I am sick and tired of race. How can I say that? Am I denying my own identity by saying this?
No. Race is socially constructed, and I am disgusted with the way that our society has used it to systematically disadvantage people, especially those of color.
There is nothing inherent about race, except humanity. We are all a part of the human race. But socially constructed racial categories fluctuate and change, as with the Irish going from a marginalized immigrant group to white. No one racial category has a homogeneous physical appearance.
The racial category of white consists of “[those persons] having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East or North Africa,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And yet in everyday vernacular, those with origins in the Middle East are referred to as Middle Eastern, not white, and are now on the road to becoming their own racial category. The legacy of 9/11 and the racism toward Middle Easterners has led to this. Racial categories are not stable.
Ethnicity, on the other hand, is more accurate and stable. You can’t deny where your ethnic origins lie. Those are part of who you are, the legacy that led to you today. Yet trying to group people in such a way would be difficult, since a single person can and usually does have more than one ancestral origin.
I, for instance, am considered black, which bothers me. My skin is not black in color, it is chocolate in color. My hair and my car are black. The dictionary definition of the color black is negative as opposed to that of white. The definition and negative connotations of the color black, I believe, are subconsciously placed on “black” people.
My ethnic origins lie in Africa, Europe and North America. And this leads us to hypo-decent, manifested in the one-drop rule which still breathes its funk through our society. The one-drop rule of yesteryear was applied solely to “negroes” who had blood that was viewed as a pollution to a human being. To have even one drop of “negro blood” was to be one, and with that one drop all privilege was stripped from you, despite your physical appearance.
This happens even today, though not with the same viciousness. Thankfully people are beginning to accept that people don’t fit into any one category, yet there are still too many who don’t know how to accept the new colors being revealed in the rainbow of humanity.
The U.S. government has taken some measures to address abuses against some groups, but not all, not those which have endured the longest suffering.
Japanese Americans received reparations for the three years (1942 to 1945) of internment they faced during World War II. The indigenous nations of the U.S. who endured countless abuses and genocides starting when Europeans “discovered” them, and the descendants of U.S. citizens who were forcibly taken from their homeland and brought to the United States to endure slavery and build this country for 245 years (1620 to 1865) are still suffering from racism, discrimination and white privilege. Reparations for the descendants of indigenous nations and slaves are still out of the question and due to racism.
By pointing this out, I am in no way downplaying the history of suffering, human rights abuses or injustice that other groups have experienced. To do that would make it fair to downplay the history of slavery, Jim Crow, genocide and other human rights abuses. But I present these facts to you so you are aware of them in a different context.
“This stuff happened a long time ago,” you say.
“I had nothing to do with it.”
“But we have a black president.”
“Look at Oprah.”
“Asians are more affluent than whites.”
“There’s affirmative action,” you say.
“White privilege doesn’t exist anymore.”
Oh contraire mon frère.
Yes, you weren’t even thought of when many of these events and abuses were taking place, and yet they still have effects today through structural inequalities that were laid during those times and are still maintained today. Yes, the Civil Rights movement improved the lives of U.S. citizens who are the descendants of slaves and set the stage for other groups, such as women and the LGBT community, to fight for equality, but what is still being done to produce significant changes such as those that happened during that time?
And that’s just it. Talking about the dirty past of the United States makes people uncomfortable, defensive and even angry. And yet it needs to happen in order for this country to move on from it and become a better place for all, majority and minority alike. Taking steps to improve the lives of minorities will not harm the majority. It simply must be done. Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it may bring feelings of guilt. Yes, it may make you feel confused and at a loss for rational thought. But it needs to happen.
This nation was built on the backs of slaves. It has a legacy of genocide and cruelty. Our dark past is not just black and white either, it is all the colors of the human rainbow. The United States is hailed as the land of the free and home of the brave. Yet it is still in bondage to the past, and a large percentage of its populace is not brave enough to face the past to overcome it.
There are steps you can take to help improve group relations in the United States. First, realize and accept that we are more similar than different. Seek to understand and appreciate the differences that are present. Second, realize that history is not a thing of the past. It still has ramifications today. Learn about the history that has not been put in the history books, because this is not the only history. Thirdly, don’t become defensive when someone tells you that they are offended by something you said or did. Work to understand why they are offended.
For example, when indigenous peoples say that sports team names such as “Redskins” or “Indians” are racist, don’t dismiss their offense — understand why they are offended.
We can agree that communication is key in relationships. It’s key in developing positive race relations as well.
Follow Breanna Grigsby on Twitter: @Bre_Louise