Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s now infamous statement on race relations in America is now more true and relevant than ever. “In things racial, we have always been and we, I believe, continue to be, in too many ways, essentially, a nation of cowards.”
The recent string of police shootings has sparked national outrage among the black community and supporters of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Even more recently, Rachel Dolezal has made headlines as a “white” woman living the life of an African-American for several years, eventually rising to being the head of a Washington state chapter of the NAACP.
Now, I understand that my perspective is not the same as that of a 19- year-old black male from Atlanta or a 21-year-old Hispanic from Los Angeles. I understand this. However, I believe that all of us have an interesting set of life experiences that are valuable in understanding the intricacies of life in a “melting pot” such as America.
Our cities are a microcosm of the diversity that the nation is moving toward, and so this discussion is vital for all of us. Unlike Mr. Holder’s bold assumption, I am not afraid to have this dialogue. I am not a coward.
Social sciences are hard at work to identify and dissect the various causes of racial tension in America. Race is now viewed as a social construct, the colored lines continue to be blurred as more and more ethnic groups enter America’s borders and begin to assimilate, and there is an increase in the number of couples who engage in interracial marriage.
Sociologists have introduced the concept of white privilege throughout academia, and it has only recently begun trickling into the mainstream. This is the idea that there is an inherent racial hierarchy in every aspect of our lives. The government and corporate power is held by an overwhelming white majority and has led to laws and institutional policies that are more beneficial to whites than other cultures.
This forces minorities to either assimilate into the dominant Caucasoid culture, or risk being outcasts forever. While I do not disagree that this concept does exist, I feel that we should focus on ways of dismantling the power structure without violent revolution or complete overthrow of the current system.
The shift in a societal definition of race is just one of many factors that prove that race is, indeed, a social construct. It is not biological, but defined by a cultural consensus, which means that it is fluid. Moreover, it is also known that gender is another trait that global society has invented and reinvented time and again. What it is to be “masculine” or “feminine” is different around the world.
Therefore, genders such as “male” and “female” have been deemed to be social, rather than biological. Our gender is whatever we identify with. If race, like gender, is a social construction, why do we not treat it in the same way?
I realize this is a concept that may be a difficult pill to swallow, but we should not allow some unseen, unknown social force in our country to dictate who we are and why we should identify with lifestyles to which we do not subscribe.
Another change needed is for more of us to begin seeing ourselves as “multi-racial, regardless of which “race” has been falsely ascribed to us. Skin color has absolutely no bearing on the way we see race. Several “white” European races used to exist prior to their inclusion together as one race. Only two centuries ago, Germanic was a different “race” than Anglo.
However, several decades ago, the arbitrary color line that tries to differentiate “race” by melanin levels came into being. We find ourselves in need of a shift in psychological perspective; we need to train our minds to think in terms that have a more unifying ideal.
When someone is constantly telling you what “color” you are, and certain attributes have been ascribed to that “color,” a person may begin to view themselves as a concept rather than an individual human being. The media has corrupted us in ways that are detrimental almost beyond repair.
There are many steps we can take to help relieve racial tension in America.
1. I propose that we begin to self-identify in whichever way we see fit. Stop giving the power to define who you are to someone else. If you have a white pigment, but identify as black, then do so—and vice versa.
2. Furthermore, we should embrace the idea of all of us being “multi-racial”. Think of the headlines if they were to read “Multi-racial Police Officer Shoots Multi-racial Man” or if Barrack Obama was another in the line of multi-racial presidents, rather than the “first African-American” leader of the USA. Rather than #blacklivesmatter, we could all promote #multiraciallivesmatter or more appropriately, #ALLlivesmatter.
I understand the argument that by eliminating race, we would eliminate the history of oppression of race. I would contend, however, that we would never forget or even make light of the tragedies of history. Like the Holocaust, slavery was a very real and horrible institutional blight on the world. We would be well served to remember that race was not and is not the only motivation for enslavement. The Chinese and Irish were treated with extreme hatred in America, and the Jewish people have been the center of persecution for centuries. This occurred not because of skin color, but because of cultural differences. Thus, the annulment of race does not eliminate the history of oppression at all. I would argue that it may make it even more real, because it shows that any culture can be the target of discrimination and oppression.
3. Institutional education from our public schools is not enough either. We must start at home within our own families and try to explain to our parents, spouses and children that understanding and accepting other cultures is a normal practice and should be celebrated.
4. We should really spend time gaining knowledge and appreciation for other cultures. This does happen, to some extent, already. However, the emotional overreaction to events such as the Zimmerman verdict and recent police shootings only serve to constrict already tense veins of clarity and lead to a larger rift between cultures.
5. When the subject of race is broached between those of differing ethnicities, it should be rationally discussed without fear of bigotry. One side has no business shouting down the experiences of the other. Lumping a group together based on the tone of their skin is just wrong, no matter who is doing it.
6. We should have more racial discussions in public forums. I would love to see the topic embraced in our televised political debates. I’d love to see it debated in a positive and respectful forum more often at college campuses. We should avoid making one group feel guilty for their heritage.
7. We should begin to take the time to understand one another as individuals without complication. I would encourage all of us to take the time to sit down with someone of a different race or culture and really begin to process the ways in which we are not only different, but similar.
Only then can we truly become the “United” States of America. We are the most ethnically diverse country in history, and many cultures have come together to live in relative peace and harmony for a hundred years. If we implement positive race relations, we can affect long-lasting change. It may take two or three generations for changes to take effect, but if we do not begin now they never will.