The concept of race is actually a man-made one. Research tells us that race does not exist among humans in a biological sense, so it should not apply as a means of categorizing differences among humans who all belong to the same species. It does not exist among animal species, even though the laws of nature provide the instinct to separate prey from predator. We are familiar with instances of ostracism in social species like lions, apes, or even meer cats–which I suppose constitute a form of discrimination typically based on factors such as age or weakness. We are likewise familiar with the notion of ‘breed,’ which is a descriptive term commonly used to distinguish different types of dogs or other animals which all belong to the same species. I suppose we could say there are different breeds of humans, but that is likewise divisive and provocative.
Just as species in the wild have hybridized as a result of cross-breeding, the human race has experienced a similar process over the millennia. One byproduct of human migration, whether driven by a quest for improved living conditions or mere exploration, is the offspring who were born from the heterosexual unions between populations that previously may not have even known about the other.
As we continue to socially interact and become increasingly mobile, more and more people have propagated giving rise to ethnic combinations that render any effort to categorize them pointless save for genealogical curiosity. Yet, we are still driven toward distinguishing ourselves. Perhaps that need stems from our inherent desire to categorize and organize in order to make sense or logic out of what seems so chaotic, vague, and overwhelming. Or, perhaps there is something more at play here.
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A divide, at least in the continental sense, delineates a geographic point where falling watershed splits itself into two opposing directions. America’s Great Divide (which roughly follows the Rocky Mountains) demarcates the point at which water generally to its west drains into the Pacific, while the eastern side ultimately ends up in the Atlantic.
There is another great divide in America that functions similarly to my analogy, with most black Americans on one side of the slope falling away from their fellow (white) citizens on the other side, many of whom are headed further away in the opposite direction.
I may be naive even as I enter my seventh decade in this world; but I remain perplexed by the growing divisiveness between the races, especially in light of the widespread acceptance and tolerance that the homosexual movement has attained. I am actually surprised we are still using “race” to refer to the diverse myriad of humans who populate our good earth. There is only one race on this planet – the human kind. More about that later.
Back to my geographic analogy. A watershed divide exists by virtue of the location of the high mountainous peaks where precipitation is faced with a very limited directional opportunity for run off: it can go toward only one ocean, each of which is on the opposite coasts. Our country’s racial divide is only vaguely similar in its origin and direction.
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We Americans are not bound by the laws of nature to follow others like water which follows a geological and gravitational flow. Americans who are drawn to the peaks of racism need to find a way off the mountain and disregard the temptation to choose a direction based on skin pigmentation or other identifiable physical features. Indeed, why climb these peaks at all when so much has been accomplished to create a level playing field that permits all Americans to go in any direction they choose. Despite all the legislative and social advances of the past century, some still seek to perpetuate the differences that divide us–whether intentionally or unwittingly.
I concede that there is much more behind the racial divide than its ingrained cultural origins. It is still reinforced and popularly publicized beyond any reasonable basis for doing so. From generation to generation, it passes down like some cherished family tradition when it should be neutralized and severed from our existence. That is generally what happens as a result of integration into the mainstream of society. It is possible to accomplish integration while maintaining an understated ethnic pride.
It is noteworthy that descendants of the mass European immigration of the 19th and early 20th century rarely call attention to their heritage except during celebratory gatherings and events. To my knowledge, only people of Negro origin continue to maintain a separate Congressional caucus or a national organization supposedly dedicated to advancing their own in society. There are black radio and television stations, black magazines, and periodicals and numerous other racially distinctive products, services, and institutions. It is indeed an ironic double standard that has developed following a monumental movement designed to eradicate those very same segregational distinctions.
Despite familial and cultural reinforcement of racial patterns and behavior, we can probably agree that relations between blacks and whites in America are currently at their lowest point in many years. We might ask: how did this happen in the face of all of the struggles of the past decades to improve things? I submit that the simple delineation between black and white is indeed a significant part of the problem because we are all part of the human race first and foremost. Instead of referring to each other as Americans, plain and simply, we continue to identify as African American, Mexican American, black, white, or Hispanic. We have even further delineated subcategories utilizing sexual preferences and gender identity issues, not to mention political persuasions on the left and right.
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When I was a young boy growing up in the pre-civil rights era of the early 60’s in Orange County, California, I remember hearing the mother of my best playmate telling the story of a Negro woman who was at a nearby supermarket completing a questionnaire of some sort that requested her race. She replied “human,” which my friend’s mother seemed to mock as she told the story as some sort of sign of lacking intelligence. Even as a mere lad of 10, I thought my playmate’s mother was wrong. I thought the Negro lady’s response was quite clever, indeed wise, if not entirely accurate.
Not so today. Shocking when you consider we are now fifty-plus years past that moment coupled with federal civil rights legislation, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, marches, rallies, and endless organizations and institutions allegedly dedicated to ending racial division. Instead of focusing on our common ground in order to foster genuine integration, we continue to pigeonhole and separate more and more alleged minorities, affording them special protection and unique names. Today, you might be an unemployed, African-American, lesbian single mother instead of just a mother of a child living in America in need of work. We used to be a melting pot of cultures, but we’ve become a seething stew of incongruous ingredients that rarely meld together into a delectable serving of unity and cooperation.
Along with a lessening of a culture and tradition of racism in America, it seems to me that relations among us were continuing to improve until the years ensuing after 2008. This can be substantiated by acknowledging how mainstream Americans have embraced black culture in the media, music, dress, and language. This has been especially prevalent among white youth along with television and movie media. The culmination of this perceived improvement, if not the near absence of broad, mainstream racism, stems from the 2008 election of a man referred to as the first black to occupy the office of President of United States, who was elected both times with a majority of his total vote nationwide coming from white voters.
I believe that the primary cause for the recent and rapid decline in the quality of race relations can be directly traced to the current executive administration of our nation. No other president in history has done more to stir up tensions, resentments, and separatist sentiments than this one. From his broad testament that he does not believe it is possible to transcend racism in America to his event-specific utterances following Hurricane Katrina, Ferguson, and the ongoing internal policies of the Justice Department regarding reverse discrimination cases, BHO has inflamed both sides of the racial divide.
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Barack Hussien Obama, aka Barry Soetoro, is of course neither black nor white. He is a hybrid, if I may be so blunt. Instead of referring to himself as the first bi-racial president, he and his minions insist that his legacy will be that of the first black president. He purposely avoided a golden opportunity to unite Americans, especially blacks and whites, by failing to state that he represents a new America, a bi-racial and unified America. Instead he has chosen to associate himself with known black racists like the irreverent Jeremiah Wright and loose cannon Al Sharpton. Mr. Obama has seemingly done as much as he can to infuriate all Americans by turning up the pot of racial differences from a simmer to a boil over.
The affirmative action admission policies of certain governmental and educational institutions are key among so called reverse discrimination cases wherein favor is granted because of one’s race instead of disregarding it in the first place, i.e. racial neutrality As described by Chief Justice John Roberts, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race, is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007). Simple as Justice Robert’s statement is, racial discrimination continues; but it is no longer limited to the so-called white majority.
One would think that with all the movements afoot, someone, somewhere would champion the cause for racial neutrality instead of promulgating a culture that reinforces and emphasizes racial differences. Gratefully, there is already a sociological term known as color blindness that hints at the need for this kind of neutrality. Nonetheless, there are still those who insist that this concept is a mere subterfuge to maintain white supremacy–not unlike the segregational notion of separate but equal.
The media would be a good place to start since they are so devoted to carefully noting when a black man is shot by a Caucasian, but so rarely do they specify the opposite circumstance or bother with any distinction when a black man murders another black man. Our present culture is so hellbent on equalizing opportunities for even the smallest minority among us; yet they disregard the opportunity to foster racial neutrality, which is the only possible road to eradicating racism. We have been taught to think like we are players on or fans of different athletic teams. We are rewarded and encouraged to maintain a fervent loyalty to our heritage while we fail to see that we are all supposed to be playing for one team. Even the phrase “people of color” is fraught with racial injustice by implying that someone who lacks color (white) is less than those who have it. Of course, the very notion of ”white’ is ridiculous given that only Albinos lack pigmentation of their skin, a condition that precipitates another whole class of discrimination.
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his children being judged by “the content of their character” rather than “the color of their skin.” One can hardly hope for more neutrality regarding one’s race than that.
When I was an upperclassman in college in the early 70’s, I had a friend who shared the same (pre-law) major with me. Back then, I was a passionate supporter of liberal causes, especially of the racial kind. He and I shared the same opinions about black oppression, and we embraced what was then a new concept known as affirmative action.
My (former) friend happened to be black. One day, while we were enjoying a brief recess from our studies in the library, we were bantering about our common ground when I was overcome with an innate fondness and delight in making his acquaintance since the high school I attended before college was mostly white middle class. In a burst of what I thought was racial neutrality, I told him that I didn’t think of him as black or any different from myself.
To say that I was shocked and disappointed by his reaction to my proclamation is an understatement of significant proportion. His entire demeanor shifted from one of simpatico to confrontation when he told me that I had better think of him as black because that was who he was–and he had no interest in being known as anything but black. A black pride thing, I suppose. It made me wonder what kind of reaction I would have garnered had I racially slurred him instead. A lose–lose situation by any standard.
I never forgot what happened that day. It changed my (mistaken) perception of most black people forever because that was not the last time I would run across that kind of attitude in the years since. I have seen it recently with black friends of my high school-age son. I see it on television and hear it on the radio daily. It is rampant in high- and low-profile blacks across the nation. One need only befriend a black person on social media. Rarely will you see any non-black heroes, mentors, entertainers, or athletes designated as their favorites. Except in extreme cases of white supremacy, you will almost always see black celebrities favored by whites. The imbalance is obvious, unnecessary but understandable since black pride is still encouraged in lieu of racial neutrality or color blindness.
So long as any of us continue to teach our children subtle racial ques by pointing out the black man instead of the man wearing the red shirt, we will never achieve anything resembling racial neutrality or color blindness. If we encourage and allow race-based organizations, media, and institutions to continue to exist, we will always fall short of a race-neutral society. If we tolerate the double standard of reverse discrimination and accept racial epitaphs between blacks, we are part of the racial problem in America.
I surmise that achieving a lasting racial neutrality in this country is as likely to happen as a man-made effort to remove our continental divide. It can’t be done, and any effort to do so would be like trying to shovel sand off of a beach. So why did I write this? I’m just as frustrated as you.
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