at work, and at school — you are no expert and are uniquely unqualified to pontificate on what statements are racist and which aren’t.”

This quote pops into my head every time Dan Fagan attempts to wax poetic on race in Alaska. I can’t think of anyone more “uniquely unqualified.”

Maybe it’s because Dan feigns “concern” for Native women in his latest column, then reverts to the same old racist stereotypes several paragraphs later.

Maybe it’s because his attempts at “cultural sensitivity” involve persistent use of insults toward Alaska Natives or “Arabs” on the air.

Maybe it’s because Dan equates the sexual assault of Native women to a “defect” of Native culture. Yet, Alaska ranks number one in sexual assault for Natives and non-Natives. A substantial percentage of suspects identified in sexual assaults against Native women are non-Native. According to Tara Henry, a nurse who co-authored the latest study of sexual assault in Alaska, we only have an overall 16 percent perpetrator conviction rate.

How, exactly, would you blame the “Native culture” for any of that? If Fagan really cared about Native women he could spend less time perpetuating myths and stereotypes and more time discussing sexual assault as part of the statewide epidemic it has become.

I have gotten a lot of nice comments - not too many ignorant ones yet.

But it's still early.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

God bless you! Your story is so similar to my own. Being married to a Mexican has radicalized me because I got so sick and tired of people telling me how "Mexicans have ruined California" or "those *&^% wetbacks" without realizing I not only am married to a Wetback, but that I have produced one.

Also working in the public schools on behalf of minority students was a shocking eye opener to this white girl.

I love the part where you talk about turning in your "white girl card."

5/01/2008 11:03 AM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...

Heh - I knew that only another white-girl-in-a-multiracial-family would appreciate that!

Girl, I'm right there with you. Everyday white folks don't have a clue what it feels like to be called "a traitor to my race," one of "the mud people," "n***er-loving whore" (and variations on that theme) or to have an ignorant, throw-back mother grab her toddler son away from my toddler daughter when they were adorably facinated with each other.

While you and I don't have the same experiences of people of color, we do have our own experiences in a family of color - and we will feel the pain of our children as they grow up and confront the world.

5/01/2008 12:16 PM  
Anonymous Jill said...

I have a close friend whose child is milano.

I'm white/Caucasian.

When I'm alone with him in public, it's the black women that give me dirty looks - not the white ones.

5/01/2008 11:14 PM  
Blogger CelticDiva said...

I think you meant to say "mulatto" as "milano" is the Italian word for the city of Milan.

Mulatto is no longer used because it's an insult - it equates the person with a mule.

It's better to say "multi-racial" or "multi-cultural." Or do what I do - call her "black." That's the way most folks are going to look at her anyway. No one is calling Obama "multi-racial."

Regarding staring - I'm not usually bothered by it as it isn't necessarily threatening. Some folks may find it rude but I have a really easy way to figure out the intent - I smile.

If the person smiles back, they were just curious. If they don't, then something else is probably going on.

Most people, black, white or anything else generally smile back. However, it's those folks who avert their eyes and turn away that reveal their true intent. Those folks are usually white.

5/01/2008 11:36 PM  

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