Saturday, 25 March 2017

We are what we are! Aren't we?

Well, we watched the second half of "2001: A Space Odyssey" yesterday evening and are really none the wiser about black monoliths, what the mission to Jupiter was all about or, indeed, anything at all. Phil commented at one point that it took a long time to tell us that life is very complicated. We shall have to google it and see if anyone can enlighten us. Very beautifully filmed and with amazing special effects, especially considering that it was made when CGI was unheard of, I nonetheless wonder what a younger generation makes of it. I must lend the DVD to our 19 year old granddaughter and see what she has to say about it.

One of the things that perhaps marks the film as a very 1960s product is the very whiteness of the cast. Okay, it was quite a small cast but there were no token black or Asian people there were for example in Star Trek not so very much later. But then, the film didn't have any alien races such as Klingons either.

Someone called Arwa Mahdawi was writing in the newspaper the other day about what she refers to as the current "weird time for whiteness". Despite her name, which she recognises does not fit into most people's idea of "white" names, and despite being as she puts it "technically speaking, a bit brown", because of her parentage she has always fitted into the US census bureau's definition of "white". This is because she has mixed British and Palestinian parentage. Also because until now the US Census Bureau has defined white" as “a person having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa”. But this is probably about to change as there are plans to add a new “Middle East/North Africa” category to the US census and people originating from the Middle East and North Africa may soon have their own category. Arwa is uncertain whether this is a good or a bad thing.

It does, however, sound like another social restriction. As she says, "All of this is a little odd. Why are people from the Middle East counted as white by the US government but considered definitely-not-white by many Americans? How can you count somebody as white one year and then decide they’re not white the next year? Indeed it raises the question, what actually is “whiteness” and who qualifies as white?"

Apparently it took some time for Italian Americans and even Irish Americans to be considered as properly "white". Considering how pale some Irish people can be, this is quite astounding. But they do often consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group. Lots of stuff has been written about this kind of topic. There is a book called "How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America" published in 1998, in which the writer, Karen Brodkin, argues that Jewish intellectuals helped to “whiten” US Jews during the 1950s and 1960s.

So "whiteness" is something that can be redefined, that can expand and contract according to the vagaries of power. It's not really anything to do with race at all. How strange!

Perhaps we can all be redefined in some way!

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