Thanks to the incredibly disgusting 2016 US presidential election, issues of racism and sexism have taken center stage in the public debate. And rightfully so. On the racism side, however, the indignation is almost exclusively limited to racism against African Americans and Latinos.
This past week, however, Michael Luo, a New York Times editor born in the US, recounted the story of a woman who yelled, “Go back to China…go back to your f—ing country” while he, his family, and friends, were walking on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Was this woman an outlier – a tourist from flyover country, perhaps – or the face of a problem that seldom gets discussed by the media or the political establishment?
Let me start by saying that my Chinese wife and I have lived in the state of Michigan for almost four months now and walk daily. Never have we encountered such a blatant verbal assault.
But this is the Midwest, not New York City. While the fellow walkers we encounter on our daily stroll inevitably greet us, and motorists inevitably wave us through an intersection ahead of them, those behaviors can be reflective of manners rather than a lack of prejudice.
I have frequently noted that my 9 years of living and working in China taught me more about the plight of African Americans in the US than had decades of trying to understand the African American perspective through the lens of an American Caucasian male living in the US. Not because I ever felt any racist venom from any Chinese person. I was a foreigner, for sure; but it was never a racist judgment. I was just peculiar.
I did, however, frequently witness racism toward the Chinese from fellow Americans and Westerners. It was seldom blatant. They weren’t yelling epithets like the woman on the Upper East Side. They weren’t even making overtly racist remarks. The well educated and successful – the kind of Westerner you are likely to find in China – are too subtle for that.
The racism from the Western side was there, nonetheless. If there was a mistake or discrepancy between my Chinese company and any Western company, the assumption was that the Chinese had made a mistake. ‘They’ had screwed up. Without exception, the Chinese were assumed to be at fault.
Often, of course, that wasn’t the case. But the political damage had been done. My Chinese colleagues stood no chance of defending themselves with the truth. And, of course, it snowballed from there. Once you convince yourself that someone is prone to screwing up, you will inevitably rush to judgment when issues arise.
“Ism’s”, unfortunately, are whatever we define them as. In recent days sexism is getting all the press. This, of course, is a result of the audio recordings recently uncovered of Donald Trump and Billy Bush sharing a bus exchange while en route to a soap opera set where Trump was to make a cameo appearance.
I won’t attempt to defend Trump’s words. I have two teenage daughters and have to admit that while I’ve heard some pretty raunchy banter in my 62-years, it would never occur to me to utter anything even remotely close to what Trump said.
What I find hypocritical, however, is the public indignation being voiced over the issue. If you watch the talking heads voicing the greatest indignation over the issue, including the television news anchors and correspondents, there is little question that virtually ALL of them fall on the right side of the spectrum of what might be called ‘good looking.’ Most have benefited to some extent from the same attitudes regarding superficial appearance that are at the heart of Trump’s remarks. His were raunchier, for sure. And there is a big difference between values and behavior. If he really does what he claimed to do, he shouldn’t be walking the streets.
And that’s not to say that the beautiful people who bring us the news aren’t talented, of course. Or that they don’t work extremely hard for the success they have achieved. But not everything is mutually exclusive.
That’s not a criticism of the way things are so much as a criticism of hypocrisy. Hillary Clinton was right; we’re all prejudice in one way or another. Without exception. It is, I would submit, part of our DNA. Perhaps it stems from a constant search for safety, food, or just the good life. But no one is immune. And those who benefit from discrimination should be careful about proclaiming that it has no place in a civilized society.
I don’t have any scientific polls to support my position, mind you, (there are no ‘scientific’ polls, by the way) but I have eyes. The people who have the least in American society today are often a. not ‘pretty’ by public standards of the time, b. overweight, or c. short.
There are many exceptions, of course. But as Vinnie Antonelli, played by Steve Martin, in My Blue Heaven, famously noted, “The truth is still the truth.”
China is no different, to an extent. If you see a woman sweeping the street by hand she will likely be short and dark-skinned. If you go to a fancy restaurant in Beijing or Shanghai the woman who seats you will likely be close to six feet in height, slender, light skinned, and stunningly beautiful. Just the luck of the draw? I don’t think so.
The difference between the Chinese and the American approach to such issues, I believe, is merely one of hypocrisy. The Chinese are very open about what they believe. No restaurant owner would deny that a woman has to look a certain way before they would be hired to serve as a hostess.
In the US, unfortunately, the restaurant owner or journalist might change the topic by launching into an indignant tirade attacking the questioner.
So, which is the most enlightened?
Hypocrisy is never noble, no matter how indignant or offended the hypocritical.
Contact: You may reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org