Why is this an issue?

OK, it’s late at night, everyone is bed, and I’m working.  The TV is on and I’m half watching Wife Swap USA.  Don’t judge me.  I like to have something on in the background that doesn’t require my brain to engage.  This definitely fits the bill.

Except that I am engaged in it, due to one of the women taking part in this episode.  Pauletta, from New Jersey, travelled to California and whilst waiting to meet her new family she had a look around the house.  She gleaned from the photos that her new family was black. She looked horrified.  She said “I hope it won’t be a problem, I hope they will accept me anyway.  You know, because many times, you wouldn’t be accepted in a situation like this.”

Really?  You’re already judging them and deciding they would have a problem with you.  She mentioned it again, before the family had even arrived.  Once they did arrive, she spoke to her new “husband” as if she were meeting a tribal leader who spoke no English and had never seen someone from the modern world before.

Then they showed her chatting to one of the young children and she pointed to a photo and asked who the two women in it were.  The child said that they younger woman was his mother. The woman was white. Pauletta looked like she might faint. Inter-racial relationships? Oh my. And then she put on a very cutsie voice and said “that’s your mom? Oh wow.  Your Mom is white?  Wow. Oh lovely.  No wonder you people are so accepting of my whiteness.  Your Mom is white.”

Oh come on Pauletta.  I’m shocked.  I know that racism exists all over the place still.  But I had imagined it to be something else. Something akin to BNP type racism.  Ugly, loud.  I had not imagined this “cosy” kind of racism that assumes people of different races can’t just get on with life (as much as one can in a programme that pits people at polar opposites against each other – for the record, the polar opposites in this case were lifestyle choices, not race). It’s not even that she was trying to be racist – but I have never before been so aware of someone being so aware of the differences between themselves and someone else.  If it were me in her place (and I turned down my invite to be on the show, for what it’s worth, but that’s another story), it wouldn’t occur to me to consider race as playing any part in the situation.

To be fair, she appeared to get over her shock as the programme went on, but it made me feel really uncomfortable that in this day and age people are so shockingly aware of race, and they don’t even realise how aware of it they are.  I doubt that she was malicious in her racism, but I can’t find another word for it.

And don’t even get me started on Pauletta’s son who would rather starve than eat a vegetable.  He eats nothing but chicken nuggets. But that’s another rant for another day.

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4 comments on “Why is this an issue?

  1. Absolutely classic conservatism – at the risk of appearing racist myself, this sort of shocked behaviour around what (to me) are perfectly ordinary situations is very common amongst conservative Americans. Who, sadly, tend to be white, middle (and higher) class republicans. They won’t express their shock in shocked tones because deep in their hearts they know that that would be overtly racist and that’s bad; they don’t seem to get that it’s FEELING the shock that’s bad in the first place.

    It’s possibly a hang-over of attitudes from the all-too-recent days of slavery and generalised hatred of black people – worst in the Deep South but bad everywhere in America.

    I think someone like Paulette would be MUCH more difficult to find in the UK – here you tend to either get the out-and-out hate mongers like the BNP or you get ordinary people who just see everyone as humans – very few people in between.

    • I don’t think, in this case, she was feeling one thing and expressing another – I think she was genuinely unaware that that her attitude was out of step with the 21st century. In the same was as she seemed completely oblivious to the end of the 1970s, judging by her hair and make-up.

  2. OMG … I was going to say ‘only in america’ but looks like Stonelaughter beat me too it 😉

  3. Liz Beavan on said:

    Totally shocking that people can have such views even now, malicious or not.

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