Monday, February 18, 2008

Screw Racism

Let's talk about me for a minute. I'm a white American born female. I'm English, Blackfoot Indian, German, Italian, and Irish. My family never owned slaves, we hadn't been in the country long enough and weren't from the south anyhow. I was raised as an American. That's it. Just a mutt from the pound like everyone else. I deserve and receive no special treatment for my ethnicity.

Who does deserve special treatment just for their ethnicity? I'm not factoring in special skills or special intelligence or anything else that gives and edge. Let's just talk about where your family's from. So who deserves special treatment? Someone whose ancestors were slaves? Certainly slavery was an atrocity. Someone whose grandparents were in internment camps? Certainly the holocaust was despicable. But did those things happen to my generation? They happened generations ago. Not one, but several. Two at the bare minimum. Perhaps as you read this you're a bit older than my 31 years, but still. Does one deserve to be rewarded for what their parents suffered? There is plenty of suffering out there.

There is a sense of pride in belonging to a group. If you are, let's say Italian, then you have a sense of solidarity with other Italians. You can say "my mother used to make a lasagna at Christmas time, too" or use common phrases from the nomenclature of the "old country". But there's a difference between pride and prejudice. And the line is finer than you might have inspected before. I ask you to examine this view now.

This was sparked by an ad I heard on television last night stating a show had been nominated for an Image Award by the NAACP. The NAACP as a whole irritates me. Not the work they do, but the very item they stand for. Why do we need to Nationally Advance Colored People? Can't we all advance ourselves without an organization behind us to back us? Do we need to give scholarships to the best and brightest of a certain race as opposed to the best and brightest of those running? Certainly, this organization had its time and place. But decades later, the very existence of this organization is propagating a negative idea.

Let me explain. In the 50s and before (and I'm aware that was not a long time ago), blacks were educated in separate schools from whites and treated as inferior to a sickening degree. I am no racist. I assure you that my hippie parents raised me as merely an American. My very own son thought he was black until he was 10 (there's a funny story behind it, but its not fitting here). During this time of segregation, the educational materials provided to black kids were substandard to that provided to white kids. The education of the teachers teaching the black kids was not the same as the education of the teachers teaching the white kids. All around, the white system was doing the job they set out to do of keeping the blacks undereducated. Then the 50s and 60s brought revolutionary change and integration took place. My parent, being only in their early 50s themselves, remember this change as children and its astounding that this was so recent. Now everyone had a fair shot at an education and more jobs were available to both races. (Note that I'm referring to black and whit people at this time specifically because its relevant to the social change and the NAACP whose article started all this.) I'm aware that not every white business owner was ready and willing to hire black workers, no matter how educated. My buddy Scotty, a southern black man a little older than my parents, remembers how hard it was to work in the south as a black youth and how much easier its gotten over the years. Sure, the struggle was upstream and slow. But now it is decades later. A black man is running for president, and has a decent shot at winning.

The NAACP, by stating subtly in its very existence "blacks still need us to fight for them" is saying that change hasn't taken place, or that not enough change has taken place. Is saying that black kids need scholarships to college, even if their grades aren't as good as the white kids. And why? Didn't they have the same education? Didn't they have the same chance for success?

If you read this and you're going to respond that poverty plays a role, of course it does. But are black people more impoverished than white people? Do black people have more kids in the welfare system than white people? I would doubt there is a significant difference. And yes, of course we should take socioeconomic differences into account, but not for things like scholarships. Shouldn't we as a nation be promoting the best and brightest no matter their race? Shouldn't we be sophisticated enough to stop calling each other by color and ethnicity and simply by name?

Have pride. Say "My family is such-and-such ethnicity." But be you, be individual and human. As long as organizations like the NAACP continue to point out the differences between us, we'll make slower progress to seeing the similarities among us. We all love our families. We all want the best life. We all desire happiness. It doesn't matter if your family is from Ethiopia or from Nepal or from Uzbekistan or from Minnesota. We're all the same. And the sooner we start working on that solidarity, the better.

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