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Monday, October 27, 2014

White, Black, Discrimination, and An Indonesian in Between

Just like the author, my husband had a biracial daughter and biracial son. Oddly enough, I don't think any of the author's concern ever popped up in any of our conversation regarding the children's future. They are both light-skinned, but he assured me that anyone with black ancestry could easily figure out that they come from black descendant. Nevertheless we are more worried about how they can cope up with the already difficult and sometimes nonsense life in America, and more importantly, how they can open their eyes and accept the world in all its glory. Their mothers are accomplished women on their own, I guess that's also one of the reason why we wasn't that worried. 

Being an immigrant, it's always difficult to read about things like this. If we are talking about discrimination, frisking, and all that jazz, I would like to point out that I have to have my green card with me all the time when I am in the state of Arizona. I don't think Iggy Azalea would have that problem even though she was an illegal immigrant for 6 years. A friend of ours who is a Hispanic descendants told us she was frequently stopped at border patrol station, and at times even have to explain on how she was driving with a truck that was registered under somebody else's name (which is her husband). She is a natural-born American. My cousin wanted to take the Greyhound bus to visit me in LA, I urged him to think twice and look for other alternatives because I am very afraid that he would get harassed and bothered during the lengthy (more than 24 hours) trip. I went on a bus ride in Los Angeles and there was an intoxicated young black man busy harassing a Hispanic woman, calling her names and such. It was only a 10 minutes ride. 

Immigrants are always at odds. An agent from the Child Service Agency was positively aghast and in awe when I could answer her back in English and phrase my words more eloquently than she could. But even before I arrive in US, I have been a subject of doubts with many of husband's friends and family tried to talked him out of our relationship because they believe my motive is not love. How is that for prejudice? As for job opportunity, despite my stellar skills and impressive track record I have yet to secure even a single job in US, and only gotten about 3 or 4 interviews so far. I may have applied to the wrong companies for the last 2 months, but the fact is that my other friend from Indonesia has been applying for work since December 2012 and had only acquired one this month, and her field was more specific than mine. She got it only after she took courses in America, despite her own already qualifying education and lengthy job experience in Indonesia. It's like catch 22: I can get a job if I can show I have the experience, but how can I have the experience without getting a job first? This sounds unfair, and it is. Can I considered this as racism? I can, but I would choose not to. It sucks, but I am aware that if I were in their shoes, I would also thought hard about choosing someone from a country that I never even knew existed; even someone with American education and job experience can be a bit dim, why risk with someone who had none?  

Discrimination with a hint of slavery is not unfamiliar for Indonesia people. Some Indonesian, thanks to the Dutch that colonized (read: take over our land, enslaved our people, and dried out our resources for their own profit) Indonesia for more than 350 years, still have the slave-master mentality. These Indonesian think the white men are better than the Indonesian, and adore anything western. A great number of Indonesian celebrities are half Caucasian, people who went to western countries for their education (Australia, US, etc) are also considered more worthy than people who were just educated in Indonesia. I myself have enjoyed this obvious racial prejudice for a while, getting to have a well-paid jobs just because I happen to be fluent in English. To make matter worst, apparently a vast majority (if not all) tourists from western countries still have Allen Quatermain's 1800's way of thinking: that we Indonesian are a bunch of barbaric lawless uneducated people. Stories about how foreign business proprietor treat their local employees in a way that would not be accepted if it's done in their own countries (inhumane, disrespectful, unfair) are dime a dozen in Bali. These foreigners also demanded a higher salary and/or fee than the locals, and they will get it even though some of them work there illegally. I accompanied a western friend to a business meeting where, after he got a little too cozy and apparently forgot that I am Balinese, divulged that he hated Balinese and he thought they were just a group of greedy MFs. The potential clients kept glancing at me in horror and I could tell she was absolutely uncomfortable being caught in that situation. He didn't get the job, of course. 

If at this point you already said in the top of your head, "White man is the worse!" then allow me to rectify that. White man is not the worse. Discrimination is, and it is done not only by white men. Discrimination, or should I say fear for something different, happens everywhere and being done by everyone in this world. It is not only the white that discriminates (me as) an immigrant, the black also did the same, and even in the immigrant circle that would ascertain where you stand in the pecking order. My white husband can easily do all of the 7 points that the author wrote, but get this, people could still complain that he achieve all of that because he is white. "Of course he could get that education, he is white. Of course he can go anywhere he wants, he is white. Of course he can protest, he is white." Which sounds like a discrimination to me. You know what he can't do? He can't walked in a predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhood without looking so out of place and worried he'd get mugged or harmed. This is not a baseless fear, he can't even walked in LA without somebody asking him for change, while I can walked about without being bothered. He married a black woman for 10 years and in the end he still doesn't get accepted in the bro clique. When he casually told our waitress in a Colombian restaurant that he was born in Latin America she asked, "How come? You are white!" although to me the waiter looked as fair skinned as he is. He is also a 'target' back in Indonesia, where people charge him for things many times more than they would usually charge the locals because of his skin color. Is this all not discrimination?

When my cousin first came to US, he told me how his fellow student from Africa received harsh discrimination in the suburb area where they live, with people locking their apartment doors whenever the dark-skinned students walked by. It exists. It is painful. It is unfair. The question now, what can we do about it? You can't forced someone to change their perspective towards you, however, you can always offered a new, more favorable perspective. 

A few weeks ago I saw a black woman got denied entry in the Social Security office in Downtown LA because she carried prohibited items in her bag. She was told to leave the items outside the building, and she wasn't taking it. She cussed and insult the officers, even went as far as accusing them to target her and trying to prevent her from completing her business in the office. The officers, naturally, gradually became harsher and harsher towards her with every angry and insulting comments she made. The thing is, I knew for a fact that just a few minutes before her a black woman and her grandma was also denied entry, this time because her stiletto looked like it can be use as a weapon. She manage to resolve it gracefully and got inside in less than five minutes without any voiced raised. A few minutes before her my white husband was also denied entry, this time over a mini screwdriver. And in the morning a white woman was denied entry because she had some lead pipe pieces in her pants. And just before that, I had to go back home because I had accidentally brought a Tasser with me to the office. I was denied entry as well, but the atmosphere were much lighter back then compared to when they were dealing with the angry black woman. If anything, it should be more strenuous because stun gun is actually a dangerous weapon; but I was laughing and being polite all round, and the officers even made jokes with it and invited me to come straight back without waiting in line once I have placed the stun gun in a secure place. Mind you, I look very foreign and anyone who saw me would know instantly that I am not American. Shouldn't I be considered more dangerous than the other 'suspects'?

The story above has two significance. The first is the significance of attitude. Considered yourself in the officers' shoes, which person that you dislike most? Naturally, it would be the angry black woman (even though my stubborn white husband would probably come second since he too was very vocal about having to secure the insignificant screwdriver elsewhere). Then, you would undoubtedly resort to the readily-available stereotyping that black people are violent and unreasonable. It is always easier to generalized people according to the already popular belief, especially if it's a negative belief. It's like saying all Muslim are evil, all white girls drink Starbucks, all straight Christians hate gays, all third-world-country people are uneducated; even if there's only a few people that actually do that in each respective group, it is enough for others to condemn all the group members as a whole. The fact that there was another black woman that was not angry or violent may not even registered in your mind, or if it was registered you would label her as an outlier. 

When I told my cousin that the black people in America scared me, I did not think about my husband's exes or his friends from high school, I did not think about the young man from Mississippi that I helped at a TAP Metro station or the old man that chat with me on the train to Culver City, I did not think about our eccentric neighbor or anyone in LA that has been so generous to me with their smile and assistance. When I told my cousin that the black people in America scared me, I was thinking about the verily drunk man that pulled the zipper on my backpack and went on an expletive-laden tirade because I was apparently blocking his way (I was not) and then proceed to harass my husband, even though he was with his toddler child, for some money. I was thinking about all the other people with smug look in their face when they stopped and asked us for money, even settling with slices of our pizza as if we owed them something. I was thinking about the rap songs that is filled with expletive and violence and glorified criminality. This, mind you, is how someone who is not tainted with American culture sees what's happening in America, how someone who is not brainwashed, so to speak, about white supremacy sees what's happening in America. Attitude matters, I always say to my Muslim friends. It is not enough to quietly disagree with the violent way a very few Muslim behave, they need to speak up and show the world that terrorist way is not equivalent to Islam's way. Can't this be a similar approach to the black people in America?

The second significance from that story is to try to keep your head clear. The angry woman accused that she was targeted, when actually other people had been denied entry as well. I don't know what it's like to live as a black in America, but I know what it's like to live as a minority in Indonesia. When we live in the outskirt of Jakarta where Hindu is minority it is very difficult for us to build temple/praying site, with neighbors looking at the temple in our house as if it was the devil's shrine and some other people throwing human feces to the Hindu community's newly-built main temple, the only one in miles around. The education level in some places in Indonesia were very low, and it makes them an easy target for "Salem Witch" type of riots, where innocents people would be persecuted and harmed if they were from different tribe or religion. In the big 1998 riot, churches and other praying sites were burned, the Indonesian-Chinese were robbed, raped, killed. Even now, there are still religious leaders and groups that spread out false accusations and inflames hatred towards other religion. And yes, the living condition in Indonesia is not as benefiting as the living condition in America. How'd you like that? I didn't froze and lament on my unfortunate situation. I can't (and won't) change the fact that I am not the majority, or the fact that there will be ignorant out there that would harm me if they can. To me, the only option is to keep moving forward, to keep improving myself, because for hell I don't want to be stepped on by anyone. Anger and self-pity won't get you anywhere, because it could work as an excuse when you actually haven't done your best. You just have to keep moving forward and focus on yourself.

One thing that always amazes me is the amount of information and self-education you can easily get in US. Unlike Indonesia, even the smallest libraries here have decent amount of books and Wi-fis are available almost anywhere, and books can even be owned for as little as 50 cent from Friends of The Library. I had to taught myself English through books/songs/movies, Internet is slow and expensive, and books are difficult to come by. At times I would stand for 4 hours just to finish reading a book at the bookstore (because it was too expensive to buy it). Yet here I am in America. My career has been illustrious to say the least: A medical graduates, an English teacher, a wedding consultant for high-end clienteles, and a budding writer that just won her first commendation. Mind you, I was the only dark-skinned person in the ceremony and I heavily suspect I am the only one that is not American as well. If I could do all of this, why can't others? 

For all that matters, it is unfathomable for me and my husband to say: "I wish our child(ren) would stay white" in order for them to be able to do things that my husband could do because of his so-called white privilege. The world is rapidly changing, battles lost and won, wars started and ended. It is far more important for us to teach our children about the dynamics of the world, about how to be good and nice and strong, and how to keep themselves from harm's way. We can't protect them from the ignorant people that could hate them because of, well, anything actually; but we can taught them pride and that mindless haters are just a part of this world as termite and zombie bees (albeit with more annoying quality). Everyone got discriminated one way or another, and it's happening all over the world because the majority of humans right now is a bunch of d*ck who can't come to term with their own insecurity and jealousy. Why fear the inevitable? 

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I like what you wrote. I understand because I got same experience as a foreign woman in western country. I am married to white man and we got a Eurasian son. Anyway congrats for your writing award. Helen.


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