So I want to talk about race. I’ve done this before, but in my previous post I only talked about science and splitting hairs between the definitions. This time, I want to talk about what this little monster called race has done, what it’s been doing, and what it’s likely going to do to us if we don’t do something. I’ll likely not get to all of that in this post, but I have to save something for next time.
Unfortunately, there is no real progression of racism so a simple linear look at race in the United States is somewhat worthless. Now we can track it and study it and find it throughout history, but race is a subtle thing with not-so-subtle trappings. Its like finding out that all your apples taste sour not because of that new fertilizer you’re using, but because of what your great-grandfather used; it was fine for him at the time, but now its wreaking havoc on you. Now this shit our forefathers threw all over the place is coming back to poison us.
Seeing as how race is a social construct it changes with each new leap or change in culture. This used to take several generations, but with the advent of the modern age and the swiftness with which information can be distributed these changes occur at a much more rapid pace. So now we find ourselves trying to figure out where to go from the forgotten and broken promises made in the 60’s, the 70’s, and all the way back to the Bill of Rights. This was supposed to be the future and the future wasn’t supposed to be racist or have anything to do with skin color. And for anyone, ANYONE, who says that race and racism is over because we managed to get a black man in the White House; shut up and sit down because you haven’t been paying attention for pretty much your whole damn life.
The United States of America, the country I love and, contrary to how I write about it, am so proud of, needs to face the truth about itself. This country was born from the womb of racism. Our forefathers committed heinous atrocities all in the name of economic progress. We hunted down and killed Native peoples by the millions. We bought and sold human beings. We treated human beings like little more than trinkets to be done with as we wished. I say we need to own this. We need to take responsibility for what our predecessors did because no one else is. We were shamed into action in the 60’s and 70’s, but shame, like anger, is an emotional energy that only lasts so long and does not extend into the next generation. Now we sit here almost two generations down the road and there is no real change that can be counted. One person, one family making good does not a revolution make, nor fulfill a promise.
Every time we pledge allegiance to the flag, every time we sing the Star Spangled Banner, every time we cheer the Braves or the Chief’s and we’re talking about a sports team instead of political leaders, every time we tell an off-color joke, every time we laugh at an off-color joke, every time we cross the street to avoid someone who looks different than us, we say to our children, our friends, and our society that “all of that stuff was okay. All of it was necessary and perfectly fine. You don’t have to take responsibility for it either.” This absolutely must stop.
So let me start at the beginning.
“The beginning” was not the civil rights movement. “The beginning” was not the emancipation proclamation. It was not southern United States slavery. It was not even slavery. The history of racism in the United States started long before we were even called that. Before there were thirteen colonies we had racism. Racism was born in the old world and was carried with the colonists all the way to the new one. Racism on this continent started with the treatment of Native peoples.
I could go through a laundry list of the atrocities whites committed against Natives. I could talk about plague-infested blankets or forced marching. I could even talk about the similarities between the Nazi concentration camps and reservations. Maybe I should do all this, but not right now. There’s a point I’m trying to get to and I’ve not made it yet.
If we’ve done such horrible things to them, why then do they always get overlooked? Why are these and so many other people constantly left out of the racism equation? Think about what the term “racism equation” is for a moment. When any noun is uttered your mind conjures images to define it. There are simple nouns like cat, dog, mom, or dad that nearly anyone can relate to. But then there are more complex or figurative nouns like President, United States of America, god, or racism. The images, or symbolic definitions, a person creates helps define that person and helps other people relate. When someone says “god” and the image you create is of an old man living in the clouds then you are quite possibly a follower of one of the Abrahamic religions. Conversely if someone says “god” and the image you bring forth could be one of a hundred different faces or genders, then you’re likely a follower of Hinduism or any other polytheistic faith. Your internal symbolism helps define who you are. Likewise a society’s internal symbolism helps define who they are culturally. So what does it say about America when our collective symbolism defines racism primarily by whites being bad to blacks?
I challenge any white person to step forward and, with all honesty, say that their mind does not immediately conjure white people being bad to black people first when racism is mentioned. Rarely, unless you are one of those minorities, do those images include whites being bad to any other group. I blame the media, but that’s the journalist in me. Racism has been defined and measured by the treatment of blacks. Much like when women won the right to vote and the larger movement for equal rights on the basis of gender died directly after, the larger civil rights movement on the basis of skin color appeared to die shortly after Affirmative Action became the norm. Some people might mention the American Indian Movement (AIM) that cropped up in the 1970’s. I will say that while it was sensational at the time, it did nothing to bring long-term awareness to the racist treatment of Natives by whites or any other group.
This brings me around to, what I hope to be, my point. The problem I see with any anti-racism sentiment today, is the lack of inclusion. These people are largely being left out. Not just Native peoples, but Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, Arab-Americans, and any number of other hyphenated Americans that just aren’t included in the discussion. While each group’s treatment can be different, the basic drive behind that treatment is the same; “you aren’t white.” So what do we do? I wish I had the answer to be sure, but I don’t.
In short, that was the beginning of racism. The real discussion about racism. Not the black problem, or the Asian problem, or the Arab problem, or the other problems we’ve decided are problems and not people. This is the discussion about racism that we need to have. That I need to have.
Maybe there’s a middle in here somewhere…