race traitors, going native, and cultural relativism
Ok, I'll say up front, this is a topic that can use more than one blog entry, and I'll no doubt revisit it from time to time. Which relieves me of the burden of trying to cover everything there is to say on the matter... which is a lot!
Anyway... I find a recurrent theme in my writing is that of a protagonist who "goes native" or at least who ends up doing a 180 and coming to support an opposing point of view, often at significant personal cost. No doubt this mirrors my own experiences of converting from a particularly virulent atheism to a reviled religion (more so now than when I converted, but even then largely disliked in America) the vast majority of whose adherents belong to cultures and races that are foreign to my own.
I find the emotional, cultural, social, racial, etc implications, challenges, dilemnas to conversion (whether it be religious or cultural or philosohpical conversion) fascinating, and an endless source of interesting combinations of emotional outcomes.
The experience of embracing the other is profoundly moving. And yet, it can also be profoundly discomfitting. I am proud to call myself a race traitor -- as the folks over ar Race Traitor
like to say, being a traitor to whiteness is being loyal to humanity. By whiteness, I don't mean the color of skin, but rather the phenomenon of white priviledge -- of it being easier for white people to get a loan, to be respected, to rise to the ranks of CEO, etc, etc. To reject notions of Western cultural/intellectual superiority.
And yet, in that rejection of a priori superiority lies the danger of cultural relativism. The notion that all cultures are equally good, or free to be what they are. I reject that notion as well -- just because I'm white and American doesn't mean I have to be silent about misogynist laws in Pakistan, any more than I would be silent about misogynist laws in the US. I don't have to be silent about governments that hold the lives of young men cheap, whether those governments are in North America or the Middle East. Indeed, to remain silent seems to me a form of patronizing -- you are inherently inferior to us, and therefore do not need to be held to the same standards. The trick is to hold all societies to the same standards.
This has been on my mind alot with regards to honor killings. Naturally, I'm appalled at the whole concept of honor killings -- taking a woman's life because she dared marry someone you don't like, or because she flirted with someone, etc., supposedly maintaining the family's honor by erasing the one who brought shame to them. To me it seems like the murder of a sister, a daughter, a cousin, would be far more shameful, but, of course, that's not how they see it.
What's been irking me is that a lot of folks express horror (rightfully) over this crime, but act as though it only happens in the Middle East or Pakistan. What? We have tons of honor crimes here in the US, we just don't call them that. We call them "enraged husband kills wife for affair" or "ex kills wife and her new boyfriend" or "boyfriend kills girlfriend." In fact, it's not so different from an honor killing, only it's personal honor rather than familial honor at stake. And it's terribly common -- over a third of the murders of women in this country are by a husband or boyfriend, for women between the ages of 30 and 50 it jumps to 40% or higher. More than 3 women each day are killed by their husband, ex, or a boyfriend. (statistics from the US Department of Justice
Both of these crimes must be opposed, but also they should be seen in the same light -- men killing women because they don't conform to the man's sexual dictates. (whether those dictates are dervied from cultural standards, personal sense of dignity, etc.) Americans shouldn't feel smug when opposing honor crimes overseas, cause we've got our own problems.
At the same time, converts often recieve a lot of pressure from "native" populations to withhold criticisms. It deemed unseemly, traitorous to one's community of choice, especially when that community of choice is already sufferring from a poor image (as a result of some of those very things the convert would oppose!). Again, there is this notion of superiority, and the idea that if you buy into one part, you have to buy into the whole package.
Why? Especially if the cultural practices are contrary to the religious package one bought into, but even there, why does conversion require total allegience? Why would one replace one blind affiliation with another? Isn't allegience to one's community of choice similar to allegience to one's community of birth -- both of them are a betrayal of humankind, and the basic humanity of the people you are dealing with.
So, I guess I'll be a "race" traitor on all sides, if need be -- from my "race" of birth and my "race" of choice...
See! Definately cool things worth exploring in fiction!!