Saturday, March 16, 2013

No, My Feelings About Iranians Aren't Based on Anything I Saw in "Argo"!

"Do you like people from Iran?"

Before going out last night, if I had bothered to compile a list of the Top 5 things I least expected to be asked, that might have been near the top of it, especially considering that the person who wanted to know, a handsome tourist from Tehran, was by far the best-looking guy in the bar.

"Have you seen Shohreh Aghdashloo [an Iranian-American Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for The House of Sand and Fog], or Nadia Bjorlin [the half-Persian actress who plays Chloe on Days of Our Lives]?" Of course, I like people from Iran!

Then it dawned on me. He probably gets the opposite a lot, especially in a gay world where so many guys think it's perfectly acceptable to put "No Asians" in their Grindr profiles!

Some things in life defy categorization. Unfortunately, people aren't one of them. I've spent most of my life being categorized by people based on my gender or the color of my skin or my sexuality or my nationality. I know I shouldn't take it personally when people assume certain things about be because I'm a man (so I'm sloppy and sports loving)/black (so I've got to be listening to hip hop on my iPod)/gay (so, on second thought, I'm probably listening to Madonna, I hate sports, and I'm ridiculously neat)/American (so I must be up with God and guns). And I shouldn't let it bother me when they completely disregard me out of hand because I'm any/all of the above. Though some of their assumptions are accurate (sports and sloppiness -- yuck!), they're just lazy thinkers. That's their problem, not mine.

Lest you think I'm too sensitive about stereotypes and labels, I wasn't particularly offended by the semi-controversial scene last week on The Young and the Restless in which Victor and Nikki were "married" by a God-fearing judge (portrayed by The Talk's Sheryl Underwood) with her honor's cousin, a tambourine-playing, "Amazing Grace"-humming, "When the Saints Go Marching In"-singing nurse, in attendance. (Since when are those wedding songs?) Yes, it's kind of tiresome how blacks on TV are so often presented as being church obsessed, and no, we don't all suddenly break into gospel songs in everyday life the way the Glee kids break into pop songs, but the scene was all good fun.

I pick my battles, and I'm ready to fight one every time someone says something like "I'm not into [insert racial/ethnic demographic here]" followed by "I'm not racist" because taking the entire populace of a continent (say, Asia, which, incidentally, includes Iran and the rest of the Middle East, India and most of Turkey, as well as the countries we generally think of when we think of "Asian"), assigning them generic physical characteristics, and putting them in a box labeled "Do not have sex with," "Do not date," "Do not marry" is just about preference.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, "preference" is "a greater liking for one alternative over another or others." That does not imply a complete dismissal of either alternative. To say, "I prefer white wine to red wine" (which I do) is not the same as saying, "I do not like red wine." So by extension, to say, "I'm attracted to this over that," is not the same as saying "I'm not attracted to this at all." One is a statement of preference, the other is an outright dismissal, which, in reference to human beings, is at the root of discrimination, which is at the core of racism.

Ken Jorgensen (Richard Egan) probably recognized the distinction when he firmly rebuked his wife Helen (Constance Ford) for her casual bigotry in the 1959 film A Summer Place. I'd hate to hear what she thought of Iranians! Sadly, 54 years of globalization has done too little to broaden too few too-narrow minds.

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