Category: racism

On Racism, Rivalries, Idiots, and Bill Murray

It’s Monday on Bryce’s Ramblings, and usually that would mean a Vodnik Chapter Commentary. But not this Monday, because I’ve got something to say to you people, and it’s gotta be said today. Why today? Because the BYU/Utah game was Saturday evening. Because we’re coming into the home stretch of Major League Baseball games. Because the November elections are right around the corner.

And because I’ve had enough of all of it.

Yes, BYU lost the big rivalry game–something that BYU has been very good at doing (losing the big rivalry game) for the last while. Why do we lose? I have no idea. It seems like typically Utah is far more pumped up to play the game than we are. But I’m just watching from the comfort of a living room, so I really don’t know. I *do* know what I would do to motivate the team next year–if we were playing Utah, which we’re not. I would sit them all down, and show them this movie clip.

In fact, this is a clip that I think all sports fans would do well to watch and understand–and be forced to keep watching until they understand. Because do you know what?

It just doesn’t matter.

It matters to the players, yes. But what really doesn’t matter is what sports team you support. You’re not a better person than anyone else because the team whose logo is emblazoned on your sweatshirt happened to beat a team whose logo is emblazoned on that other guy’s sweatshirt. It doesn’t grant you the ability to fly, or laser vision, or even a lifetime pass to cut in line at water parks. You’re still just you.

At Saturday’s game at Utah, my little sister (a BYU fan) was in attendance. Here’s part of her status update after the loss.

I may have been a Cougar on Ute trurf, but I am also a human being. I had men, women, and even a seven year old boy spit on me. I was told I wasn’t good enough to walk on the sidewalk, sworn at, laughed at, and had smoke blown in my face.

I haven’t had the chance yet to talk to her to get the whole story. I’d like to think it wasn’t as harsh as that sounds. Surely people wouldn’t spit on a girl just because she roots for a different team. I know my sister. She’s not the kind of gal to be being obnoxious at a rivalry game. This is uncalled for, and I don’t think anyone would argue that point with me.

What makes this all even more pathetic is the fact that–for almost all values, BYU and Utah fans are pretty much identical–especially to an outside observer. They are by and large Mormon. They live in the same towns as each other. Drive the same cars. Make the same money. Share the same skin color. Typically have the same political views. Yes, you might get some anti-Mormon sentiment among some Utah fans, but I don’t think that’s the basis of the rivalry.

The one thing that makes these two groups of people stand apart is that half of them like to cheer for the Cougars on Saturday, and half of them cheer for the Utes.

Of course, if you actually ask the fans of one team about the fans of the other team, you get a much different story. “BYU fans are ___________.” “Utah fans always ____________.” Let me fill in the blanks with some descriptions I’ve heard lobbed at each side over the years.

“BYU fans are all so holier-than-thou. They’re a bunch of arrogant imbeciles.”

“Utah fans are nothing but a bunch of drunk frontrunners. When their team is doing well, they care, but as soon as the team’s doing poorly, they don’t.”

I wrote a post after last year’s loss, in which I wondered why Utah fans were so dead set against BYU sports. And I heard some very valid answers. But what I *don’t* understand, and what I doubt anyone is going to be able to justify to me, is why fans hate other fans. Why they make generalized statements like the ones I just threw out there above this paragraph.

Because here’s the fact: people are uniform. They’re always people. Take a group of anybody, and you’re going to have some geniuses, some idiots, some jerks, some gentlemen–some of any description you want to look for. People are people.

Are some BYU fans full of themselves? You bet. So are some Utah fans. Are some Utah fans drunk frontrunners? You bet. So are some BYU fans, no doubt (and highly ironically).

When people start making broad generalizations about another group of people, that smacks strongly of racism.

LET ME BE PERFECTLY CLEAR: I am not likening the problems of being a BYU or Utah fan to the situation dealt with by minority groups. What I *am* saying is that it seems to me a lot of the same issues are involved in both areas, just on drastically different scale.

What it seems to come down to is an inherent belief that anything “Other” is “Worse.” This extends beyond sports rivalries into any number of other areas. Politics and religion are biggies, too. I’m friends with Republicans and Democrats on Facebook and Twitter. The amount of bile that’s spewed both ways is deplorable. As a Mormon, the arguments I’ve heard made about Mormons in general are just depressing.

It seems like it’s more justified or acceptable to dismiss another category of people (Republicans, Mormons, Utah fans, etc.) if they’re part of that category because of some voluntary choice. If it’s a choice people make, then it’s just fine to call them stupid or ignorant or _______ because they made that choice.

But I’m sorry, that just doesn’t hold water with me. Because again, people are people. Do you have some Republicans who just mindlessly believe what Glenn Beck or whoever is telling them? Sure. But you have some Democrats who do the same thing (just not with Glenn Beck). Do you have some Mormons who are total space cadets? You betcha. But space cadets can be found among all races, creeds, and nations.

The fact is that most people make the decisions they make, believe the things they believe, because they’ve weighed things out in their minds and made what seems to them as the best possible choice. I don’t know anyone personally who said, “I know I’m about to do something really stupid, and which ‘ll always regret, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

Here’s a tip, folks–if you’re gearing up to dismiss *any* group of people with a blanket statement that you believe covers the majority of that group, then you’re out of line. And you’re wrong to do it.

Why can’t we just learn to evaluate people by the decisions and actions they make on an individual level?

Maybe it’s because we like to justify our own decisions and opinions. We like to be right. And in some cases (sports, for example), if another person is right, then that must mean we’re wrong. We’re threatened by the idea that there might not *be* a right. Or maybe it’s because in situations like politics, if enough people believe something you believe is wrong, then you could well be out of luck come November.

I’ve been a missionary–an official representative of a church, tasked with talking to strangers about that church. I didn’t do it in an argumentative fashion (though I know there are missionaries who do). My goal was simply to inform people who were interested in listening–tell them what I believed and why. If they were still interested and wanted to learn more, super. If they weren’t, at least they (hopefully) no longer thought Mormons were the same as Amish (a popularly held belief in Germany, where (to the best of my understanding) the Harrison Ford movie “Witness” had translated “Amish” as “Mormon” in the German version. Thanks, Harrison.) I wasn’t more or less “right” in my beliefs based on how many people I got to join the church.

Anyway. This post has gone on long enough, and I don’t want to get it all weighed down with a religious debate. But it’s been weighing on my mind ever since I saw my sister’s status update. If you’re about to cast judgement on a person you’ve never met based on anything about them you’ve heard, maybe you should question why you’re doing that. If you’re going to write a pithy post on Facebook accusing a group of being stupid, or bigoted, or greedy, or ________, realize that if you have a large number of friends, chances are some of those friends belong to the group you’re about to call names.

We’re a diverse bunch. Let’s celebrate that.

And as for rivalries? I’m all for them. I love some good competitions and hard-fought games. I’m all for being mad at the other team. Being frustrated with how they play the game. Getting upset at how the refs are favoring them all the time. That’s all part of the game.

But hating the other fans because they’re doing THE EXACT SAME THING YOU’RE DOING, just from the other side of the field?

Get over yourselves, people.

It just doesn’t matter.

Roma and the American Viewpoint: *Please Read and Comment*

The Hunchback of Notre DameMost of you probably know that a large subplot of my upcoming book (Vodnik) focuses on the main character dealing with racism in Slovakia. Although he’s only 1/4 Roma (the term “Gypsy” is a considered a racial slur, folks), he’s dark-skinned enough to run into problems in the country, which (like much of Europe) has some serious issues with Roma.

This is a subplot that’s been very difficult for me to write, for many different reasons. I went into all of that in a previous blog post. For today’s post, I want to get some ideas down in a slightly different vein.

I’ve been watching a documentary on Netflix called A Film Unfinished. It focuses on the study of a Nazi propaganda movie made in the Warsaw ghetto, detailing some of the tricks and techniques the Nazis used to portray life in the ghetto the way they wanted it portrayed. And as I watched the movie, I noticed that a lot of the rhetoric used by the Nazis against the Jews is still used today by racists. (Surprise surprise, I know.) It was argued that Jews had certain shared characteristics as a people. I have no desire to get into the nitty gritty racist claims–I have a hard time writing them down without feeling like I need to wash my hands.

In any case, I saw in the film the same words and arguments used against Roma today, being used by the Nazis eighty years ago. I’m confident if we went back in time two hundred or two thousand years, you’d find the same arguments popping up. Dehumanize a people–make the argument that they are born “different,” and that nothing they do can make them escape that difference. They’re born thieves. They inherit laziness. Argue that they prefer living in squalor. (Just this morning, my brother-in-law sent me this YouTube video of an illegally built Roma shack being destroyed.) Justify treating a people like animals by claiming that’s the way those people are made. Tell yourself and your countrymen that those people must be dealt with like animals, because they are different. Inherently, fundamentally different.

And it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Deprived of opportunities, forced to live off the state, unable to get steady work and income, constantly prejudiced against–is it any wonder that human beings in that condition end up dressing and behaving different?

But all of this is documented elsewhere by people smarter and with more experience than me. And it’s just a side note to what I really wanted to address today. Until I started writing and reading about Roma, I was about as clueless as the typical American. So none of this is meant to come across as a holier-than-thou, finger-pointing sermon, that said, here we go:

I find it interesting that in a culture obsessed with political correctness, so many good people can be so unaware of the hurt their words and attitudes can cause. I think most Americans view Gypsies as characters from fairy tales and the occasional Disney movie. They tell fortunes, they steal children, they travel in colorful little huts on wheels–and they’re not real. They’re a fictional device to be joked about and used in the same way as we might make jokes about Hobbits or trolls or gnomes.

I know that I’m more aware of the issue, but I’ve been surprised how many times I see the word “Gypsy” used casually in conversation or marketing. There’s a BYU furniture company that’s trying to launch, calling itself Gypsy Modular. Really? Are we that unaware of racial slurs that we’d use one to casually brand our company?

One of the reasons might well be because Roma as a people are so splintered and spread across the world. It’s hard to even estimate how many Roma exist: even in Slovakia, the official number is about 90,000. Unofficial estimates range up to more than half a million. That’s a wide margin of error, especially considering Slovakia only has 5.5 million people total. Because Roma are so spread out, it’s difficult for them to get a unified voice that can represent them. It’s also difficult to even group them into a “them.” They have a wide variety of customs and backgrounds. Add to this the fact that many Roma in America don’t identify themselves as such–choosing instead to pass as another race with less social baggage–and what happens?

We live in a country where Huckleberry Finn gets a new edition so that the N-word won’t offend anyone. And yet we can casually laugh and joke about Gypsies coming to steal children. Does anyone else see something wrong with that? We’re outraged by the tremendous loss of life the Holocaust caused for the Jews, but we don’t realize that along with the Jews, Roma were classed as enemies of the race-based state under the Nuremberg laws. The German government paid war reparations to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. They denied those same payments to Roma survivors. Estimates of the death toll for Roma range from 200,000 to 1.5 million (again, it’s difficult to determine exact numbers). Let’s get a bit more specific: half of the Roma in Austria, three quarters of the Roma in Germany, one third of the Roma in France, all of the Roma in Croatia and Estonia–dead. Gone. (Read more here. Ian Hancock is an expert in the field, and has written a lot of valuable information about it. I’m not trying to trivialize the loss of Jewish life. But I am trying to point out they weren’t the only group to suffer from Hitler’s rabid rhetoric.)

And we still make fun of this people? We’re still casually clueless about their plight? These are people who literally still have laws coming out that bar them from entering certain cities in Europe. This is not right.

It’s a complicated situation. I realize that. I love Slovakia, and I love the people I’ve gotten to know there. My book is based on Slovak mythology. I hope that Vodnik will help grow interest in a country that has been overlooked for years. It’s a fantastic place, with a rich and interesting history. But it also shares the same Roma racism that most of the rest of Europe has, and which we as Americans are clueless about. I hope it brings this to light as well. Because the solution to this problem isn’t going to be found in bulldozers and racist legislation. The solution is going to be found in recognizing a people as people.

If Vodnik helps with that at all, I’d be overjoyed.

Anyway. That’s enough of me speaking for now. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the subject. Prior to reading this post, did you have any idea about the issues I’ve discussed? What is your prior experience with Roma? Please share–it would be immensely valuable to me to hear as many opinions and thoughts as I can.

South Pacific and Racism

DKC and I spent 2 hours and 47 minutes of our lives yesterday to watch South Pacific, the classic Rogers and Hammerstein production done back in 1958. If you’re into classic movie musicals, then you’ve no doubt seen this one. If you’re not, then you probably have little desire to watch it. I’ll say this much: I enjoyed the film, but parts of it really dragged, and I felt like the characters were severely underdeveloped in most cases. Still, the music saves it and earns it its 3 star rating.

However.

One element of the film that stuck out like Pinocchio’s nose at a lying festival was the plot line that involves the two main characters, Emilie and Nellie. They’ve only just met weeks before, but they’re already madly in love. Everything’s going great, until . . . she finds out he’s already been married and his wife has died. This upsets her so much, that she refuses to see him anymore. Huh? That was my first reaction. Then I figured out the real reason–the one that I suppose would have been oh so apparent to me if I were back in 1958: he’d married a Polynesian woman. You know–someone NOT WHITE. Which made him unclean or something. I didn’t live in the 50s–I don’t get it.

The whole theme of racism is woven throughout the film, including some romance scenes between a white man and a Tonkinese woman which were supposedly quite shocking those days. The thing is, today, the conflict there was so dated that it took DKC and I a long time to figure out why the characters were behaving the way they were. Was the world really that closed minded only 50 years ago, that such a plot line was considered edgy? And where will we be 50 years from now? If I were in my 80s, would I still be shaking my head at the audacity of that South Pacific movie today? Is there something today that is considered totally taboo, but which my children just won’t understand what the big deal was?

It makes one wonder . . .

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