“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” –Titus Livius
“Anger is nothing more than an outward expression of hurt, fear and frustration.” –Dr. Phil
Today, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and one day before the inauguration of our first African-American president, it’s difficult to not at least assess the state of race relations in this country and in this day and age. I say “difficult” because, for many it would seem, acknowledging race runs the risk of disturbing the tenuous equilibrium that has been established between the oppressors and the oppressed, humanity and inhumanity, the righteous and the wronged.
To many within the younger generations, unwitting beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement that they are, the topic may seem irrelevant. Slavery, Segregation, Rosa Parks, Dr. Marin Luther King Jr., the Montgomery Bus Boycott and countless other personalities, actions and moments are just parts of a segment of time called “The Past” along with the Moon Landing, the Louisiana Purchase and the Treaty of Ghent. Sure Barack Obama will be next president; he’s a thoughtful, articulate, seemingly empathetic figure. He happens to be bi-racial and one of those races happens to be African American; what’s the big deal? I know that there are young people with just that opinion. I know because I’ve met them and talked to them.
It would seem that their lungs have developed an immunity to the air bearing the lingering poison of tear gas and the smoke from burning crosses.
Still others exhibit the stooped shoulders of hand-me-down racism. They don’t know why they wear the vestments of bigotry, resentment and indignation, but they, like most humans, tend to accept the reality with which they are presented. One’s World View is refracted through the glasses one is given, and philosophy will cling to any framework, however twisted.
Personally, I was raised in a small Indiana town. Actively or passively, we were suspicious of anyone with more than a farmer’s tan. I moved to Milwaukee, and saw an African-American for the first time when I was 12 years old; many were my new classmates. I observed that the people who wanted to separate themselves did, and the people that wanted to blend did as well. For the people who wanted to somehow distinguish themselves, race was just one of the many lines that they had at their disposal. Intelligence, physical ability, gender, family wealth and wardrobe were others. Of course, as children, we didn’t know from sexual orientation, but clearly it’s relevant today. And if finer lines were necessary, each of the above traits had sub-traits that could be exploited.
I wonder if there will ever be a day when skin color is perceived as strictly genetic and physiological; when it’s only the result of more or less melanin in the epidermis, and therefore no more an indication of a person’s character than the melanin in (color of) his/her hair. What if parents explained it to their kids just like that:
“Why is that man’s skin so dark?”
“Well, honey, it’s because he has more melanin which is produced by something called melanocytes which are found in the stratum basale of the epidermis. The gene expression of certain people results in a greater or lesser concentration of melanin.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Personally, I look forward to that day.