Friday, July 26, 2013

We hold these lies to be self-evident...

Rogue Valley Roasting Company
16oz Soy Mexican Hot Chocolate (yeah, it's 100 degrees outside and I wanted a hot damn chocolate... that's why I ordered the "caliente" hot chocolate...)
Almond Croissant

So you think you're not a racist...  Are you sure?

You feel no animosity, no resentment - you wish no one ill.  But there are differences, aren't there?  That's just a fact.  Oh, it's not all of them... but, yeah, definitely most of them are just that way.  Statistics show that they're just different in certain ways, they act certain ways that you don't, they're more likely to do things and end up in places that you never would.  And that's because of who they are and who you're not.  Right?  The numbers show that, don't they?

In fact, they do not.  There is no number anywhere that says that race makes us fundamentally different.  You hear a lot of bullshitting with statistics, but it is just that - bullshit.  When you do your due diligence and examine these numbers being sited, they tell us nothing fundamental about race, only society's relationship to it.  Often times the numbers being sited don't exist (except on "Bullshit Mountain" and thank you Jon Stewart for that wonderful term).  On a genetic level, things are even less distinct.  Skin color is about as determinative of behavior as eye color.

And if you're one of those people who believe that we are instinctively racist, here is what science says about racial diversity...

I was watching an episode of 60 Minutes that discussed a study on the behavior of very young babies and children.  The upshot was that some behaviors, like identifying others as like or unlike themselves and preferring those like themselves, show up extremely early, as young as 3 months.  It also showed how arbitrary was the criteria for making those distinctions.  The babies related to puppets who liked the same snack as them.  So they accepted as members of their baby tribe... puppets.  Graham cracker loving puppets.  If a baby had been exposed to a baby of other another skin color that also liked graham crackers, wouldn't that baby then become a member of the cracker-loving baby tribe?

Just because babies have been shown to recognize differences in others doesn't make those differences meaningful, nor unchangeable.  In fact, as the study continued to track behaviors as the ages progressed, they found that socially negative behaviors like greed changed as the kids got older, and behaviors like generosity and concern for others emerged.  Perhaps behaviors that are useful for survival when you are a newborn, like being to identify the people most likely to know you and care about your safety, are meant to go away over time.

There was another study I remember learning about a while ago that showed that women were physiologically most attracted to the man most genetically different from themselves.  (The women were given stinky undershirts to sniff to determine this).  This  is because the body knows that there is strength in diversity.  The mind should know this, too, but societies seem to get stuck in that juvenile mindset where we want the comfort of the familiar when things scare us.  The "Other" becomes the easiest scapegoat.  It's primitive thinking - it holds us back.  Human history is at its worst in those times of mass hatred of some group or other.

A while ago, the AP (I think) did a survey that found half of Americans were racist.  When I looked at the questionnaire, however, it struck me the the questions themselves were presumptive of racism.  What is your opinion of white people?  Strongly or moderately negative, neutral, somewhat positive, very positive... However they worded it...  They went through all the groups and also had stereotype statements that you either agreed or disagreed with.  My problem is that I don't have an opinion about white people, neutral or otherwise.  I don't have an opinion about people who's second toe is longer than their big toe, either.  It's nonsensical to me.  As nonsensical as saying most people with brown eyes are likely to like West Virginia's football team.

But I am not immune to the stereotypes.  It's not that I believe them on a conscious level, but they get in there.  The same way I can't help but know that 15 minutes could save you 15 percent, or that m&m's melt in your mouth and not in your hand.  Which is also bullshit, on a hot day like this...  Just because you know the bullshit mantras by rote, doesn't mean you have to believe them.  Just because you have been advertised a beer, and you drank it and lo! it was indeed a beer, that doesn't mean that was in fact less filling or tasted great.

As I said before, statistical outcomes for "people of color" have nothing - NOTHING - to do with the inherent nature of the person but of society's relationship with people of color.  Our society is still heavily racially biased and the suffering falls heaviest on those with the darkest skin.  It is very sad, but currently true.  That is what the statistics show.

There are innumerable examples available to show identical scenarios resulting in different outcomes when you change the color of the people involved.  A darker person is more likely to be stopped for the same behavior, more likely to be arrested, ticketed, or convicted, for the same behavior.  Among equally eligible candidates for a job, those with darker skin or more "ethnic" sounding names are less likely to receive even an interview, let alone the job.  Trying to justify harsher treatment of certain ethnic groups because of all the negative consequences of this harsher treatment (as in, it's okay to have harsher sentencing for black people because, damn, look at all those black people in jail)... it's a classic case of cart before horse.  Or just being an asshole.

Obviously, all this blog has been instigated by the tragedy of Trayvon Martin and the resulting commentaries on race.  My feeling about the case, specifically, is this: I didn't follow every detail of the case, so I can't say how I would make a determination of those specific charges.  But, there had to be some law that would have convicted George Zimmerman, even if it was a charge less than manslaughter.  You may have the right to defend yourself, but you also have the responsibility to not kill someone.  The magnitude of taking a life cannot be understated and cannot go unanswered.  It cannot be acceptable to stalk someone, harass them, and provoke a physical confrontation, and then kill them because they were defending themself from you.  That cannot be the acceptable precedent.

There is no excuse or justification sufficient for you to take the life of another unless you had no other choice.  But Trayvon Martin, both before and after his death, was presumed to be a thug, a threat.  That presumption - that's probably true of most of them, right? - that presumption lead Zimmerman to think he had no other choice.  Or that Martin deserved it anyway, because if he wasn't a thug already, just give it time...

If you use race to make any kind of generalization about behavior - that's racism.  It is not justified and it's not okay, no matter how many anecdotes you've heard to back up the bullshit.  Don't believe this "culture of victimhood" bullshit, either.  And don't get defensive because you don't like being called the bad guy.  Be honest first.  I still believe that most people don't want to be racists, and that is important.  But you can't just deflect or justify the latent racism that may lurk inside your head.  Your first challenge is examining what you really believe and why you believe it.  Recognizing differences might be inherent but racism is not.  It is a poison to humanity.  It is an unfair burden placed on some, insidious or obvious, but it persists.

If you have not lived as the Other in a society, try to take a moment to imagine what it is to walk around every day of your life "guilty."  Inferior... a target... and for no offense.  Any woman should be able to relate.  What woman hasn't felt like a target walking down the street in a short skirt... or a mu-mu, for that matter?  But being a feminist and wanting to be treated like a human being not a piece of meat doesn't make someone a man-hater, any more than being against racism makes someone anti-white people.

It occurred to me recently that affirmative action is as much about providing opportunity as it is about reprogramming - or deprogramming - racism.  As you are forced to live and work alongside those you once thought different, the bullshit is overwritten with the humanity of the person at your side.  The everyday human stories fill in the spaces where nonsense used to dwell.  And in time, if they are allowed to, the young see the new reality that should be and not this tragic world in which we now dwell.  Sometimes, the old can see it too...

We can only hope.

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