Racism?

Yes, it’s a cliché to open with a definition. So sue me.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about racism; about what is or isn’t acceptable.

In my job, you meet a lot of people from a lot of countries, and also a lot of people who have visited a lot of countries. Needless to say, this means that my colleagues and I see a lot of cultural diversity in almost everything we do. Is it entirely wrong to comment on it, or only to do so with malice?

Amongst my closest friends here I have Mexicans (obviously), a Frenchman, a Texan, a Hungarian, a Welshwoman, a guy from the Czech Republic (if memory serves) via well to so Middle England, and others. I am from working class South Yorkshire. We often joke about cultural differences and stereotypes (discussions often but not always instigated by me), and I wonder where the line is amongst friends. I think all my friends and colleagues here are friendly, warm, likeable people, and it would hurt me greatly to think that I’d offended them. That said, I don’t think I have. I think these issues are easier amongst people you know.

On the other hand, there are third party observations that ESL teachers are also guilty of. I’ve heard (and said) things like:

– “If you think it’s corrupt here, you should see XYZ!”
– “Yeah, Mexicans walk slowly, but ZYX walk slower.”
– “Mexico’s problem is just how disorganised it is.”
– “I hated ABC. Everyone was so rude!”

These points are asides from all the things we love about a place, of course. As teachers, we have a tendency to moan. British teachers doubly so. Mexico is here as an example because that’s where I am right now.

Anyway, when you’re at home amongst people who share a culture (even if it’s not your whole ethnic make-up) it’s a little easier to draw the line, I think. In Britain, there’ll always be the middle class fear of offending someone, but broadly speaking, you neither badmouth people who are different nor discuss the ways they are different, save on an ideological level. Out in the world where you’re living the cultural differences, it’s almost impossible not to discuss them. Particularly when you come across the rarity which is an accent that matches your own.

At the risk of mentioning Jeremy Clarkson in two posts in a row, the Mexican Top Gear scandal from a couple of years ago particularly comes to mind. In the episode (see below) Richard Hammond and co. compare a Mexican car to the bigot-approved “facts” about Mexican people as smelly, lazy, stupid desert-dwellers*. This is a perspective from men who leave their country only to mock others while simultaneously living up to the worst possible white Westerner stereotypes. This is racism, and outside of irony with friends, far from what I would ever allow to genuinely pass my lips.

I suppose this is more of a question-post than an answer-post. When you see cultural difference every day, when you travel to places where ideals, processes and habits are different: is it wrong to say so? I’d love your opinions on this.

*I have to say here that since I’ve been in Mexico, I don’t think I’ve met a lazy Mexican. Certain none lazier than me. Though I’ve seen some corruption (and even benefited from it) and a few ripe-smelling people on the tightly-packed public transport, these are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. Geographically, there is so much varied landscape to see in Mexico without a grain of sand in sight. From a non-native Mexican inhabitant, Clarkson is an idiot.

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30 Days Challenge: Day 23: What you would find in your bag

Well, usually there’ll be one or two English text books, a notebook or two (one work, one with novel scribblings), at the moment there’ll be my Kindle open on the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, a load of pens – white board and normal – and various other teaching paraphernalia. If it’s a bag with wheels, it’ll include my laptop for listening exercises  and Starbucks email checking.

There ya go. Sorry, not terribly enlightening again, but I didn’t write the questions.

30 Days Challenge: Day 18: A letter to someone you miss

To My Family:

Hello from Mexico! I just wanted to let you all know that I’m doing fine (as you know from my weekly calls) and all is well.

Sorry I seem to have spent so much of my time running away from you. I love you all. I love being with you and I miss you so much when I’m away. The problem is, the lives you live are not what I want for myself. Not yet, anyway. I need to be myself, even if it means I can’t be a part of the family in the ways I’d love to.

I hope you can all understand and forgive me. I’ll always be part of you, even from far away.

Lots of love,

Andy.

30 Days Challenge: Day 16: A photo that makes you smile.

 

These are some people I saw every week, and spoke to most days back when I was studying for my TESOL in Sheffield. Left to right it’s Gaz, Claire, Rich, Moi and Leigh-Anne. I miss these days and these people. We had great fun, lots of silly games and gossip and a few embarrassing karaoke nights together. Good times.

Scarily enough, 3 out of the 5 people in this picture are career teachers.

Insomnia: SMM

Sucks. It really does. I’m not sure what sadistic mental motherfuckery makes it appropriate for the psychological inland revenue to come poking around 4 hours before I have to drag my ass across town and be a teacher, but it really fucking sucks.

Ah. That’s a little better actually. Sometimes you need to use phrases like “sadistic mental motherfuckery” at 1am to really know you’re alive.

There’s nothing on my mind that affects my present – just a recent out-of-character shitty action and its consequences that I keep thinking about. Yeah, I know. Karma. It’s not going to make my class any better in a few hours, though, is it?

 
All that having been said, if anyone wants to buy me a t-shirt or five with “sadistic mental motherfuckery” on the chest, I would readily accept them.

On love, sex, karma and parallel universes

Hello, imaginary reader. Yes, I know I owe you a couple of “challenge” posts. They’re coming. Don’t be so impatient.

Being the attractive man that I am (see figure 1), I get the opportunity to think about love and relationships quite a lot. Either that, or because I’m a drama-magnet. One of the two.

Figure 1

Anyway, I was thinking about that well-known expression “the one that got away”. Conventional knowledge suggests that everyone has one of these – at least. But what about the one that keeps getting away. You know the one – you really click but the timing is never right. Either he/she has a partner or you do, or you’re sitting typing in a Mexican Jewish school while she’s in the UK with her husband… that kind of thing.

At the same time, I was thinking about karma. Now, I’m taking baby-steps into a more spiritual pagan path. Dangerous steps for a vehement athiest. Nonetheless, the idea of karma appeals to me – either in a literal, spiritual sense; as a coping method when faeces hits the air conditioning; or as a psychosomatic effect of having fucked up and knowing it.

It appeals to me in a literal sense in part because of this quote (0:38)

The idea of “what goes around comes around” is so much more elegent than having a self-richeous giant with a beard dictate the rules. But then you have to assume that all starving, HIV-positive babies in wartorn countries were high-ranking SS officiers in a past life. Dubious, no?

As a coping method I can kind of get it, too. “I can get over this, because it’ll balance out when I downloaded a movie illegally and would be destined to firey hell in certain Southern US states” for example.

As far as pyschosomatics goes, (don’t worry, I’m coming back to love, sex and parallel universes -stick with me) the idea that we allow ourselves to enter into difficult situations or incite certain concequences upon ourselves without consciously knowing it is the kind of crap our Western civilisation does all the time. Just look at 9 out of 10 diet plans on sale in your local bookshop – “one cake and five hail-marys” kind of stuff. The need to redeem ourselves through flagellation (self- or otherwise) has roots in the history of many big, angry organised religions.

So, I’ve started to look at it like this – all those missed opportunities and mistakes and karmic just deserts are there to help us avoid a much less positive parallel universe. Think about it: what would you have missed if you had married your high school sweetheart. What would you have failed to learn if you hadn’t dated that weird girl in college. Would you have ever tried tofu if not to spite the guy with a pathological hatred of vegans?

Back to my original example, what if you stayed in the UK with that girl with whom the timing is never right, and never met the cool Welsh teacher in Mexico City?

If you try to look at karma, at those that got away and all the shit life throws at us as the universe trying to keep us from a grim alternative timeline, it has a way of making life look a little more positive. It also allows me to post this poster:

So there you go. Some ham-fisted philosophy written over two busy days.