Friday, October 5, 2007

Selective Service


(art from Humor Works exhibit at Galerija Škuc)

It had to happen because it is lingering in the air around us all the time: To mention or not to mention. In theory I want to put it all out there, but in practice it's not so easy....

....and...
so.....
this week while in Croatia, I went up to vist the busy men baking as they worked the long day away up on the roof. While they rested for a moment against the tile roof, sweat trickling off their brow, our lovely host, a jovial, friendly, cosmopolitan, and seasoned world traveler turned to me, chuckled, and made some quip about how we now all knew why they used nigger slaves in America.

Now, I am not certain what I was supposed to say. I have no shortage of buttkicking swear words for any American white who would dare to make such a joke, but here and now I am not 100% sure which way to go. I mean he wasn't calling me that. And those words don't mean quite the same thing here as in the states, they don't have the frightening radiating danger sign and barbed wire around them. Racism is, no doubt, a global system, but the ways it manifested itself that time just didn't seem to fit the modes I am used to dealing with. I feel I'm lacking the right/ best tools in my toolbelt, something quick and to-the-point to do. I didn't feel like hanging around at that moment to give a history lesson nor did I feel the need to have any sort of outburst one way or another, and so I stared blankly back at him and walked away.

Later that day, as we are oft to do, I read an article to The Captain from a silly magazine and Cap translated the words I couldn't make out. In one article they said something about a mulatka and Cap asked me what the English word for it was, "What do you call it when someone is half black and half white?" I know the word, mulatto, having run across it in old history books, dusty old stories about slavery and miscegenation, I've always hated it. So when he asked me I paused for a moment and said...."Uh we dont have a word for it, there used to be a word but we don't use it anymore..."

I'm still not sure if that was the right thing to say. I'm not trying to be the board of censors, but in the mood I was in, it sounded good at the time.

7 comments:

Poulette said...

Hi Camille, great blog, can't wait to read more!
I'm actually really surprised to hear that the term "mulatto" is outdated or ideologocially loaded - it has no negative connotations in Slovenia. I suppose the PC term is mixed-race?
That said, I've often come across Slovene's who say "nigger" without a second thought, apparently completely unaware of what this MEANS. I don't think these people are actually racist, just clueless. My guess is that most of the attention from strangers you'll receive during your adventures in Slovenia will be because they consider you exotic and intriguing - though this won't necessary make things any easier for you!

alcessa said...

Camille: I can only second Poulette's wise comment...
I used to live in a student hostel in Ljubljana and we used to attend the so-called Afro-parties a lot. It just so happened that the only mulatto there was also the most handsome man around - he was our neighbour and became a famous male model later -and we used the word the same way we said "milk". Up to this moment, I didn't know it was a no-go word (thank you for that). Also, we used many other expressions that are not really PC: they were a part of our vocabulary at those parties and similar events quite often. It's not that one should disregard political correctness and remain ignorant, it is only that it is more realistic to assume that "they do not mean anything" (as Poulette is saying)...
At some time in the past I taught at a primary school and kids used to call me "Whoopi Goldberg"! :-) And I am only darkish... :-) Also, I didn't care.

Camille Remarkable said...

Taken from wikipedia...
The term is thought to be derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word mulato (a small mule), which itself is derived from mulo (mule).[2][3][4] It was once a generic designation name for any hybrid. This is believed to be the reason it is considered offensive by some English-speakers[citation needed] where it is not so considered by Spanish-speakers or Portuguese-speakers.

alcessa said...

As you probably know already, the word "mula" (mule) exists in Slovenian, too. It does not only describe the hybrid animal, it is also used for young girls (also: "mulka"). Boys are called "mulo" or "mul(e)c". The slightly derogatory sound of it is there as a means of pretension: to mask the keenness this expression basically denotes.
Despite the fact we have the word mula in Slovenian, I would never have made the connection to mulatto. Mulatto has (had) only one feature for me: [+ exotic]...

Lisa said...

That's a difficult one. I was shocked when I first heard it used conversationally here, even by social activists. I'd agree with everyone's point that it comes from a place of not knowing, of not having the context to understand what the word means and how loaded it is. You might find that some people even say it out of a sort of misplaced attempt at indicating solidarity with you. This is not to say that it's okay, that it isn't offensive and fucked up, regardless of intention. I've tried talking about how where I come from, only racists use the word and it's usually about looking for a fight with someone (at least in Canada, when used by white folk). This is super simplistic, but it's a starting point I guess.

Another thing you'll probably come across, if you haven't in the past, are Pustovanje costumes and floats of a highly racialized/racist theme. "Blackface" is pretty much guaranteed at parties and in town parades. As are mock-Gypsies and parodies of Native Americans and Inuit.

Blog posts like this one might just do more to change people's attitudes about the casual use of the word than anything else. Once people realize the impact of the word, they will then have to make a choice about using it.

Great post, thank you.

Camille Remarkable said...

@ Poulette - Poulette lives! This is good news, now where are the posts to prove it?

Thanks for the kind words. :)

steven said...

I don't know how it is exactly in Slovenia but in the rest of ex-Yugo there is no such thing as political correctness, especially when someone is making a joke. I have heard university-educated people crack jokes about everything from child molestation to concentration camps. Nothing is off limits. That is not to say that there is no ignorance or racism in the Balkans, I think that would be like saying there is no pasta in Italy (I’m only half joking). But in this case I think that the person, as I think you correctly judged, was speaking not out of malice but was just trying to make a joke (although obviously it was a rather poor attempt at one!).

I personally know that every person from ex-Yugo who moved out west was terrified for the first few years of saying something off color around westerners because it was universally known that they couldn’t take a non-pc joke.