I wrote a post recently about race. In the post I made the statement that I believe race is a concept and not a reality. The post was dated February 2 if you would like to go back and review its content, and the logic under which I constructed the argument to support my beliefs.
I have been thinking about the post and realized that I did not make it clear that I believe culture is a very real entity. In my thinking these two words carry far different meanings.
One reader, LC Scotty commented on the post, “Ultimately, we are all human, we all come from some spot in West Africa where Homo Sapiens first arose. Our ancestors, scattered to the four corners of the Earth have been alternately changing as individual groups in response to evolutionary pressure and then co-mingling to redistribute all the goodies.”
I don’t pretend to be a scientist or expert on human evolution and offer no conclusions about where the first people originated, but I agree in earnest with the premise of his statement. The idea that we are all of one race, the human race, is what motivates me to tell you the world would be a kinder, and as my friend and reader Robert Shapiro would say, a ‘more benevolent” place if we understood skin color is only a concept.
This can become confusing due to the use of the word race rather than ‘skin color’. I tend to identify the common use of the word ‘race’ with skin color. Some of you may not.
However, culture is to me as real as anything can be. Ninety percent of my posts are essentially about culture. I can watch a German folk dance. I can listen to a Native Indian song. I can taste Italian food. Culture is real. My post seemed to confuse some readers as they appeared to believe I was saying all people on earth are a homogeneous blend and there is no speck of difference between us.
So today, I endeavor to make myself more clear. Watching the Winter Olympics I saw a German snowboarder compete in the half pipe. He had black skin. The commentators told the story of his birth in a tropical island nation and his subsequent adoption by a German couple. This young man grew up in the German culture learning to ‘snowboard’ a sport he was unlikely to master in a tropical island nation. Does this mean the German culture is his culture? Of course it does.
Can we inject people with other color skin into a completely different culture where their skin color is a minority and see them thrive and prosper? If you think not, I would advise you to become more aware of the people around you each day.
I do not have to look very far into the past to find the best and most significant wording to support my case. Those words belonged to Martin Luther King as he spoke in Washington DC on August 28, 1963:
“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. I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hand with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.”
I told you recently about a track meet that I competed in last Saturday. I run for the Houston Elite Track Club. It is a multi skin color club of teammates. I was sitting in the stands with some team member families Saturday. A couple of the kids, about 5 years old, playing in the bleachers asked their parents in they could go to the concession stand. Receiving an affirmative response I watched as a small black hand slipped into a small white hand and they descended the bleacher steps en route to a common destination.
This wasn’t Alabama, it was Texas. It has been 43 years since Dr. King’s words. But I remembered his words at that moment. If Dr. King were sitting beside me he may well have joined me as small tears formed at the corners of my eyes. I wiped them quickly; after all I am a strong male track athlete. Then a fresh set followed those that had been wiped away and I was busted.
This may seem a touch maudlin on my part. I know that the scene I described happens every single day across the US. But, this is really my point. We have come so far. Perhaps its only a day or a week away that we can finally quit discussing race. And Jesse Jackson and his mercenary ilk can slink into the background and simply disappear.
Yes, culture is real. But skin color my friends is a only a concept that we invented to separate us.
This has many ramifications for all our skin colors. It means that we need to embrace our sameness and reject our differences. It means it is time to stop talking about our respective skin colors as if their differences could define us. Celebrate our cultures, yet understand we can move in and out of culture with ease. We can be born on a tropical island and learn to snowboard in Germany.
It all seems simple enough to me.
"We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline."
Martin Luther King - 1963