You can’t watch the news today without hearing about racism. Social consciousness is a good thing, and we all should be treated fairly. Racism exists. It does and to some degree always will. What I believe, however, is that current dialogue is doing nothing to improve our social situation. It is merely exacerbating our problems.
For the record I am a white woman. To many of you that disqualifies me from having a relevant opinion. Not true. I understand my experience is not comparable to a black person’s, nor to my Hispanic husband’s. I have experienced racism in relation to my ethnic last name. I expect to experience more as my ethnicity is not deemed diverse enough to qualify for consideration. Being a white person, I now encounter rhetoric daily that claims any status of white citizens needs to be immediately reduced.
We have been swinging on a pendulum. Before Martin Luther King, yes, even before slavery days, we have had a problem with fairness. I would argue that it is not simply skin tones but economic circumstances of many peoples who have had to fight to earn their social status. Women fought and still do, as do many ethnicities including Japanese who once inhabited internment camps, the Irish who were acknowledged as scum of the earth immigrants, the Italians who scrapped and scraped their way to prominence, and the list goes on and on. We are all descendants of various races and there is not a heritage among us that does not carry a fair amount of injustice within it.
That being said, we have come a very long way. We made real, measurable and solid progress as a nation. We have a black president now and a woman on the presidential ticket. Americans as a people should be proud of the strides they have taken. Not only were we the first nation to legally abolish the practice of slavery, we also have a proven history of correcting inequality as it arises in any way we can. We have implemented multiple policies , scrutinized our educational systems and actively worked for decades in the pursuit of equality. The women’s gymnastic team in our recent Olympic Games was a portrait of diversity.
My children have relatives of all skin tones. They accepted children of all races without question. Color simply wasn’t relevant. I was grateful that the shows they watched, starting with Sesame Street, reinforced that concept. Growing up in the generation before in a rural location, I was largely unaware of how diverse our population was and appreciated that PBS among other stations presented thoughtful, relevant and inclusive programming. Our children are more educated and accepting than we were. They are aware of ethnicity and have learned to appreciate varied culture. And yet they remain American. Having an American identity matters.
Let us face facts. Americans should foremost be Americans. We live together, work together, play together and where your ancestors came from has nothing to do with it. We were almost to the point, though there were still inequalities that needed to be addressed, when peoples were living in harmony, working together to achieve the common good. We took pride in our families, friends and neighbors. We sought to be productive citizens. We saluted the flag and it was not considered offensive. In fact being a citizen was something to be proud of. We celebrated diversity and understood the concept of being part of the “melting pot”. We lived in America and that was our common ground.
The pendulum however swung too far. We are no longer simply Americans but are becoming a nation of individuals, each with a loud list of demands. There are parades to celebrate every difference, protests against the common. The minority has greater voice than the majority.
Be proud of your heritage. I am certainly proud of mine. But to put your heritage first, as a criteria by which all others are measured is unreasonable. To use past history and claim rights to reparations for sins committed by ancestors is unreasonable. To assume that every minority should be empowered and the majority silenced is not only unreasonable but actually harmful. It is racism all over again, separatism revisited, and the death of true democracy.
My liberal Democratic friends would define my stance as heinous and insensitive. To my way of thinking, ironically, the media and the liberal thinkers are doing the most damage. Their intentions are honorable, as they are in favor of social fairness, but their emphasis on putting the individual agenda first is tearing the fabric of our nation.
Why? Because we need to work together as a people, to sacrifice some of the personal to gain progress for the whole. We can be individuals with our own histories. We are individuals. When, however, we begin to assign value to our identities based on race or history we are repeating the mistakes of the past. I disagree with much of what the media proclaims. I am no fan of the Black Lives Matter movement. People say this automatically qualifies me as a racist. Not true. The opposite is true. All life matters, period. To run an organization titled on a racial basis is divisive. To harp on our differences and inequalities is divisive. The more emphasis we put on difference the angrier the rhetoric becomes, the more volatile the demonstrations. Videos of incensed protesters litter the internet.
We live in a time when the social pressure to conform is immense. It is constant angry buzzing discussion, ending in statements like “Well, if you don’t stand for this then you are a (insert derogatory term of choice here)”. This is not helpful. As good as it feels to stand on a soapbox sometimes, the real skills we need are listening and cooperation. We need calm, not outrage, and intelligence as well as emotion. Perhaps most of all, we need to be really careful of the terms we use in defining each other. We are all human and not one of us perfect.
Hilary Clinton frequently calls Donald Trump a racist and bigot. Yet her own political history is littered with incidents that meet the definition of these terms. Trump is not the most tactful of men. Hasty words have gotten him into trouble. It is clearly the most impassioned, least logical election to take place in my lifetime. The political atmosphere is very like a witch hunt. Everyone is ready to point fingers, condemn and be righteously indignant. No matter who your chosen candidate is, the rhetoric is inflammatory and divisive.
We face enormous political challenges ahead. Our system is designed so that (at least theoretically) people of differing opinions or alternate parties have the opportunity to work together for the betterment of our nation. Checks and balances, yes, but utter angry gridlock, no. Inflammatory race rhetoric may be swaying votes but it helps no one. It encourages the very judgements and behaviors that it professes to be fixing.
Running elections is a difficult process and anything that sways voters will find its way into the spotlight. Aggressively revisiting largely settled topics like that of race, and emphasizing the negative is not progress. It is not social awareness. It is not working towards the common good or adding to our society in a positive way. It is instigating unrest, aggravating the citizenry, spawning new aggression. This path leads back to the darkest places we crawled from, threatening to undo years of positive progress.
There are so many topics, urgent matters that should be under active discussion. We are hurrying toward many a crisis, and yet here we are, our focus skillfully distracted, turned inward in examination of ideals we already know to be true. Like squabbling children we revisit arguments won in previous decades, neglecting to look forward at obstacles hurtling into our future. We are fast losing the race to become a unified enlightened nation.