a race to nowhere

Not the competition race, where someone comes in first, second and last.  Although we are all in one and some might see it that way.  It’s the other race.  Our skin.  The individual race inside the human race.

It’s only natural to think, feel, and talk about race.  We are only humans (they say).  Reading and listening to the news cycles, at least in the U.S., it seems that race is a big issue.  And surely it is.  There are not many places on earth where it isn’t.  But in a country as homogenous as ours, it doesn’t seem as big of a deal as the news makes it out to be.  At least in my rat race.

I had a black roommate in college for a year and really didn’t think anything of it, except that he was black.  We were just two students going about our own business of trying to learn something.  We didn’t have the term African American then.  He was a black guy.  I was a white guy.  Together we were two guys.  There were no racial issues on either side (that I could detect).

The last couple of weeks have been filled with a story about a black kid killed by a non-black man in Florida.  The story is that the killer is a white man.  Perhaps that is why it is sensationalized.  But there are plenty of others (killed) every day that don’t get sensationalized.

About three weeks ago GV was preparing dinner one evening and we heard a commotion — like a protest march.  With the “occupy” events going on for the past several months in locations around NYC, we thought this one was getting close.  I decided to go down to the street to see what was happening.  I didn’t have to go to far.  The police apparently directed a large protest march up the street we live.  There were thousands.  Most were chanting something about justice.  I had no clue about what.

I didn’t stay long. The marchers didn’t look so friendly.  On the way up the elevator, I asked a neighbor (who happened to be going up at the same time) what the march was about.  He said it was about the kid who was killed in Florida.  He said, “that’s very sad about that kid, isn’t it?”  Not wanting to appear too out of touch, I agreed.  But I was thinking, how could a march of such a large proportion have taken place and I be oblivious to the cause?

There’s hardly a place on earth that doesn’t discriminate horizontally or vertically.  But it’s how we arrive at race that is curious.  In other areas of the world, it can be more subtle, more tribal.  In our country the most obvious is skin color.  If we are white we are white.  If we are not white, we are,……something else.  But mostly in the U.S., if we are not white, but with a tone of brown, then we are black, or rather African American, except if we are some dilution of hispanic.  Those not white and not black are in a confusing “other” category.  The “others” are a minority like Asian, or latino/hispanic.

Supposedly the man who killed the black kid was half white and half latino.  In other words, he had a white parent and a latino parent.  What does that make him?  Is he a hispanic minority or a white?  What do we do because we need to tag him?  There is no classification for half and half?

But wait, when a child is born from one white parent and one black parent, we classify the baby as black.  So the rule must be, if there is a 50/50 mix with one parent being white, then the classification goes to the non-white.  That’s what we did for the current President.  We call him the first African American President, even though he is 50% white.

We import a lot of tee shirts from other countries.  Many of them are blends, like 50% cotton and 50% polyester.  When we classify them to our Customs officials, we can’t call them cotton tees or polyester tees, but we do classify them. The classification goes to the “chief value” whichever fiber that has the majority content.  In the 50/50 case we classify them as cotton (because of lower duty), but it’s arbitrary.  If the US Customs official decides to test the content and finds that it’s 51% polyester, they classify as polyester.  So we can classify this 50/50 tee as a cotton tee or a polyester tee, but regardless we’ve got to, by law, label it 50/50.

Should this be how it works for humans?  It might make it easier.  What happens to a child of a 50/50 (G2), when that child grows up and has children (G3).  For example, we already know the offspring (G2) of a white parent and a black parent is black by default.  But if G2 grows up and has a child (G3) with another black parent, the child would logically be black (now 75% black).  But if G2 (a 50/50 white/black) has a child with a white parent, the child would be 75% white and we would still call the child black.

So any percent of black makes the person black.  It’s like whites and blacks openly promote the purity of white classification.  In other words, blacks accept (in fact claim) all proportions of black (tones of brown) into the black classification, but to be classified white, it’s got to be 100%.

To be fair, we rarely call anyone black anymore.  We might offend the black Indians — the Indians from India.  The Indians from south India are some of the blackest people on earth.  But they are not the type to get easily offended.  So the African American classification created a convenient way to differentiate from non-African blacks.

Where does that leave hispanic or latino?  A person from South or Central America?  It’s a vague, funny other.  In their countries whites are gringos, blacks are blacks and a 50/50 or mixed is mulatto or mestizo.

In the case of the latino minority, if the offspring of a 50/50 heads back into the latino race, it’s nice, clean and easy.  The child is latino or hispanic, depending on race or language.  But if the half latino has a child with a white, big dilemma.  How to classify?  Latinos or hispanics don’t relish the stigma in the U.S.  They know they are minorities and discriminated against.

For the man who killed the black kid in Florida, the ongoing news story might be because he is 50% white, not because he is 50% latino.  If he was classified as a latino from the start, as a 50/50 white/black is classified a black, then this may not be news.  What else would explain the non-sensationalized cases that happen each week around the U.S. where a black is killed by a black and a killer doesn’t get apprehended?  Maybe this case was just to blatant, ripe for political cause.

In the Florida case, we have no clue if this was racially motivated.  Somehow it was/is sensationalized that way.  But the sensationalizing seems wrongly placed.  It’s not about race.  It’s about our crazy laws.  How can anyone be allowed to move around carrying firearms?  Killing another human is just too easy with a gun.  The guy who killed the black kid should be in jail.  Period.  No one, police included, should be able to shoot an unarmed person walking (or running) on the street.  It’s ludicrous.  What the half-latino guy did, even with the “stand your ground” law, is cowardice.  Anyone not protecting their family who is out in public firing at other unarmed people with a deadly weapon is the lowliest of cowards.  The half-latino should be in jail but we’ve complicated justice with laws and lawyers.

The fervor of the thousands of people marching in front of my building a couple of weeks ago may have been better aimed at changing our gun laws.  We needed guns more than 200 years ago.  We had slavery 200 years ago.  But we’ve evolved.  We abolished slavery long ago and we don’t need guns anymore.  Eliminate guns.  They makes senseless killing just too easy.  The constitution needs amending.

The fact that around 99 percent of the blacks who voted in the last presidential election voted for Mr. O, statistically means that a good portion of them were playing their own race card.  We are not going to extinguish racism any time soon.  But we can go a long way to softening it by taking away arms and changing a few laws.  There is also a lot more we could do investing in social education.  This is a race we could win.  But in the meantime, we could focus less on chanting about race and focus more on living as a human race.

1 thought on “a race to nowhere

  1. Anonymous

    Great post, and I agree: “we could focus less on chanting about race and focus more on living as a human race.”


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