Month: October 2015

Race reflections since I started at University of California Shanghai

I hope no one finds my title or subject matter offensive or insensitive. I’m not complaining about anybody or putting them down, but since I started attending a school with a majority Asian student body, I’ve had some thoughts and feelings that are really new to me. In fact, considering I spent three years living in Asia, I have been really surprised at these feelings. How come I didn’t feel particularly weird when I was a white person living or traveling in Asia, yet it seems really strange to me now, back in California, to be part of a minority group at school? And why does it even affect me that white people are a racial minority at school, when we are the most privileged members of American society, and when our Western European roots pervade dominant culture?

Sometimes I look around my classes to see if I’m the only woman, to see if there are any black people or Latinos. I looked around at the last physics class I took, at everyone standing around waiting for the professor to arrive. “Are there really only three women?” I thought. I started to feel like that was strange–should be strange–but almost immediately I noticed a black man, and I realized that while there might only be three women in the class, he was the only black man.

Some people say this doesn’t matter. Some think it is racist to observe that some people are “like me” or “like us,” or not, and they think it’s racist to seek to be with people like oneself. But this is nature, not racism or sexism. In some situations, I am more likely to talk to a woman than to a man. It isn’t exactly because we have two X chromosomes; it’s because we share at least some of the experiences of girlhood and womanhood, and being together can make us feel less isolated by those experiences. This is why veterans who hated their time in the military still get involved in veterans organizations when they get out! It isn’t that I think you must be a good guy since you were a Marine, or my new BFF because you were an AT in the Navy too. No! It’s because civilians just don’t get what we’ve been through. And since for many of us–hell, I speak as a woman and as a veteran on this part–what we’ve been through has been so formative that it feels really unlikely that anybody who hasn’t been through similar things could ever understand who we are.

To paraphrase St. Francis, May God, “grant that I may not so much seek… to be understood as to understand.”

It is better to understand than it is to be understood, but it is also better to give than to receive–this does not mean that receiving is not good, however. It is both natural and perfectly fine, I think, to wish to be understood. So it is also natural and fine to congregate with people you can reasonably expect to understand you, but–

But the trouble is when folks seek each other out not in an effort to be around understanding fellows, but in an effort to avoid the other. To avoid people who you do not easily understand, to refuse to try understanding them, and really–not that I had intended to write very religiously in this post–to refuse to call those people ‘neighbor,’ and love them accordingly, as Christ commanded.

I am digressing. I have noticed before when I have been one of only a few women, but this has only ever bothered me in cases of sexist comments (and I mean real ones, from bona fide I-hate-all-women-because-one-woman-screwed-me-over misogynists) or… hm, what is it called? When men think they are being courteous, but really you wish they would not assume you can’t lift 30 pounds just because you’re a woman? By the way, I can lift a lot more than 30 pounds–but I digress again.

At my new school it’s a little different. I don’t find myself seeking out other white people. “White people” is such a broad demographic, believe it or not, that it’s pretty meaningless in terms of seeking out someone who probably has a similar life story so far. But it’s awkward to even try speaking with some of the Asian students, especially those who are international, because how do you find a way into a conversation that’s going on in Chinese or Korean, unless you speak those languages? I can’t blame Chinese speakers for wanting to speak Chinese with each other, of course! But I, me, a white American, don’t feel as normal as I would’ve expected to going to an American university.

I have other thoughts, especially related to the Intro to Chicano/a Literature class I’m taking, but I guess I’ll save them for a Part 2. It’s dinner time, and I still need to study tonight.

Am I a hippie?

The answer, of course, is no. I like showers, shaving, shoes, and my “love” is not free!

But there are lots of opinions I have in common with bona fide hippies, and sometimes I think about this. Today I thought of it a little because I was listening to The Take Away on NPR, and they were playing listeners’ comments on gun control. Ever since living in Japan, I admit I am probably what you’d call pro-gun control. The proviso to that is that I’m not in favor of every gun law out there or on the table–I’m just for better regulation of guns in general. What struck me about listening to the comments on NPR today was that so many of them were actually consistent with what I think. I’m not used to that since most of my friends and acquaintances are anti-regulation Republicans, and even Libertarians–ahem, anarchists, ahem–and my own mother is an NRA member.

I avoid talking to any of them about guns because frankly, I believe their views are rooted in culture rather than reason, and I do not like hearing their cliches and hyperbole. That doesn’t keep them from bringing the issue up in conversation (especially my mom, because she really does not give a damn that I hate talking about guns), and it certainly doesn’t keep them from plastering my Facebook feed with pro-gun jokes, memes, and articles of dubious journalistic merit. It also doesn’t keep them from bashing anyone who disagrees with them, rather than, hm, I don’t know, refuting us? Trying to?

Anyway, I suspect there are people I know who feel as I do. But guns are not something I consider polite to bring up in casual conversation. So it was nice hearing strangers on the radio say things besides, “Guns don’t kill people, people do!” or “Obama is a fascist!” You know? There were some callers from pretty conservative cities in the South, and I sort of imagined them like myself, like little islands of Can’t-We-Talk-About-This-Logically spread far and wide in a sea of My-Way-Or-The-Highway.

I understand people who hate regulation. I used to feel that way myself. I was raised by people who think one should never register all of his or her guns. I can imagine, I think, what the founding fathers were thinking about when they wrote the Constitution of the USA.

But what’s both annoying as well as scary is the antagonistic attitude that so many people seem to have. It’s annoying because it prevents edifying discourse. It’s scary because if you’re this aggressive with your [sometimes unsubstantiated] opinions, are you really going to be cool as a cucumber with a deadly weapon?

I also think about guns as analogous to cars. Both are useful to humankind, but both kill a lot of innocent people in this country every year as well. There are two points here.

The first is that cars are regulated. You have to insure yourself because it’s well known that you’re likely at some point to damage someone else’s property or body with your car. You have to have a license to drive a car because it’s well known that although a licensed driver is not necessarily a good one, an unlicensed driver is probably unlicensed for a good reason. You’re not supposed to drink and drive, text and drive, or speed. The list goes on. There are many laws associated with driving, and while they are not perfectly enforced, they are well enough enforced that fewer people die nowadays from flying through the windshield than in the days when seat belts were optional. I know there are people who say, “If someone would rather die than wear a seat belt, who is Uncle Sam to tell them otherwise?” The problem with that view is that it assumes Uncle Sam is trying to save people from themselves, which is not the case. What Uncle Sam is trying to do is save innocent people from stupid people, and to save public money.

Consider that children cannot be relied upon to make decisions about their safety, so they depend on their parents. Well, what happens when the parents do not make safe decisions? What happens when the parent does not think seat belts are really needed? In such cases, children need protection from their parents’ ignorance. Parents sometimes need financial incentives to make safer choices–the incentive here being, “I still don’t think seat belts are a big deal, but I would rather keep my money than pay a ticket.”

Also consider that people who fly through windshields typically need paramedics and police officers, who all need paychecks, and who all drive vehicles that require maintenance and fuel. So there is a significant cost to taxpayers when someone decides seat belts aren’t his cup of tea.

So a person has a choice to use a gun, and let’s not even consider what type of gun for now. A person has this choice, but it is a choice that should be regulated because it can jeopardize the safety of innocent people like children as well as cost taxpayers money that some of us think would be better spent on filling potholes (just saying).

The second point about guns and cars is that both threaten life. Do we care? This is the point: Do we? Where is Pope Francis? He could write about this better than I can. Our culture lacks respect for the dignity of life. Part of it is that we do not all agree on what is dignity, or we cannot agree on what is life (I am not only referring to abortion, but also to cases such as Terry Schiavo’s), or some of us are more cautious about certain slippery slopes than others. Part of it is also just either not knowing or not really caring that replying “LOL” to that text right now, while cruising 75 mph is actually putting other people’s lives at risk. Disregard for one’s own life is one thing. But part of living in a society is you don’t get to disregard other people’s lives! Or at least in my utopian dream that’s part of living in a society. But we constantly prioritize our desires and impatience over other people’s right to live.

Every time someone decides she’d rather drive home drunk than pay for a cab —

Every time someone answers a text message while driving —

Every time I speed —

Every time you try to talk on the phone, smoke, eat, and shift,  all at the same time! , in traffic —

These actions put our convenience, amusement, peckishness, and impatience above all else. We say to ourselves that nothing will happen, but the truth is that car crashes happen all the time. Fatal car crashes are not rare. And often it is not the foolish driver who dies.

When that guy in the white Camaro ran a red light at high speed a couple of years ago, I hated him so much because I realized this. Because his actions said, “Your husband’s life is not as important as me having a bit of fun.” Of course this is an example of someone disobeying the law, but certainly we all know that more people would run red lights if they weren’t afraid of a fine.

What I’m getting at is that people are selfish. I am not being high and mighty about this because I am not an exception, although part of my religion is trying to be less selfish and more life-affirming everyday. I have driven under the influence before, and that was wrong. The answer is not to defend my “right” to make a wrong decision though; the answer is to accept the consequences, and–Jesus said it best–“sin no more.” That is it. I cannot imagine that I will ever drive a vehicle like that again. For me, that is because my conscience has grown. But for others, conscience can be silenced (alcohol can do that, of course), and sometimes the law is just that one thing that makes somebody say, “You know what, I can’t risk getting caught doing this.” Their motive is selfish, but the result is the same: everybody is safer. This is what laws are for.

With guns, it is no different. If manufacturers could get away with selling faulty guns, some of them would (The Jungle principle). If some gun shops could get away with selling guns to anybody, they would. Since we already know that guns can be gotten illegally even under current laws, then some will say that is proof that gun laws don’t work. Don’t they though? Is the Camaro driver proof that traffic laws don’t work? No. Gun laws do not prevent every nutjob from getting a gun, but they do prevent some nutjobs from getting them. That is better than nothing when we are talking about people’s lives.

We need gun laws because people need gun laws when their consciences fail them. We need gun laws so that when a person cannot buy a gun legitimately, he has to ask himself (a) Do I need help? and (b) Since I cannot acquire a gun lawfully, is it worth it to risk getting caught with unlawfully purchased gun?

I’m not going to get into the hyperbole and fear of “One World Government,” or “New World Order,” or the other things that I’ve heard about from many of my anti-regulation acquaintances. I will also not get into how I interpret the Second Amendment. I’m not even going to address my friends’ logical fallacies. There is so, so much more to this issue, but all I want to say in conclusion is this:

What is more important: abstract rights or the lives of human beings? What is demonstrably harmful about restricting gun ownership? Are you certain that our society would not be safer with fewer guns? Have you ever lived in a developed country with strict gun laws?