Apr 23, 2016

One of the weirdest parts of Portland, Oregon for me, and the thing I actually find most like living in Santa Barbara, or any other fairly homogeneous, mostly tolerant, is the quiet, sublimated and confused bigotry of a melting pot culture that is more a puree than a stew.

Let me explain, because this mostly seems to happen in liberal cities where everyone believes they are tolerant and loving and embrace culture, but what they really seem to appreciate is a casting off of strong beliefs for something that has a more decorative and celebratory nature: here you will find a variety of foods from a variety of cultures, reimagined, often, and made with ingredients that culture never even imagined. You will find pinatas and menorahs and prayer flags. You will find multicultural music fests but very few mosques and temples.

It is like the renfair of cultural diversity, cosplay for those who grew up with dominant paradigms but like exposure to truly diverse thoughts and cultures and beliefs. We love our punks, our kinda budhist vegan bike riding anarchists, our lesbian jews, our multiracial babies in ironic onesies. We like hues of cultures, but not chunks we need to chew on.

being a jew I often stumble into the center of this more squarely than some. being a "minority", or at least someone who carries a less dominant culture, but looks and feels and smells like the vast majority of beige christianish majority, it is often assumed, even if I outright state my lineage, that I carry the same trappings. and you know people say things around people they feel they have something in common with more unabashadly. so there is that. so I will say I am jewish and they will nod and say it's cool because that is an interesting culture to them that isn't too terribly different so doubt I don't think too much about it. it is a thing I do a few times a year and instead or in addition I get to have a menorrah or something. sometimes they even go a step further and imagine how cool it is to grow up free from the dominant religious paradigm that is causing such stupidity around the world

and I almost choke on my coffee, because the religious paradigm I grew up with includes segregation and women covered head to toe, and food laws so stringent you can never eat out and a full day without electricity and fasting and a variety of other things that are pretty intense and which I carry with me to this watered down and mostly assimilated day. they are me. I carry the beauty and the confusion and the frustration of coming from a culture that I both struggle with and defines me. but I know what it is, and it is a lot to chew.

the other day I read a post about a jewish mom who got an eye roll from a preschool when she asked if her child could bring matzoh for a week (no outside food normally) because he wouldn't be able to eat their crackers or bread or muffins. they made a surprised comment about her being that religious. they were, quite actually, being a public institution required to accomodate in some fashion. and suddenly the cuteness of the jewish kid who drew stars instead of crosses became something they regarded as an annoyance, because there were needs, it was real, he was different, and that was something they weren't interested in dealing with, let alone learning about.

and ofcourse, they didn't recognize it as antisemitism, any more than someone doesn't recognize they part of themselves that says they aren't racist, but rejects dress or slang or accents that are part of another culture. they are fine with skin hues and history, but they reject the actual belief systems and history of joy and oppression attached to that culture. that is problematic and inconvenient and requires a level of introspection of your own

I want to say I am fortunate that the way I carry my culture allows me to not experience some of the more overt racism we tend to express. but part of me carries an anger and curiosity towards those who cannot digest diversity in it's truest form...I think of it is cowardice, because what does it say about you if you can handle dark skin but you can't handle the culture and belief systems that someone carries with them if they are different than your own? are you nervous about loving someone with unique thoughts? does it challenge your own beliefs to experience someone fulfilled by others? or is it simply lack of exposure because even the most hodge podged and atheists societies carry strong and insular paradigms?

I suspect it is all of the above. most people mean well but find it hard to imagine that someone they love and respect has a wholly different mind and history unless they get to truly, personally express it.  and so I think it out job to sensitively remind them that cinco de mayo isn't a chance to get drunk on margaritas, and new orleans isn't all about one street and a party, and jews aren't a cute sideview of semichristian agnosicism, and there a ton of different asian cultures with radically different paradigms and they aren't just here to bring you good food.

there are things to be learned. and they need to be learned if we plan to move away from oppression, in all it's forms, including embracing something as abrasive as anything else: willful homogeneity.

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