Why Race Matters

Yesterday, I briefly alluded to my distaste for the idea of a "post-racial" mindset. This has been something that's been seriously bothering me for some time. I believe those who strive for a post-racial society are those who wish to invalidate American history. I think it's cowardice in the face of touchy issues. It's the will to gloss over the differences in this nation because complication is messy. It's whitewashing. It's homogenization. It's the new racism.

There are those who believe race doesn't matter, especially now. As much as I don't want to belittle my Negritude, I'm going to use an analogy here to explain why it does.

The person for whom I'm making this argument the most is a friend from Maryland. I am a Texan. One thing Maryland is known for is its seafood, especially its crabs. I hear great things about these crabs. You get a few of those babies and some Old Bay and you're pretty much set. I've had them, I wasn't wowed.

Now, we've all been there. We've been raised on a favorite dish and we may have moved to some place. You think back on that dish and say to yourself, "Man, I really wish I could find some good tamales. Back home, there was this green building on Rigsby that had the best tamales. Folks here just don't know." (San Antonians will clearly know I'm talking about Reuben's Tamales.) My friend from Maryland and I will talk about food from time to time. I'll talk about Mexican food. He'll say he doesn't care for it. The thing is, part of the reason he doesn't care for Mexican food is because he's from the north. A formative part of his life is based on his not being raised on this food. It's based on his home city of Baltimore not having Mexican food places and little taco shacks on every other corner. I happen to really like Mexican food because I was always surrounded by it. Now, of course, this is a bit of a logical fallacy. Everyone who has these circumstances will not automatically like Mexican food. But that's the thing, these circumstances only determine an individual's favoring a kind of cuisine only somewhat. If you are from Maryland and lived there much of your formative years, you have a higher chance of liking seafood. If you are from San Antonio and lived there much of your formative years, you have a higher chance of liking Tex-Mex cuisine. There are exceptions but one must clearly note the chances are high.

I make this point to say, that's just food. There have been studies on the correlation between personal space and US regions. Driving patterns are different from city to city. Accents are different for people in different regions. It cannot be denied that geography is a factor in personality formulation.

When one looks at the individual, the psychological and sociological question of nature vs. nurture has always existed. Heredity carries certain traits from generation to generation concerning alcoholism, body type, and general health. The culture that surrounds an individual is also a gigantic determinant on the future of that individual. It's clear that nature and nurturing are influential on the individual, the question is which is moreso.

See, here's where I get to my original argument. The concept of race, especially culture associated with race, have elements of both. As a black man, my heredity passed down the higher chance of high blood pressure (something I'm thankful does not afflict me), hypertension, sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, and other health related factors. I have curly hair, a sort of oily face (especially my nose), and brown eyes. Nature has most certainly made my body this way. This is by no means negligible.

My culture has certain factors. My family tells stories and we've always been close to the church; this is why I joke often in conversation and why I utilize repetition parallel structure, and the call-and-response pattern in my written work. My parents have always been jazz lovers and many of the people in my family are musical so I tend to listen to all kinds of music with a structural ear. I eat and enjoy the food my parents fed me, which their parents fed them, which their parents fed them, on and on and on and on until you get to the slave masters who fed them. Culture is closely related to habit and lineage. If there is the Russian novel, the Irish limerick, and the Chinese adage, why can there not be the African-American folktale?

For some reason in America, legions of people seem to be willing not to look past race but to completely overlook race. But if I am the way I am partially because of my DNA and my cultural upbringing, overlooking my race is overlooking a large part of who I am. The masses of people who "don't see race" are in effect not seeing people. They don't see why my hair doesn't grow like most other people's hair. They don't see why I really like sweets although I really shouldn't. They don't see why I have a thing for bass lines. Not all black people are the same way, just as not all Marylanders may like seafood. But to ignore my race is to ignore who I am.

When you claim not to see race but the person inside, you're only seeing the tiny fragment of the person you're willing to see. You don't see that person's past. You don't see his formulation. You don't see what he was or what surrounded him or what he overcame or what he rebelled against. Americans can be proud New Yorkers or Californians. Should we one day be a post-state nation? (Upholders of the 10th Amendment would weep.) When discussing relationships, would it be inappropriate to ask a woman's perspective? Should we be a post-gender nation? (Those who voted for California's Proposition 8 would be aghast. Although, they're aghast anyway.)

This nation should not overlook its differences but learn from them. It is our difference that makes us great. Our distinctiveness means we all have a contribution. Our heritage gives us varied perspectives. Ignoring this is ignoring real people. It's making the different into the same. It's not progress, it's blindness. It's avoiding the tough vision for the sake of convenience.

I am black. I am glad to say I am black. There are others who are white. There are others who are Mexican. There are others who are Spanish. There are others who are Irish, and German, and Jewish, and Italian. (But many black people just lump them all together into white. I mean, I just said I was black, not "of Kenyan ancestry" or whatever.) I am this way because of my parents' DNA. I am this way because my family raised me a certain way. I am this way because of the church I attended. I am this way because of the neighborhoods in which I lived. I have a past that cannot be denied because that past is a part of me. That past made my genotypes and phenotypes and that past made my culture.

I do not wish to live in a post-racial society because I am an individual. I want to learn from those different from me. I want to see us as equals, that means we are equally different in a myriad of ways. We are mutually different, we are not all the same. The post-racial society is, in essence, homogenization. This is not the reality I want for myself or for my children. I want my children to be black and proud of their blackness, and I want them to learn about different people of the world. I want them to know they are special, just like everyone else. It's odd to juxtapose those words near one another like that, but who said culture was easy?

Culture is bombastic. Culture is the mixing, and clashing, of individuals to make this ongoing chain. It is unbuntu, interconnectedness. The links of this human chain are not all the same. That's what makes the chain work in some weird way. The sooner we see this, the better.


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