Wednesday, 22 August 2012

high school revisited, part 3: teenage views on the peoples of the world (read: racism!)

Over the past couple of weeks, I've delved into the "wilderness years" of my high school education by regrading and revisiting some of the most insultingly lazy work ever to come from teenage hands, covering everything from how to avoid paying for your drinks in ancient Babylon to a true account of NASA's duct-tape spaceships of the 1950s.

After reading these two previous installments, skeptical readers of this blog might harbour suspicions of exaggeration on my part.  Perhaps you might think I have taken liberties in describing the extent of my pubescent idleness.  Maybe you're of the opinion that I've neglected to describe the good, alongside the bad.

Before writing this post, I thought long and hard about how to best allay such suspicions, to no avail.  But then, I found this.

This is a screenshot of a text file I found in my hidden folder of high school "treasures".  As soon as I opened the file, I remembered exactly why this file had been created.

For geography class, we had to complete an assignment comparing the lives of Guatemalans, Mexicans, and Americans.  Unsurprisingly, I had barely begun writing when the due date arrived. So what did I do?  Did I admit my failure and ask for an extension?  Did I suffer my error with honour and accept a late penalty?

Of course not.

Instead, I concocted an elaborate story about how I had finished the assignment and brought it into school for printing, only to find that the file had been corrupted.  As proof of this story, I constructed, from scratch, the text file shown in the screen shot above as proof of this supposedly "corrupted" file.  I then loaded that file onto a floppy disk and tossed the disk around the room a little, just for good measure.

My plan worked!  The teacher bought the "corrupted file" ruse like an on-sale ham, despite the screenshot clearly showing that the alleged corruption of the file also somehow managed to remove all sentence structure from the remaining text whilst magically preserving the text's meaning in point form.

Anyway, I eventually completed the assignment, and it's with a few select quotes from therein that I'll open the "ridicule section" of this post.  At this point, I'm beyond the re-grading exercises of the last two weeks—I think today will be a simple point-and-laugh exercise.

Oh—this week's theme!  I almost forgot.  Today we're talking about the "sensitive six": multiculturalism, globalisation, poverty, immigration, indigenous rights, and refugees.  Who says our curriculum needs to be revamped to reflect the 21st century world?  Nonsense!  It's been good for years.  Sit back and observe just how much it taught me...

Immi-great expectations: Guatemala, Mexico, and the USA
Resources in Guatemala are very limited.  There is no technology for use by average Guatemalans, not even running water, flush toilets, or electricity.  The only technology evident is guns and cars. There are many shops and restaurants in Mexico, something that is unfamiliar to the eyes of many Guatemalans. 
It appears that I've developed a strange fixation with "technology", despite the fact that this assignment was supposed to touch on the sufferings of the Guatemalan people following their bloody civil war.

I wonder how technology compares elsewhere?
There is more technology on offer for most people in Mexico.  In the USA, one of the most developed countries on Earth, technology is highly advanced.  Even illegal immigrants get technology that is not evident in their home town.
Technology for all!!  Forget going to Mexico; if you are Guatemalan and sneak into the USA, you will get technology.  Your whole village will be playing Mario Party before you can say "green card".

But wait—technology is a double-edged sword; one that the Mexicans are not very adept at wielding:
In the example of Mexico City, the residents are buying cars by the truckload, and the factories are pumping out tons of noxious gases just to produce technology demanded by the Mexicans.  Pollution in Mexico City is the highest in the world, with children discouraged from playing outside, and many people wearing masks to work. 
The paragraph continues.  You'll notice I've emboldened a section of the following quote for the benefit of those who are not very good at picking out casual racism at first glance.
If the first world cut back on cars, and goods, then the third world will follow suit, as it is in their nature to follow the doings of those above them.
How, exactly, was this allowed to pass unnoticed through the school system?

An analogy, if I may.  When my brother was very young, he swallowed a button.  In order to make sure the button didn't lodge somewhere within my brother's digestive tract and cause irreparable harm, the doctor ordered my Mum to sift through his shit, night and day, until the button came out.

Where was the shit-sifter here?  The teacher who should've raised his/her hand, and said: "you know, headmaster, I just noticed something odd while marking the Guatemala assignments—don't think me crazy, but it appears that Joseph Goebbels has reincarnated himself as a young boy and is peddling his ideas about innate racial superiority to all who will listen in the ninth grade..."

Herr Stüdent continues with a discussion of an immigrant's life in the USA:
Guatemalan (or Mexican) immigrants are automatically at the lower end of society because of their race.  Employers can set any wages they want for immigrants, unlike white Americans who mostly know their rights.
Since writing this in 1998, I have watched a lot of Judge Judy; I can safely say that white Americans do not know their rights.  But I, apparently, knew a thing or two about the challenges faced by 16 per cent of the US population:
US born Hispanics face similar problems to immigrants because even though they are US citizens, they still look and talk like the immigrants, and therefore are considered to be the same.
Oh dear.  Let's see what other baseless (and borderline offensive) generalisations lie in my box o'mediocrity...

The global village (idiot)
After the Second World War, Japan was in ruins.  The occupation by the U.S. changed the Japanese economy and government to a western style, and Japan made an amazing recovery.  But this was only possible because of the tremendous work ethic the Japanese people possessed, something that sets them apart from the western world
I really wish, just for a day, I could shift my mindset back to a teenage perspective—not just to sell my brain to marketers, but to also find out whether I actually pictured the entire Japanese community as a race of frenetic nation-building automatons, as opposed to us sloth-like Westerners who do little else than sit around, eat bread, and debate the limits of media freedom (the "sandwich free press" movement if you will, har har har).

But I can't be so hard on the following quote.  This one can be put down (without blame) to the blissful optimism of adolescence:
In the USA, money made from resources is not hoarded by dictators or the military.
Oh little one, if only you knew.

"F*ck off, we're fools"

Let's bring things a bit closer to home.  Here's my 1998 attempt to summarise Australia's relationship with refugees:
Refugees are fleeing to Australia from Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand, and hope to have freedom and a better standard of living.  All the refugees come on boats.  There are sometimes hundreds crammed onto one boat.  Very few make it undetected to Australia.  The refugees that get caught are held in detention camps, where most of them are sent back to where they came from after a period of time.  Some refugees are allowed to stay in Australia if they can prove that their lives would be endangered if they went back.
Well, this is messed up, and I'm not referring to my laughable attempt to pick two random "Asian countries" in order to pretend I actually did research for this question—only to choose THAILAND, which actually takes in four times the amount of refugees that Australia does!

No, the above passage is bothersome because it parrots back (with alarming accuracy) the questionable messages spread by less reputable members of the Australian news media, including myths about a flood of boats and needlessly confrontational rhetoric about refugees being "sent back to where they came from".  And sadly, although this was written nearly fifteen years ago, it reads as if it could've been penned yesterday.

If I have kids, there'll be no tabloid newspapers, rap music, or videogames for them.  As the above passage shows, youth are attracted to populist ideas easier than a duck is attracted to bread.  Instead, I'll be locking my kids in a room with nothing but a lamp and a crate of Dickens novels.  My success as a parent won't be evident until later life, when my offspring command a pickpocket army of street urchins that will battle the Boy Scouts for control of the streets.

Tales from the book of Cook

I am going to conclude this post with a passage so absurd, it almost warrants the inclusion of a permanent disclaimer on this blog.

Around year 10 or 11, I wrote a research essay on the spiritual beliefs of Australian Aborigines.  Upon re-reading it, I was quite impressed, finding the essay interesting and well-written.  And then, in the middle of a discussion of the indigenous concept of the afterlife, I suddenly watched as the essay changed topic to THIS:
Aborigines possess very dark skin, which ranges from a copper colour, to a very dark black/brown.  A thick and short neck supports the head, which often has a backward lean.  Their head hair is curly and wavy, and is deep black in colour, much like the rest of the body hair.  The facial hair is quite abundant, large beards are often found.  The appearance and length of chest hair varies from area to area.  Although aborigines do not have a muscular appearance, they are quite strong for their weight.  They have small hands and feet, but both these appendages are notably tough, as they are used continuously in day to day life (Parker 195-7). Appendix A depicts barefooted aborigines clearing the ground of spinifex, a spiny, prickly desert grass that is native to Australia.  Also depicted are wind shelters.  The body averages a height of 5’7” for the males, and 5’1” for the females.  There still is extremities in height, with 6’ plus males being found all over the country.  The senses of aborigines are highly developed, as a result of the life they lead, where they must constantly remain on the alert (Parker 196-7)

What is this, which reads like a colonial-era extract from a ship captain's discovery log, doing in my essay?  What relevance, exactly, does the beard length or "tough appendages" of Australia's indigenous population have to an essay on spirituality?  "Appendix A"?!!  Neck lean??!  What in f***'s name is going on?

There is no way I made this shit up.  This has to be filler inserted out of word count desperation.  Despite all of my failings in my mid-teenage years, I was neither stupid nor motivated enough to come up with such patronisingly inane text for the purposes of an assignment.  This has to have come from somewhere else, I thought—and this citation to "Parker" might be the clue.

A check of my bibliography and a quick Google later, and I had my answer:
Parker, K. Langloh (1897), Australian Legendary Tales.
Eighteen-ninety seven!!!!   Holy shit.  I don't know what's more ludicrous—that I inserted a nineteenth-century quasi-racist physiological description of Aborigines into an essay on the Dreamtime, or that my teacher went right ahead and graded this without batting an eyelid.  What did I say about shit-sifting earlier?

Wikipedia has the follwing to say about Ms Parker, a reasonably well-known recorder of Aboriginal folklore and mythology:
...her testimony is one of the best accounts we have of the beliefs and stories of the Aboriginal people.  However, her accounts reflect European prejudices of the time, and so to modern ears her accounts contain a number of misconceptions and racist comments.
Mind you, would I, aged fifteen, have been aware of the bias inherent in using a text over a century old as reference for an essay on indigenous peoples?  No.  No, no, no.  Unquestionably, definitely, irrevocably—no.  I had not the slightest shred of such awareness.

Why?  Because in my final paragraph—after a nice summation of the longevity, global uniqueness, and depth of Aboriginal culture—I chose to end my essay with a quote.

From Captain Cook.
And that, children, is the story of how the irony became lost.

Did you enjoy this?  Through the magic of hyperlinks, you can read part 1 and part 2 of the "high school revisited" series now!

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