I once knew a racist. She probably doesn't think of herself as a racist, but that's what she is. She turns her nose up at things that are excessively foreign to her. She thinks Chinese restaurants are "sketchy." She considers every small exposure to someone else's life as exposure to their whole culture; for example, if she's talking to someone from Africa, she's talking to someone from Africa, not just talking to someone. So it becomes a conversation about their culture instead of a conversation about, you know, how are you, how's your day going? Instead of, how 'bout that cold snap we're having, it's "do you get snow where you're from?" Once in a while, fine, but when everything is like that, it's racist. Just talk sometimes, you know? But so it is with racists.
One day, this racist I knew went to an all-inclusive resort in Costa Rica and decided that her time in Costa Rica was demonstrative of great poverty and of how much better life is in the United States. I'm not a fool; it's plain enough to see that there is more wealth in the United States than there is in Costa Rica. But Costa Rica is not poor. Many of its sleepy farming remind me of the farming towns I see along the highways here in the States. It doesn't generally occur to me that people with indoor plumbing, nice homes, nice cars, modern conveniences, good health care, and so on, are poor. Like such farmers in the States, these Costa Rican farmers and the people who live with them in their small towns, are mostly middle class. Some are wealthy. Just like here.
It's easy to understand why a racist would come out of Costa Rica thinking that she had just seen great and terrible poverty. To someone who is biased against Central American Spanish speakers, any evidence of a lack of American-style wealth is proof of misery. This is nothing more than confirmation bias; she sees what she wants to see, and what she wants to see is the superiority of her own experience.
More difficult to understand is why the racist I knew was unwilling or unable to see the counterevidence in this particular case. The objective counterevidence is plain enough. Costa Rica is a visually and environmentally stunning country, and famous the world around for being so. Its green-patched rock cliffs falling off into crystal clear water full of fish are the stuff of legend. One can seemingly travel scarcely one hundred meters without seeing some kind of monkey, coati, parrot, or sloth. Indeed, Costa Rican fauna isn't just cute, it's the kind of fauna that makes people want to cuddle. Oh, there are snakes and spiders, too, but those aren't the animals that visitors tend to remember. The food is delicious, composed of fresh tropical fruits, seafood pulled straight out of the ocean, mild spices and tender herbs, and a few international finishing touches. The people are friendly, well-spoken, calm, amiable, and healthy. Every inch of its surface is touched by some form of outdoor sports, giving a visitor the impression that every Costa Rican is an expert sportsman. The weather is virtually perfect.
Confirmation bias would suggest that a racist would overlook such things and focus on the negative. But in this case, all of Costa Rica's many strengths comprise the very reason that the racist visited Costa Rica in the first place! If Costa Rica weren't the paradise that it is, the racist I know never would have visited it in the first place. There are more virginal ecologies, but their lack of safe civilization makes traveling there too hazardous for an American racist. There are better examples of great food and great outdoor fun, but none with that kind amazing weather and environmental landscape.
I've quoted The Last Psychiatrist on such matters many times before, and I'll do it again: Whenever a person entertains two opposing thoughts at the same time, alternating variously, we have evidence of a defense mechanism. Costa Rica makes me thankful to live in America. I want to spend thousands of dollars and weeks at a time experiencing Costa Rica. Which is it?
Sometimes racism is simple and bald hatred of a scapegoated out-group. Other times, though, racism is the last bastion of someone so insecure of her own superiority that anyone else's excellence is an internal threat to her own sense of self.
At least, that's what kind of racist she was.
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