Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Riding the Number 88 Bus.

A long time ago, during my freshman and sophomore years in college, I didn’t have a car. And for a good part of that time, I lived at home. So going home I would ride the bus. Number 88 began its route someplace in West LA and then wound around the east and north sides of the campus, picking up the few ostracized car-less students like me and the Hispanic maids and others who even then worked in the mansions of Brentwood. After that, it headed for the San Diego Freeway, lugging its way north up the hill and down the other side, where it exited and turned east on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley.

Having grown up speaking Spanish and English at home, I had decided to take a Latin American history class. It was taught by some renowned Ivy League white guy Latin Americanist whose presence had attracted a sprinkling of Che wannabes and similar types. Pretty predictable in retrospect. Completely new to me then. Brown people good. White people bad. Brown people downtrodden. White people racist. Brown people authentic, spontaneous. White people soul-dead, industrialized. Well, I had never heard any of this before.

I left class with my books and walked to the bus stop. Once on the 88, I settled into a seat on the left hand side. At the next stop, three Hispanics got on the bus, two men and one woman who probably worked in one of the estates in the hills. The men sat across the aisle, and the young woman sat next to me. They chatted among themselves and I read my book as we wound our way over the hill and into the Valley.

At the corner of Ventura and Van Nuys, there used to be an open air newsstand. It always attracted people who thumbed through the magazines waiting for the bus. The bus turned left at Van Nuys and braked at the stop. It filled with people. As it pulled away, we could hear the sounds of a person running to catch the bus. The driver looked in his mirror and slowed to a crawl. Up the steps came an Orthodox Jew, conservatively dressed, yarmulke on his head. He plunked himself down across from the two Hispanic guys, red faced and winded.

Mirelo. Con su gorrito parece obispo. Look at him. With his little hat he looks like a bishop.

Cuanta plata tendra bajo de su cama. I wonder how much money he has under the bed.

Then they started in on the rest of the bus, including me, secure in their belief that they were among Martians unable to understand their language.

As I got to my transfer stop, I decided the opportunity was just too good to pass up. I reached for the cord above the window, stood up, looked my Hispanic seatmate in the eye, smiled and said con permiso. Her pupils turned into saucers as she quickly looked away and whispered Santo Dios. Holy God.

It was one of those times in young adulthood where in ten minutes you grow up a little bit. All of the sudden. Getting off the Number 88, I wasn’t quite the same kid as I had been when getting on. I thought of my ride on the Number 88 as I read this statement of school policy. With baubles like this one:

The systematic subordination of members of targeted racial groups who have relatively little social power in the United States (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians), by the members of the agent racial group who have relatively more social power (Whites). The subordination is supported by the actions of individuals, cultural norms and values, and the institutional structures and practices of society.

and this little treasure:

Cultural Racism:
Those aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to white people and Whiteness, and devalue, stereotype, and label people of color as “other”, different, less than, or render them invisible. Examples of these norms include defining white skin tones as nude or flesh colored, having a future time orientation, emphasizing individualism as opposed to a more collective ideology, defining one form of English as standard, and identifying only Whites as great writers or composers.

Future time orientation. I started this post about an hour ago, with plain text, and am just now getting around to the HTML tags, with the expectation of publishing it in a few minutes. Guilty as charged. I guess I should have abandoned the effort in favor of some spontaneous tribal dancing.

But if the dancing involved painting myself in a bright Braveheart blue, to honor my Dad’s side of the family, would my dancing still be as acceptable as if I did a Mayan dance?

PC may soon die anyway. But on the other hand, like the Marxism from which it came, it may exhibit the same wondrous tenacity and successfully continue to stifle certain words when uttered by certain people. So it may be that those of us of mixed ancestry, in telling our life stories, have an obligation. We may have a special little role in hastening the death of PC, in helping to place it with all the other social science crackpottery that we smile at or are still repelled by - the Lysenkoist geneticists, the 19th Century phrenologists with their calipers, the Nordic racial hygienists, the Mexican racial fantasists - into the dustbin of history, where they belong.


chuck said...

the Lysenkoist geneticists

I think about that Lysenkoism occasionally, and I've come to the conclusion that it is sound Marxist doctrine. As I understand it, Lysenko began by extending the idea of class solidarity to corn. And why not? If Marxism supplies a universal model for history and economics, should it not also apply to plant species? Anyway, given that the members of a class were supposed to suppress individual aspirations and unite for the greater class good, it followed that it was a grave error to thin the corn. Rather, corn should be planted together so each shoot could count on the support of it's comrades. Unfortunately, it turned out that corn suffers from false consciousness. I don't recall if any corn was ever put on trial and executed as a result, but it wouldn't surprise me. By the way, there are still freaks out there excusing Lysenko and promoting him as a misunderstood genius, see this. Heh, and I thought hagiographies for Oswald Mosley were odd.

In the same tradition of nonsense, Lenin once wrote an essay castigating Einstein for proposing anything as deluded as the theory of relativity. As super genius Lenin pointed out, no one acquainted with the universal truths of dialectical materialism could ever have fallen into such egregious error. I wish I could find that essay on the net and post a link, but for some reason it isn't there. Hmmm. And didn't Hegel use pure thought to prove the existence of precisely seven planets? As Gauss is reputed to have said, some of these folks make your hair stand on end. I always liked to think he had Hegel in mind.

loner said...

What goes around comes around.

I write this as a white boy who lived in what came to be called South Central Los Angeles and was seven at the time of the Watts Riot. My parents had too much integrity to participate in the "white flight" that followed.

They taught me to be polite and to have a thought for the feelings of others. Of course, when I'm called on something by those who think they know my mind I'm not above defending my intent (or apologizing if, in retrospect, I think they have a point.) I very rarely respond to racist, sexist and/or homophobic remarks (generally from other white boys me being white and all) myself, but occaisionally (seeing as I have nephews who aren't white boys) I'll make a point of referencing them in some restrained response and then I'll find someone else to listen to.

Morgan said...

Wow. Lots to laugh at in the school policy. And I would laugh, except that I feel suddenly very ill.

How does a mind become so soft as to produce a document like that? Or has it simply never undergone the process of hardening?

Unknown said...

As a woman who grew up in very unPC times I can say that the good old days were not always so good.

I think PC began not as some communist plot, but in an effort to try to make people less vicious to people of different race or creed. You know what they say about the road to hell. Instead it became a self fulfilling policy.

cf said...

As inter-racial and iner ethnic marriages become more nad more common, I believe this nonsense will die. It is written by those who Balkanize and history is moving on.

chuck said...

As inter-racial and iner ethnic marriages become more nad more common,

Waiting for the bottom line "all of the above."

Heh, what happens when progressive folk start trying to classify by percentage of race. Maybe the terms mullato, quadroon, and octoroon will make a comeback. The one drop definition of black is already in force because I doubt that there are many blacks who can claim pure African descent.

Syl said...


You sure have a way of writing a story that draws one in. Between you and Terrye life's little lessons in sensibility are easily learned.

Just sayin' thank you.

cf said...

I second Syl's comments.