Hilltops
Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

Editor's Letters

One's an Accident, Two's a Coincidence, Three's a Patten

Posted on October 12, 2016 at 11:30 PM

Joanne Georges - Hilltops Editor-in-Chief



The three times someone I love has felt racial or national disparity, in a single week. And my tired response to it.


My eldest brother, Rock, works as a foodstuffs delivery man and often does heavy labor in the sweltering heat. It’s not a glamorous job, it keeps him in shape and keeps him, his wife, and their two dogs housed, fed, and happy.


As my brother was working to unload the food truck, he began to sweat across his face, back, and chest; quite obviously exerting himself for his job.


As he handed a package to an employee of the grocery store, a man jokingly asked, “What are you sweating so much for?”


Before my brother could reply, another employee, a white man who was also unloading the truck, replied, “It’s like you’ve been in the cotton fields all day.”


The man laughed, loud and raucous, but when he turned around to gauge his audience, he found my brother cold and stone-faced. The man tried to save the situation: “Hey Rock, did I offend you?”


My brother didn’t respond to the man, just walked away in hopes of securing his job for another day.


That’s One.


My older brother, Jonathan, works as a case worker in a group home for the mentally disabled. He works hard to care and get to know his clients, makes sure they’re safe and doing well. Because of HIPAA, I don’t know much except for the snippets he shares: “This one guy was so happy he got through telling a joke today, it was adorable!” or “Sometimes, I just sit there and let them talk. It’s good for them and I learn a lot, ya know.”


Despite my brother essentially being a big softie, a co-worker of his has been harassing him about his faith. Jonathan doesn’t consider himself an atheist, but he doesn’t follow any strict religious practices or spiritual guides. But this one co-worker who has “found God” or has been “saved through Christ” thinks my brother is a threat. While this man is another minority, he’s crossed quite a few lines. He’s argued with Jonathan about his worth as a non-Christian man, he’s rubbed holy oil over surfaces he knows Jonathan will touch, he told my brother that he better watch out because, Jonathan is of Haitian descent and is could be in relation to voodoo spirits. He explained to Jonathan that because he’s Haitian and “denying God”, he was going to die, get killed, or get possessed.


My brother knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his cool much longer, but walked away, and immediately requested vacation time. Jonathan’s been resting at home with his new puppy (a black pitbull named Phillip) for the last few days.


That’s Two.


A day after speaking with my brothers, I got a text message from my best friend, Veronica. Veronica, in a few short words, is my more artsy Puerto Rican twin. Since we have so much in common, it wasn’t shocking when I found out Veronica couldn’t speak Spanish, since I can’t speak Creole. She understands Spanish; knows when her mom is asking for a pot or a piece of paper or chastising her, but she doesn’t like the way the language forms clumsy and crippled on her tongue. So she doesn’t really bother.


But when she was confronted with the situation of an old white man yelling profanities to a Dominican kid speaking Spanish, she wished she could speak up. She watched as he jabbed a finger into the Dominican boy’s face, watched as he explained the insult of having to walk into a store and hear gibberish spewing from the Dominican boy’s mouth, watched as he threatened to send the Dominican boy to jail, watched as he claimed America wasn’t meant to have Spanish speakers, watched as he reasoned that if the Dominican boy wanted to speak Spanish he should go back to Mexico. Cashiers were going to call the police, the boy was increasingly frustrated despite his mother’s attempts to calm him, and Veronica hightailed it out of there.


I asked Veronica if she still wants to learn Spanish, still wants to one day speak the language in public.


“It’s part of the culture,” she said. “It would take way more than a couple of idiotic people to stop that. My culture is so important to me; even though I feel the most confident about it. If I could speak it, I would be, even after all the grossness.”


That’s Three.


First of all, Haiti wasn’t commonly used for cotton fields or tobacco. Unlike American slaves, Haitian slaves were asked to pick and work through fields of sugar cane and in distilleries for rum. In addition, Haiti was the first country to gain independence through a successful slave revolt and was the first independent nation of the Caribbean. So hard work, blood, sweat, and tears aren’t foreign to the people. It shouldn’t be shocking that a descendant of the country sweats, like any average human would.


Second, the bad rep of voodoo and native religious practices comes from methods of oppression and forced assimilation. At least for Haiti, colonists figured allowing slaves a connection amongst each other, religious, social, etc. could result in cohesion and eventually revolt. But slaves combined their native beliefs and Catholic teachings in hopes of practicing their faith and still keep safe. So, the creation of Haitian voodoo was meant to protect and strengthen communities. However, when you look to discredit a religion, it is a lot easier to ignore fact and focus on the extremes of the faith. Additionally, it shouldn’t be shocking that a descendant of a heavily religious culture would take precaution in deciding what faith they followed, like any average human would.


Third, not that you can tell someone’s exact background from just a single glance or from a few words of the language they’re speaking, and considering, Spanish is spoken by millions upon millions of people world-wide, it’s a little short-sighted to assume every Spanish speaking individual is from Mexico. Mexico has got their own history, culture, and usage of their language that is different from other Spanish speaking countries, and putting a confused Dominican boy in the mix just doesn’t seem practical. It shouldn’t be shocking that a descendant of one culture/nationality would be a little displaced at an abrupt deportation to an entirely different culture/nation, like any average human would.


So to put it short, to allow people to just finally speak their mind, or tell it like it is, or to really put it behind us, let’s just drop all basic human decency, empathy, or compassion. It really is just making everyone a little too sensitive. Let’s ignore the vast amount of information available at our fingertips every minute of every day. Let’s finish with tiring, well-thought out, educated, and step by step arguments of convincing you to not be racist. Let’s keep it entirely real: if you’re going to be racist, at the very least, be accurate.

Categories: Joanne Georges '15-'17

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