Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Talking About Race
If you're not a part of the solution, there's good money to be made in prolonging the problem.
We hear a lot, recently, about the need to have a "racial conversation." Some use the Zimmerman/Martin case and its aftermath as the immediate stimulus, although those people have been conspicuously silent about Christopher Lane, Delbert Benton, and the beating of a white 13 year old on his school bus. Now that it's been 50 years since the March on Washington and King's "I have a dream" speech, the calls for dialogue are redoubling in frequency and intensity.
I say horse manure. In fact, more conversation about race is the very last thing the United States needs. First consider this: given that these calls emanate from people with an ax to grind, what's the likely outcome of such a conversation? An airing of grievances and then polarization as those on all sides rehearse their talking points and refute their opponents'. As a result, each position becomes more extreme, more hardened. How, exactly, is that going to make anything better for anyone except those who profit from racial hostility?
Second, what would this conversation be about? There is no satisfactory definition of race, so who is to be included, and as what? You can't limit the conversation to "people with some African ancestry" and "people with mostly European ancestry." What about the Indians (both American and South Asian?) How about those with ancestors from East Asia? Polynesia? Then there are my people, the Jews, who may or may not be a "race" depending on who (and when) you ask. Let's not forget those of Latin American descent, with varying admixtures of Spanish, American Indian and African genetic and cultural heritage. That doesn't make them a unique race, you say? Tell "La Raza."
Not confused yet? Just wait, because lumping any of these people into one category is not only intellectually incorrect but will get you into major trouble if you do it to their faces. Don't believe me? Tell a Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Han Chinese, Cantonese, or Tibetan that they're all alike because they're "Asians" and see what it gets you.Do the same with a "Polynesian" Samoan, Fijian, Maori or Hawaiian and expect a severe thumping. Likewise a "Native American" Lakota, Dine', Iroquois, Inuit---or an Italian, German, Irish or Swedish "European." In Africa you confuse Hutu, Tutsi, Zulu, Bantu, Yoruba, etc. at your great peril. Mexicans are not Cubans are not Salvadorans are not Venezuelans are not Brazilians, either. In short, "race" is a sometimes-useful, if fuzzy, concept for some purposes, but for a social conversation it's nonsense.
Hell, we can't even agree on who's "really" black and who's white. For instance, American, African, and Caribbean black people don't like one another. Apparently, dark-complexioned folks of Caribbean origin aren't "black" in the sense that term is typically used. A man with one European and one African parent is "the first black president," however, despite the fact that he neither has ancestors who were slaves on this continent nor experienced a moment of Jim Crow discrimination. Then there's George Zimmerman, the "white Hispanic. " He had to somehow be labelled "white" to create a racial incident out of a sad rainy-night scuffle. This label incidentally informs a lot of people proud of their Spanish ancestry that they're not white.
Jesus (who was likely an olive-skinned, Aramaic-speaking, Middle Eastern Jew) wept.
Third, if we can't have a meaningful conversation about race, what can we discuss? What about problems that we all share, as Americans? Bigotry, for instance, which knows no ethnic or genetic boundaries but is used by cynical politicians and other charlatans to divide us for their profit? Crime, which makes all of us suffer while it feeds bigotry? The absolutely dismal state of education at every level from preschool through post-graduate studies? Terrorism and radical Islam? Don't like these? Supply your own---there's plenty to go around.
The important thing is that we approach these problems as Americans first and foremost. I guarantee that if the dream of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison and the rest disappears, Martin Luther King's will, too.