News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Friday, November 28, 2003
Reading: Life over the Border
I've been spending some time in Borderland. My discovery of the fantasy series created by Terri Windling was pure kismet. I've been a reader of Jonathan Carroll for a while and she was mentioned by him from time to time. Then, I happened across a story set in Bordertown in a best of fantasy writing anthology. The next stop was Emma Bull's bittersweet book about star-crossed young people, Finder: A Novel of the Borderlands . I followed it up with her coup de grace, War for the Oaks. Then, serendipity led me to Bull's equally talented spouse, Will Shetterly's Nevernever. (Yes, he's the same fellow who wrote the wonderful civil rights fantasy novel, Dogland.) Currently, I'm reading Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter.
If you want to visit Bordertown, I suggest you take a less roundabout route. A good place to start is The Essential Bordertown: A Traveller's Guide to the Edge of Faerie, edited by Windling and Delia Sherman. The collection provides the groundwork and rules for the Borderland series and contains stories that will whet your apettite for more.
But, why should you want to cross the Border? Not just because it is there. These stories and novels provide excellent insights into human nature and societal interactions. Most of the inhabitants of the place between the world as we know it and Faerie are humans, elves and half-breeds. (However, a spell can change an individual at the wave of a hand. Just ask Wolf Boy.) In Bordertown proper, both science and magic are equally available and equally unreliable. Its denizens must merge the two to survive. The most typical form of transportation, the motorcyle, relies on both its engine and a spell box to take over when it hits spots where technology fails.
The merger that makes things go doesn't work as smoothly with the people of Bordertown, though. The average young resident belongs to a gang: Bloods if he is elven, the Pack if he is human, and the Rune Lords if he is mixed, though there are others that focus on ethnicity or interests. The fighting among the gangs is deadly. The saving grace is that humans, elves and halfies do form allegiances, often as they move past the dangerous adolescent years. The process is helped along by gang-free zones such as God Mom's Restaurant. In them, all races are welcome, but must behave civilly. When interracial relationships are successful it is often because the strengths of the individuals involved are emphasized. In Finder, a human boy with a propensity for locating lost objects and an elven girl who can fix any mechanical item merge their talents and become best friends. Love sometimes triumphs, resulting in a growing population of mixed-race Borderlanders.
My favorite stories from The Essential Bordertown include:
"Half-Life" by Donnard Sturgis. When Tangie, a halfie of mixed ethnicity, is threatened from all sides because of his refusal to join a gang, he needs a way out. Sorcery that combines the Vodun he has learned from his mother's side of the family and the elven magic of his father's saves his life.
"Hot Water" by Ellen Kushner. Two humans, both of them intimidated by the glamour that attends elves, discover an earthbound magic of their own.
"How Shannaro Tolkinson Lost and Found His Heart" by Felicity Savage. Shannaro, a conservative elf, quests into Bordertown to find his bethrothed, who has been enspelled by a draug and kidnapped. He is not at all charmed by the mixed milieu across the Border from his beloved Faerie. The story is a bracing antidote to the spell Bordertown weaves over its inhabitants and readers.
Not all of the Borderland novels and stories are set there per se. Faerie and the real world can co-exist. So, come on over. In a way, you are already there.posted by J. | 11:52 AM
Monday, November 24, 2003
The eye, the ear and discrimination
When we think about racial discrimination we usually associate it with one of our senses -- sight. A sees X, classifies X as black, Hispanic, Asian or Indian, and treats him in an unpleasantly discriminatory way. However, discrimination can involve some of the other senses, too. Ziba Kashef, writing at ColorLines, has been thinking about how the ear can become the source of racial discrimination.
Earlier this year, the existence of name discrimination was confirmed by researchers at the Chicago Graduate School of Business and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . Persons submitting resumes bearing 'black-sounding' names are much less likely to even be interviewed for job openings.
Kashef observes that a similar kind of bias is behind airline discrimination against people with Arabic or 'Muslim sounding' surnames.
There is now research revealing that how a person sounds on the telephone may determine whether he will be denied housing opportunities sight unseen.
Baugh also offers the disturbing news that children who 'sound black or Mexican' are being tracked into less challenging reading classes. In the legal sphere, linguistic discrimination arises when witnesses are allowed to testify that someone unseen 'sounded black'.
Underlying discrimination by sound is a belief that there is something wrong with being a person of color. White people with accents or who speak dialects are not treated as if that is evidence of inferiority. A Henry Kissinger or an Arnold Schwarzenegger is not believed to be stupid because he 'doesn't talk right.' However, the double standard notwithstanding, this is a pretext for discrimination that people of color can do something about. I believe learning standard English, not because it is superior, but because it is the language of business, is justified for persons who must seek their livelihood in the public sphere. We can also not engage in linguistic discrimination ourselves. Hear the person who says 'you know' too often or 'acks' for 'ask' out. Behind the speech may be a good mind.
Discrimination via resume or phone is more of a connundrum. It is the kind of difficult problem employment discrimination law has yet to address.posted by J. | 6:20 PM