Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Overstuffed chair shop, Jinja Road, Uganda.jpg

Exotic Furniture

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous."
I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.
Way to go Morgan! Dealing with difference is a tough nut to crack. Tyler Cowen is an economist and I tend to feel grumpy in the presence of economists because about half the time I think their arguments aren't right and most of the rest of the time I wish they weren't. In a recent post Who benefits from fair trade? Cowen makes the point:
By splitting up the market, we are institutionalizing especially poor treatment for one class of workers. Furthermore the high profits from price discrimination imply that producers will be keen to continue such segregation rather than end it.
I think Morgan Freeman is making a somewhat similar argument against black history month, that is that by splitting it apart from the rest of American history we are institutionalizing discrimination.

A friend of mine calls the inability of men to see what's right in front of them, "male pattern blindness." I like the name and am frequently astounded by what it is that I don't notice. I hope I never have to testify as a witness in court. I wouldn't lie, but I'm afraid my uncertainty might seem like it. I'm not sure, for example what color your eyes are. And what were you wearing last Saturday night? I do notice things and can conjure up a mental image of those I know. It seems as though we can access our memories through lables of some sort, but that it would be extremely inefficient for me to find my mental image of you by lables like: black, white, Chinese, Indian, man, woman, etc. No I'll start with the one that's marked "you."

Over at AlterNet Maria Luisa Tucker posted A Whiter Shade of Christmas about Women for Aryan Unity and the "softer" side of hate. I was chatting with a friend and he told a story of how he rescued a a fellow worker and racist from the clutches of a fish filleting machine while coworkers gasped in horor at the bloody scene. That incident changed the fellow's mind not one iota as far as his views about race goes. I looked at my friend and said: "What's with that?" He grinned and shrugged his sholders. I don't know how it is that stereotypes become so firmly planted in our minds that we fail to see the particulars. I feel quite sure I'd feel gratitude towards the one who pulled my bloody apendages from a machine. I'm also sure I'd be really embarassed about the whole thing. Something about family and friends is they've got a list of our most embarassing moments. It's not really blackmail, but there's something about those secrets which remind us to be kind to them.

I can get lost for long periods of time looking at the pictures at Flickr. I like today's selection, by the very clever Cory Doctorow, because it's along a road that Nathan travels when he's got to go to the bank or do other business. Nathan often remarks about how harrowing the traffic sometimes is. Exotic Furniture indeed, but the business doesn't look all that much different than some of the businesses along Rt. 51, there's nothing in the picture that screems "this is Africa."

What I like about talking with my Ugandan friends is we share many similar interests. Someone at remarked about Africa, It is what I call "The McGyver Society" and that's a bit of the flavor of why I find my correspondences so enjoyable.

Time with Bono, Melinda & Bill on the cover arrived. I was interested to see the pictures of Bill and Melinda Gates in homes of ordinary people all over the world. The photo of Melinda feeding a baby in Bangladesh shows she's fed a baby before: that special facial expression and cooing designed to make babies open wide. Ah yes, the rich are different, but not that much. Our ability to recognise others as people seems so fundamental, it's perplexing that people are so often confused. "What's with that?"

Tucker's article closes with a section Antidotes to Hate and she provides some links. Among them are two links to a Web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. This organization is among the many who send me mail solicitations and I've not paid them enough attention. So I was happy to go through some of the pages by clicking the links in Tucker's article. There's so much there that it will take me a while to explore. I particularly appreciated Speak Up:
In the spring of 2004, the Southern Poverty Law Center gathered hundreds of stories of everyday bigotry like these from people across the United States. They told their stories through e-mail, personal interviews and at roundtable discussions in four cities.
The advice of what to say when so flumoxed you don't know what to say is so helpful because it comes out of true stories. Quite a few of the stories are from the perspective of people being jerks themselves, and that makes me feel not so lonely.

Like the Exotic Furniture not looking much different from some store around here, we're not as different from each other as we sometimes think. I love differences, but I don't like hating. provides some smart ways to seperate the two.

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