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As a student of Anthropology, I’d like to preface this with a couple of comments; as this subject is sensitive and can potentially enrage/anger/sadden/alienate people, please finish reading it -- it may make you consider what you say or do on a daily basis. I also think we’ve been using the term racist in a wrong connotation; in order to be racist, one has to accept the fact there is more than one race of humans present, which is empirically wrong. The human race is large and contains a myriad amount of variation -- though to be clear, there is only one kind of human. There are not races of humans; we are ethnically different, which is completely different. So when someone is expressing a view like, “white people are better,” or, “Mexicans are lazy,” they are being ethnocentric. So, to be technically correct, my friend is ethnocentric to a painful degree.
Race and Anthropology was one of my favorite courses. My favorite professor liked to say, “To claim to be NOT ethnocentric is to lie,” and I wholeheartedly agree with her. To some degree or another, everyone is ethnocentric; to act on that premise alone is what differentiates normal people and horribly offensive ones.
Think about it carefully. Whether you can admit it to yourself or not, we’ve all said or done something offensive in the guise of comedy, or in a situation that you need to fit in. I’m not excusing my friend in the least, but it surprised me when I finally came to the realization that she was more than just accidentally offensive -- she was downright adamant about the stereotypes she believed in.
Little is said about race/ethnocentrism amongst minority groups, but let me tell you firsthand that in a lot of Latin American cultures, the issue of skin color is still widely talked about. Derogatory terms are taught at a young age, and it’s just a part of the cultural norm.
“Mi Negra,” “Guera,” “Negrita” are all common terms of “endearment” in Spanish; respectively, they mean “My black girl,” “Whitey,” and “Little Black One,” words you’d never hear spoken in English because of how offensive they sound. This is how my friend started her overt ethnocentricity.
I’m a second generation Mexican-American, and I’m proud of my heritage (my last name is a derivative of an Aztec word for deer!!). I bet you’re asking what that has to do with anything; culturally speaking, it says plenty about who I am.
It indicates that though I have strong ties to my ancestors' original community, I have ties that are as strong or stronger in my new society as an American citizen. I went to an elementary school that was predominantly white, to the degree that until the 5th grade I had to go down to the principal’s office to translate for parents and new kids, just to make sure that everything was being understood on both ends.
By the time I reached high school, it was more ethnically diverse; when I graduated I went to one of the most diverse universities in the country, the University of Houston.
My friend, let’s call her Mayra*, is a first generation Mexican-American. She went through a fairly Hispanic education program, both at home and at school, and ended up going through the same program as my older sister.
I wasn’t close to her at first (she’s almost 5 years older than I am), but she was my older sister's BEST FRIEND FOR LIFE. We spoke on rare occasion, but she didn’t seem like a bad person. I didn’t notice her profiling at first. It’s common for people who speak more than one language to switch between languages (the military calls it coding, whatevs). As I got to know her better over the years, I realized that when she wishes to bring up a stereotype she does it in the safety of her native language.
Every once in a while she’d say some sort of depreciating comment about “la negrita enfrente,” the African-American lady in front of us, at a restaurant, a mall, wherever. Both my sister and I told her that it wasn’t cool; she kind of shrugged it off and continued like she hadn’t said anything out of the norm.
Mayra started dating this guy she met at a business club meeting at U of H; Kevin* isn’t a bad guy per se, but he does have a superiority complex about the grandeur of his white ancestry.
They’ve been together for about 4 years now; eventually they both graduated and she started working at an accounting firm downtown. I had recently quit my job at a bank and was looking for work. She referred me and that’s how we started car-pooling every day.
During that time we still got together and did stuff, and I would hear her make more and more comments, sometimes encouraged by her boyfriend, but most often all by herself. It wasn’t just African-American people anymore, it was pretty much anyone who wasn’t Mexican-American or white.
Several times I’ve called her out on her behavior but she shrugs it off. It’s starting to seep into her English conversations (hence my comment on her boyfriend encouraging this behavior). It’s gotten to the point that she won’t have Indian food because, "Indian people have bad hygiene, and I don’t want to smell like curry all day.”
She won’t have Thai food, “because you don’t know what kind of meat they use; Kevin says that in Thailand, they eat whatever moves.”
She has gotten to the point where she makes fun of her own heritage: “If they’re crossing the border they should learn to adapt and accept the cards they’ve been dealt."
Her irrational behavior to other cultures is disturbing. At work, she’s friends with the older lady who remembers liking her segregated elementary school; I do my best to avoid them both.
Where she gets off acting like stereotypes and falsehoods are the god given truth is beyond me. She herself is part of a minority group that gets persecuted on the daily on shows like "Fox and Friends." Half of her family illegally came to the United States, and the other half still lives in the United States of Mexico.
I do my best to tell her that, although she has the right to her own point of view, it is in essence all that is wrong in the world (Sudan anyone?). She essentially is a good person, she helps others when she can, and does a lot for her family, but my sister and I are slowly pulling away. We don’t know how to reach past her attitudes to others anymore, and I don’t think we want to keep reiterating the same speech day in and day out.