Saturday, July 20, 2013

Racism – What a Concept!

During the 2008 Democratic primaries, Senator Barack Obama gave a speech about race and racism that was so eloquent and inspiring that I felt compelled to support him over (the also very impressive) Hillary Clinton.  Yesterday, as president, he offered more words on this topic, and again he was eloquent and thought-provoking.  But it seems that not everyone responded positively to his heartfelt comments.

Racism is one of America’s most disheartening and enduring diseases, but, as President Obama pointed out, our health is steadily improving on this front.  Nevertheless, some of the reactions to the president’s words testify that racial hatred continues to fester in some quarters.  Comments on different websites include, for example, the accusation that Obama is now a “race baiter,” he has become “the Divider in Chief” and that he is “adding fuel to the flames” surrounding the George Zimmerman case.  And these, unfortunately, are among the more mild claims of commenters who suffer from racial prejudice.

Racial hatred is not a simple entity, and, frankly, it’s not one I understand thoroughly.  I know that I have relatives and acquaintances who are guilty of it to one degree or another, but I recognize that these people are not simply evil from head to toe. 

But why so many otherwise decent people cling stubbornly to this malady is something of a mystery to me, though I’m sure a lot of it is rooted in fear.  Any help in coming to an understanding about how racism works will be welcome to me.

Jessica Williams, a Daily Show Senior Lifestyle Correspondent, while discussing Paula Deen, pointed out that there are actually two kinds of racism, Type 1, which runs in families and with which some people are born, and Type II, or adult onset racism.  Type II racism, she explained, afflicts people whose brain veins are clogged with “pure, saturated Dixie nostalgia.”  Type II, by the way, is rarely fatal since it can be controlled with an interestingly named patch which will suppress the urge to blurt out offensive comments originating in the brain’s racism center.

I’m not sure about Ms. Williams’ typology, however.  To me, the distinctions I recognize from overheard conversations and frightening website comments, seem to be more finely graded than a two-part categorization would imply.  I am somewhat reluctant to put a specific number on the various levels of American racism, but, in the manner of a true social scientist, I will tentatively offer a Guttman Scale based on the premise that there are at least seven different types or levels of racism afflicting our nation.  According to the principles of this scale, Level Seven represents the most severe form of racism and, in general, anyone exhibiting Symptom 7 will almost certainly exhibit the other six as well.  Each level works similarly in relation to those below it, so that anyone exhibiting Symptom 6 will likely suffer from Symptoms 1 through 5, etc.

Here is the scale with the Symptoms listed in reverse order, numbers 7 through 1:


7. Using the n-word regularly with hostility

6. Telling racist jokes

5. Using the n-word casually and dispassionately (à la Paula Deen)

4. Believing that Barack Obama was born in Africa

3. Believing Detroit went bankrupt because of its large African-American population

2. Believing in “small government” because government spending is
    thought to funnel taxpayer dollars into the hands of minorities
1. Sympathizing more with George Zimmerman than with Trayvon Martin and his family

I recognize that this scale is a first effort and would certainly benefit from constructive comments. Nevertheless, I offer it in a spirit that I hope will encourage reflection on this national malady, particularly among those suffering from one or more of the symptoms listed.  Like President Obama, I am confident that someday America will find a cure.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

In Moscow with the Gang of Four

After our faculty visit to St. Petersburg and Karelia, described in the previous post, four of us decided to spend a few days in Moscow before returning home.  It was to our great good fortune that two old Rollins friends (and former visiting faculty) invited us to stay at their dacha just outside Moscow during our visit.  Thank you, Vasily, Olga and Katia!

Three of us (Jose, Patricia and Bob) with our Gracious Hosts, Olga and Vasily. 

Katia, Olga and Vasily's daughter, was studying for her exams and was not present for the group picture.  Here is the lovely young Katia:

Vasily and Olga's dacha and part of their garden:

Dacha Refrigerator: Which We Raided Regularly

For a fun ride, try Vasily's quads.

 A few of the other dachas in Vasily and Olga's neighborhood.

Soon after we arrived in Moscow, our friends took us to see Rostov the Great, an old walled Russian city north of Moscow.

 Rostov the Great

Interior view of the city from one of the towers (with traveler in foreground):

On the road we found some wild strawberry vendors.  Vasily put his renowned bargaining skills to work in purchasing a batch.

Wild strawberries: smaller than the ones we find in Publix, but so delicious.

Also on along the highway, pelts for sale. 

Old Russian Wooden House

World War II, known to the Russians as The Great Patriotic War, saw intense fighting on the outskirts of Moscow.  On the road from the airport are markers indicating the farthest extent of Hitler's assault on the city.  The enemy got no farther and Moscow was saved.

Victory Park celebrates the victory over the Nazis.  At its heart is a museum commemorating the Russian struggle during the war.  At the entrance to the museum is a statue of a horseman killing a dragon-like beast.

Outside the museum, artillery.

Inside, a poster celebrating the Russo-Anglo-American alliance.

A diorama illustrating the struggle...

What makes Moscow unlike any other city is the complex at the heart of the city, especially the Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral and Red Square.

The Kremlin: View from Moscow River
(Photo: PT)

St. Basil's

The Gang of Four at Red Square

Stalin and Lenin greet a young Comrade at Red Square:

Red Square can have a certain Disneyesque air at times:

Red Square Critters

 Just off Red Square stands the famous GUM Department Store - actually more like a mall than a single store.

Further along the Moscow River, a huge statue of Peter the Great astride a ship.  He is the Czar who turned Russia into an ocean-going power.

And nearby, the entrance to the famous Gorky Park, known to many Westerners through Martin Cruz Smith's detective novel of that name.

The park is family friendly, with lots of people hanging out on inflated mats.

Li Wei and I went to the Ukraine Hotel for an elegant hamburger lunch, since Vasily told us we could get a spectacular view of Moscow from its top floor restaurant.

 Outside was a fleet of Rolls Royces - clues that our burgers would not be cheap.

The Ukraine Lobby

Li Wei in the elevator.

The Dining Room (which we had to photograph surreptitiously, since pictures were not supposed to be allowed)

Burger and Fries a la Ukraine

From the Ukraine: A View of Moscow's White House, where the Russian Parliament meets.

Scenes from the Street: A Musician

The Latest Film - The Heat:

From the Mayakovsky Museum:

The Handsome, Dashing Vladimir Mayakovsky, Soviet Era Poet and Playwright.  One of our group had a major crush on him, but to prevent her embarrassment, I will decline to identify her.

Patricia at Moscow University

Brother Li Wei on the Train to the Dacha.

And, Brother Jose

(Coke : Jose :: Spinach : Popeye)

In Downtown Moscow, Receptor, a Cool Hangout

Receptor Interior

Receptor Piano

Farewell, Dear Moscow, we will miss you, as we will miss our friends Vasily, Olga and Katia.

до свидания!