Friday, February 15, 2013

Racism - An Equal Opportunity for All

      I have a dream that my four little children will one day live 
      in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their 
      skin but by the content of their character. 
                              - Martin Luther King

I've written elsewhere about the scientifically bankrupt notion of race and its enduring legacy of tribalistic bigotry.  Here, I want to emphasize that racism is not confined to whites, contrary to the racist propaganda put out by non-white racists.  As I see it, racism is the false presumption that knowing someone's race implies that you know something about their personality, morals, and capabilities.  Such an assumption is, in simple terms, pre-judging someone on the basis of their race, but race is not a definitive characteristic.  Distinguishing people on the basis of skin color is on the same level as seeking to distinguish people on the basis of their height, or their weight, or their preference for right- or left-handedness.  Skin color is just another superficial trait.

Race is an absurd concept based on meaningless differences among the members of the human species.  These differences evolved because of the environments in which various groups of people found themselves.  Only a fool would truly believe that hair color is some sort of infallible indicator of a person, so why is it that skin color would say anything definitive about a person?  Answer:  skin color says nothing definitive about a person!!  As indicated in the essay cited above, I'm not promoting some utopian vision that says everybody is the same - any simple examination of the variability in humans renders such a statement absurd.  People vary in terms of many of their traits:  height, weight, atheltic ability, intellectual ability, hair color, skin color, strength, rhythm, musical talent, and so on.  Certain groupings of people may differ, on the average, with regard to one or more of these traits.  But skin color, the most commonly-used indicator of a person's "race," says pretty much nothing at all about particular individuals.  If you want to assess an individual's talent playing a trombone, or capacity to do advanced mathematics, then skin color provides nothing in the way of useful information to help in that evaluation.  With time, science has dispelled the mythology of racism.

Our concept of "race" is simply another reflection of our atavistic tendency to tribalistic bigotry.  The challenge to us in America is to renounce the validity of discrimination (and other ill treatment, up to and including violence) against someone solely on the basis of race.  When I was in Vietnam in 1970, it was common for most American soldiers to refer to the Vietnamese as "gooks" or "slopes" or "dinks" - clearly pejorative terms quite comparable to the use of "nigger" when referring to black Americans.  What I noticed was that many of the angry young black soldiers who had grown up in city ghettos and who had experienced a lot of racism aimed directly at them were just as guilty of prejudice against the Vietnamese as the white people who had discriminated against them.  You might have thought they would be empathetic toward the Vietnamese and declined to use such pejorative terms, but that wasn't generally the case - they joined right in with the bigotry against the Vietnamese  The hypocrisy of that was evident to me then and it still is.  If a black person hates white people (or Asians, or whatever), that's racism - pure and simple - just as surely as the reverse is racism.

There can be no doubt that whites in America should be ashamed of the way blacks (and other non-white groups) have suffered simply for being black in the history of this country.  Even if we didn't actually own slaves or participate in segregation, we should be eager to do our part to make up for that by eliminating that now and in the future.  [We can't change the past.]  White Americans should want to repudiate racism as a morally and scientifically bankrupt viewpoint.  Unfortunately, many whites still are blinded by bigotry.  As it stands, unfortunately, racism is not exclusively limited to white Americans.  There are black Americans (and other non-whites) who have in common with their white counterparts the racist notion that you can judge a person simply by the color of their skin. Bigotry and prejudice are equal opportunity afflictions - they know no racial barriers.  So long as racism of any sort is considered acceptable, we as a nation will never get beyond racism to live the dream that a great American, Martin Luther King, imagined and worked so hard and sacrificed so much (including his life) to achieve.  It's shameful that an ignorant white man gunned down this great American, but MLK would be the first to renounce racism as a response to racism.  When you respond with hate for hate, violence for violence, and evil for evil, you reduce yourself to the very sort of person who is the target of your response.  You give up the moral high ground to wallow in the same filth as your opponent.

Racism needs to be eradicated as a valid viewpoint, no matter what the color of one's skin.  All such tribalism-based bigotry should be cast aside as ignorant, obsolete, and unproductive.  If we're ultimately to achieve real freedom and liberty for all people, the as yet unachieved ideal of the founding fathers of this nation, then racism is simply an ugly hangover from our ignorant past that must be overcome on the long road we must travel to make reality match our high principles.  It doesn't accomplish anything to give racial prejudice any validity in any of our lives.  The past is not a valid justification for racism.  Our future will only be free of racism if we all commit to eliminating it from our lives, now and forever.

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