Racism, who needs it?

Today I experienced the still all too pervasive division and hatred of the “other” in our society (rather ironic considering the book I brought to read today). I am speaking in particular about “racism”, specifically between “white” and “black” populations, but divisions such as this are not just relegated to that distinction. There exist hatreds between most ethnic, cultural, and “racial” groups.

The incident or my brush with the "anti-Rosa Parks":
Standing in a line at the bus stop at 5:45 am this morning (yeah, damn early I know), I was 5th in line. Ahead of me were two women and two men – 1 Asian-American man, 1 Senegalese man I’ve met before, and 2 African-American women. Anyway, two more people showed up a couple of minutes after me, an African-American woman and man (not together). The woman is directly behind me, ignores my ‘good morning’, but that’s not unusual. A few seconds later, she literally leans around me to complain to the Senegalese man about the long line while glaring at me and then asked him the time. He answers with his beautifully accented English and she gets this look on her face like he just spit on her shoes. She then proceeds to talk to the young African-American man behind her (loudly) about how Obama is going to change this country and once she gets him involved in the conversation once again switches to the long line. She expresses her disgust at so many whites and foreigners moving into the area and taking the bus. I’m shocked and look around at everyone, but everyone is looking away and down except for the young man who makes the briefest of noncommittal eye contact. The bus pulls up and it is a Russian emigre driving. This woman, after all her complaining, actually steps out of line to wait for the next bus!

I consider the actual incident more a symptom of a larger disease, instead I’m going to intellectualize an emotional (personally and writ large) topic.

We, humans, talk a lot about “race” and “racism” but many of us don’t even know the history of the terms. Here in the U.S., for example, a lot of people specify “racism” in particular as “white” discriminatory activities, etc… against “black” people and populaces. “Race” and “racism” are much broader than this and have a rather storied history, don’t worry I won’t go into great detail, but here are a few key points:

The modern meaning of “race” emerged in Western languages in the 1600’s and referred primarily to categorizing people by their physical differences. Since at the time travel was more difficult, people who shared similar physical properties were often lumped into categories based around geographical regions (i.e. African Race, Asian race, European race…). These geographical regions were determined by the predominant features of the inhabitants there, because, surprise, surprise a group of people who have been living together and intermarrying for generation upon generation start sharing similar physical characteristics over time. Anyway, over time “race” has also taken on some distinct cultural overtones that have lead to other racial groups- the Irish race, the Greek race – usual in reference to some “inferior” qualities that made them distinct from those doing the categorizing (Britain & France mainly). A discussion of Social Darwinism would fit nicely here, but just check out the link.

Anyway, despite this most people still equate race with physically distinct populations. There are two things I find darkly humorous about all of this:

1) It is pretty well-known fact now that the genetic difference between any two humans is less than 1 percent. A lesser known fact is that the few differences there are, even in the most widely scattered and isolated groups occur in only about 7% of our genes. That means in even the most divergent populations, humans are about 93% the same biologically.
2) Despite the fact that categorizing individuals into racial groups was developed in societies increasingly dependant on colonization as much to reinforce their society’s “right” to colonize and enslave other populations as to “benignly” categorize people, we all still play by the game. All of us.

We as groups are still defined by this 400 year old system and we scramble, scrap and scrape to move up this imaginary ladder of superiority. Why? Because power structures are set up in reflection of this classification. The thing is, as long as we acknowledge the power of the categories and its implied rankings we give the whole structure support. The only way to truly undermine inequality and racism is to refuse to play by its rules and to stigmatize those who continue to do so. The path to equality is to change the game.

Eric in a Word: colpocoquette
Song of the Day: A Message to You Rudy- Dandy Livingstone
Religious Figure of the Day: 'Aho'eitu
Sketch Medium: graphite, colored pencil, & coffee on canvas

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