Monday, November 30, 2015

more space between the eyes v. shorter foreheads

In a discussion of the long conflict between the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland authors Jack Levin and Gordana Rabrenovic drop this:

[T]he residents of Northern Ireland … stereotype one another, and in physical terms that one might associate only with race. Many Northern Irelanders claim that Protestants are taller than Catholics and have more space between their eyes. They claim also that Catholics have shorter foreheads and larger genitalia.

In America “White” seems to be a category everybody agrees exists. It’s certainly true that once you push them Whites will talk about ethnic differences among Whites. It did use to be that every European country of origin called up distinct types. Yes, Italian Americans still complain about being fingered as Mafia in teledramas and Polish Americans are pricked by Polish jokes. But the main conflict, that between Whites and non-Whites, has so elided differences among Whites that “White Privilege” has been coined to describe all the ways Whites have it relatively good over non-Whites. Are you immediately followed through a store because the owner/clerks suspect you of shoplifting? If you can’t remember this happening to you, you are probably White.

“White” isn’t relevant as a category in Northern Ireland. The quasi-racial physical distinctions between Catholics and Protestants would be so hard to see for an American that we would be baffled to think that the natives themselves saw any. If pressed I have the feeling few Irish could sort a bunch of Irish faces (or genitalia!) into Protestant and Catholic. Yet the differences we see as so minor that we doubt they exist seem to be significant enough to provide evidentiary justification for invidious discrimination in Northern Ireland.

Here in the U.S. we would assert that the differences between Whites and non-Whites are obviously significant. Everybody can easily sort a random group of Americans into the proper categories. Right? Well. It’s likely people with non-European heritage are the beneficiaries of White Privilege if, at a glance, they appear White. But after that things become muddled. It’s just not true that every White person would sort a random group of Americans the same way. We would not all agree which people were White. Would we agree more often than not? Probably. But “more often than not” isn’t much of a recommendation for a distinction, is it? And is there a point non-Whites get a say?

quote source: Why We Hate by Jack Levin and Gordanan Rabrenovic
2004. Prometheus Books