Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Language Oddity #5,637,008



Thursday, November 12, 2009

Another Oddity of Language

So, last night I realized something:  when we say, "an American," we mean an American person.  But we don't say "an English" to mean an English person.

A Canadian, Mexican, Italian, Russian . . . but not a French, Irish, Turkish, Polish.  We say "a Pole."  Or a Swede or a Dane.  We say "a Danish" but that doesn't mean a person.

I think I may have heard people say "a Vietnamese" or "a Japanese" but that sounds rather ignorant to me.

And of course, we don't say "Chinish."  We say "Chinese."

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Zero-Sum Game

I've recently started reading Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Like his stuff a lot, even if he thinks of Prince as "his mother's music."  And god knows he could use a proofreader.  But anyway.  Not only are his posts interesting, but he's built up a large and mostly well-behaved commenting community.  I haven't joined it because it is so large and well-spoken even without me, and I just don't feel like creating one more damn account for myself, but I have to respond to this comment anyway:
As a white person (I don't presume to speak for all white people), one of the reasons why I find myself getting annoyed at anti-racists is because of their insistence that the only reason why I enjoy any comforts today is because of the suffering of others. . . . By speaking of racism as a zero-sum game, you are GUARANTEED to turn white people off. After all, if whites prospered at the expense of blacks, many whites reason that if blacks prosper, it will be at their expense.
Well, yeah, actually, the reason you are where you are today is because of the people who suffered and died to get you there.  To name just one example, as a white male Christian friend of mine wrote on his Facebook recently, "People died to give you the right to vote.  So go vote!"  I'm really astonished that anybody could be unmindful of those who came before them -- even if you just think of it in terms of your own ancestors.  (This reminds me of the piece I wrote three years ago.)  Perhaps the problem is that you don't like to think of people suffering unwillingly.  Is is really any better to imagine them gladly sacrificing their comforts for you?

As for the zero-sum game:  again, yes, that's what it is.  We all prosper at someone else's expense.  Take jobs for example. If you apply for a job and get it, everyone else loses out.  I'll assume for the sake of argument that the person who wrote this post and called themselves "Star Wars Nut" is a man, although it doesn't really matter.  So, if someone else gets hired for this job, and you find out it's a black person, do you get upset because black people are stealing jobs from whites?  If a white woman gets hired instead of you, are women stealing jobs from men?  If another white guy gets the job . . . well, who is there to be outraged against?  But it's still a zero-sum game, and you still lost.  Unless you congratulate yourself with the thought, "Well, at least the job is safely in the hands of a white person."

I don't think the problem is the zero-sum game.  I think the problem is a sense of entitlement, the belief that those people should stay in their places and not be taking jobs, etc. from the guys who have always had those jobs, always should, always will.  (Gee, this does remind me of a recent Presidential election.)  It makes sense to me that white men would feel threatened and want to cut down on the competition.  But then, of course, you're stuck with feeling guilty about those people who suffered so that you could continue to live in the style to which you're accustomed.  Nope, just can't win.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Disraeli and Obama

I've been wondering for a while how many similarities there are between Benjamin Disraeli (the first and so far only Jewish Prime Minister of England) and Barack Obama (the first black President of the United States.)  I didn't really know anything else about Disraeli.  Finally I got around to reducing my ignorance by visiting Wikipedia.

Two interesting things struck me:
  1. When Disraeli began his political career, it was illegal for practicing Jews to be Members of Parliament.  This was not actually a problem for Disraeli, since he had converted to Christianity, but it indicates the level of anti-Semitism that existed at the time.  In America, because we have freedom of religion, it is perfectly legal for Muslims to hold public office.  But apparently in some people's minds it ought not to be.  (And again, in Obama's case this would not be a problem, because he doesn't appear ever to have been a practicing Muslim.)
  2. As I was reading the Wikipedia article, I saw that Disraeli claimed to be of Spanish descent, that he speculated unsuccessfully in South American mines, had the reputation of being a ladies' man and finally married a rich English woman.  "Wow," I said, "he's Ferdinand Lopez!"
 Ferdinand Lopez is a character in the novel The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope.  He conceals his Jewish ancestry* (which I don't believe Disraeli ever did), does all the things mentioned above and is not really a very nice person.  According to this article, Trollope created several characters who resemble Disraeli, but it seems to me that Lopez is the most similar one.  I'm quite shocked actually. 

Trollope disliked Disraeli for several reasons:  his successful political career (Trollope attempted politics but failed); his literary career (I'm not sure how successful Disraeli was, but Trollope seems to have felt he was more successful than he deserved and that he himself was a better writer); and possibly his Jewishness.

What does this have to do with Barack Obama?  There's been a lot of discussion as to whether his political opponents are "racist" or not.  And Trollope is an interesting example of someone who objects to a certain person's policies and occasionally uses racist stereotypes to express his disapproval. 

Also, people have devoted quite a bit of time to arguing that Trollope was not "really" anti-Semitic -- because they like his writing and they don't want to admire anyone who's prejudiced.  Personally, I like his writing and I also think he displays some genuine anti-Semitism.  I've also heard that he made a number of racist statements about black people.  He's a little sexist too.  So . . . he was what they call a product of his time. On the other hand, Trollope always displayed a certain amount of sympathy for the underdog (especially if the underdog was female.)  But it seems pretty clear to me that as a white guy he was on top and he wanted to stay that way.  And when it comes to Obama, there's a fair amount of that floating around too.

* Incidentally, in the Palliser novels (which are pretty much the only Trollope I've read), nobody ever admits to being Jewish.  They are "said to be" Jewish, because apparently it was such a horrible thing that it could only be whispered about behind someone's back.  I don't know how many crypto-Jews there were in 19th-century England, and as I've mentioned above, Disraeli was not a crypto-Jew and Obama is not a crypto-Muslim, but there is certainly an ongoing belief that lily-white Christendom is under attack by sneaking, creeping, hate-filled hordes of darkness.