Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga

Structural Patterns

Reflections on Art, Technology and Society

Archive for July, 2020

Internalized Racism

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A week ago, that is the last week of pandemic June 2020, my nearly 12 year old and I biked to Clinton Hill to visit a buddy of his.  The friend’s block in Clinton Hill was having a “stoop day.”  We arrived at the brownstone where his friend lives in Clinton Hill on the edge of Bed-Stuy around 1pm and the next door neighbors had their stoop party rolling.  

The next door neighbors are Black and they were sitting at the bottom of the stoop behind a gate drinking and talking while one man worked the grill.  Parked adjacent to the next door brownstone was a large white SUV with the passenger door open and music playing; it was the sound system for the stoop.  A Brooklyn summer Saturday block party was just getting started. 

My son’s friend and younger brother were outside, and greeted us.  The mom stepped out, we had never met so after brief introductions, I offered to escort the boys to the Christopher “Biggie” Wallace Basketball Courts around the corner.  Between COVID-19 and expected rain, the courts and playground were empty.  The kids threw around a football, kicked a soccer ball and we headed back to their stoop.

The mother invited us to hang out on their stoop.  I took a seat and we chatted as I watched the next door party grow.  With each new arrival, a small explosion of laughter and cheer – a young man with a bottle of Hennessy and plastic cups, a middle-aged woman with beer in hand… it was a multi-generational gathering.  At an apartment building across the street people were setting up tables with food.  I could see that rain was coming, so we didn’t stay long.

On our bike ride back, as my son and I rode next to one another in Prospect Park, he mentioned that his friend (who is White) had said that “those people party all day long.”  He said it in a judgmental manner.  I told him that it’s Saturday and many people work Monday through Friday, so Saturday is a day to party and enjoy family and friends.  I told him that it’s a good thing as I tried to dismiss the judgmental tone.

This immediately made me consider the difference between Black and Latino cultures versus White, particularly WASP culture.  I assume that my son’s judgmental tone was picked up from his friend.  I recalled 15 years back seeing the summer weekend stoop parties along Vanderbilt and reading the stories of the gentrifiers calling the police to shut down those stoop parties as they loudly rolled into the evening.  Now there are no stoop parties along Vanderbilt and nearly no Black people.

Then I thought about my own family in Nicaragua.  On Sundays (or Saturdays), my cousins regularly head over to their parent’s homes with their families and their drink of choice – one cousin adopted Titos a few years ago, others stick to Flor de Caña and uncles tend to elect whiskey or vodka.  The weekend is commonly to gather and enjoy family.  The kids play while the adults talk, drink and listen to music and everyone feasts on carne asada or pollo asado, tortilla, chicharron, tostones…  At the larger family gatherings, it doesn’t always end well, occasionally simmering disagreements explode, words are said, but soon enough everyone will gather again.

When I was very young, my own parents would sometimes throw weekend parties.  It wasn’t every weekend as we did not have much family around, but every few weeks and it was more friends than family.  As I grew older, those parties ended.  My dad worked whenever he could.  If someone called in sick, he’d cover.  He was a BART maintenance employee for 27 years.  There were periods when he’d take a second job or try to run his own janitorial company or even drive to the airport and try to pick up passengers.  It seems to me that when he was younger he enjoyed life a lot more and as he grew older he became more obsessed with amassing money.  Perhaps it was having a family or making sure that all bills were paid off or being comfortable when he retired or he just had a lot of energy and with a family – why not use that energy for financial security…  Whichever it was, my parents were immigrants that adapted to US life and culture, one in which work, not having debt and amassing money is central.  (At least for poor immigrants, commonly, not living with debt is a goal.) However, in the US there are many cultures and amongst them Black and Latino cultures are more likely to maintain the importance of weekend socializing, drinking, music and partying.  Whereas WASP culture is more likely to embrace isolation, the Weekend Edition of the New York Times, reading a novel, exercising in the park, silence and contemplation. And mixed in this is a bit of work – checking emails, checking bank accounts, perhaps moving a bit of money… They are not likely to tolerate loud music and regular weekend parties.

All this said, the reason behind this reflection is my disconcert at my son’s judgmental tone at the idea of people partying all day long and underlying that judgmental tone is a trace of racism. I present two radically different measures of the value of life. One is based on productivity whereas the other on joy. One may find joy through accomplishment, the other finds joy in joy itself. One has a puritanical and protestant root with a moral basis whereas the other has “savage” root with a hedonistic basis. However, the savage hedonism has been tamed or civilized, because it is only after a week of hard work that the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure is enjoyed. And in writing this, I display my own implicit racism.

Written by ricardo

July 3rd, 2020 at 7:23 am