What I’ve Been Sayin’…only said better: Race Dialogue

As a Southerner I’ve kind of ignored the whole Paula Deen thing. Not because I don’t care, but because I feel that the stone throwers out there are “progressives” who have lost touch with the history of race in America, specifically in the South. I feel like people are masking symptoms and ignoring the complexities of the human mind and heart. I feel like the only places that I’ve ever had a meaningful discussion about race with anyone not my own was the bookstore where I worked with a brilliant manager who was my demographic opposite. African American and male. We are, however, both Southern and that matters. It does. The fact that Paula is Southern MATTERS.

Progressives have not been kind to the South. We are, a century after they really got underway, seeing the detriment in giving someone a fish instead of teaching them to fish. Race and class lines are worse, not better. Violence and exclusion have simply shifted forms. But there are good things too. A decent sized percentage of the population (at least in the upper South) has been brought together by that common enemy. And while we are small, we are willing to talk about the tough subjects, admit that we are human, help each other stumble through it, and strive to be better for all the awkward dialogue.

Maria Dixon has written a beautiful editorial that sums up how I feel without any ranting. I am sharing it with you. I hope that you will find it as thought provoking and meaningful as I have.

Saying Grace: Paula Deen, Progressives, and Race


People are Different: how “racism” has crippled intelligent discourse

“Different is just…different.”

I’ve decided to tackle the topic of race. I think that, thanks to history, political correctness, and humanity’s (erroneous) determination that they are not animals, we’ve hindered ourselves from any useful sort of dialogue. Now before I get a whole bunch of criticism, yes, I’m a white girl. I’m a white girl raised in the American South, in one of the worst counties in my state. I’m also a white girl with an African American sister, friends from all walks of life, and a serious set of blinders. My family has called me colorblind with more than a little accuracy. Most of them have said it like it’s a bad thing.

Racism is kind of a big deal where I’m from. Other regions look down their noses at us because our racial lines have long been defined around the idea of whiteness. As a US history student, I’m actually a little sick of hearing about whiteness. It’s constricting, far too convenient, and really only applies to specific groups of people.  Pseudo-intellectuals bandy the word around like they do gender. As if concepts of masculine and feminine are universal standards. BAH. Whiteness isn’t a universal standard either. But Otherness…oh, otherness is.

While racism is a topic that is particularly relevant to me and the region in which I grew up, I would like to go on record and point out that we certainly don’t have the market cornered on it. Racism (more accurately discrimination) has existed, and continues to exist, in all parts of the world. As an American, some of the most racist people I’ve ever met were not from the South. They were Northern urbanites. The United States may be more of a melting pot than other places, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy about it or that they were. Sectionalism, nationalism, and good old-fashioned human entitlement have created a racial climate pock-marked with ugly, festering heads. Only some of which have been black and white. In the urban landscapes of the north, ethnicity has been just as important, just as ugly, but for some reason, if an Irish someone sneers at an Italian someone, they’re not nearly as bad as the white, Anglo-Saxon protestant in the South who sneers at an African American. (And I can hear the defense now, cause I’ve heard it before, but the Irish didn’t enslave the Italian. They didn’t have Jim Crow and lynch mobs. Doesn’t matter. A sin is a sin is a sin, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I want to punch them both in the face. There’s no such thing as race. Race is a social construct. If there is race at all, there’s only one, the human race. Now you can divide the rest up any way that you want. Ethnicity, nationality. People like to use racism only when an obvious physical difference in ethnicity can be seen. Skin color is the laziest, but people will also use accent, hair type, and build.  Race has also been defined around region and religion, but “smart” people will call this ethnicity now. They’ve blurred the lines so well that good people don’t know what intellectual evils they’re fighting.

Honestly, it’s all the same thing.

At their most harmless, people like to organize things and define them. The Judeo-Christian creation story includes Adam naming the animals. The Islamic Creation story is almost identical, but has Allah telling Adam the names of the animals. Labels are important to people, and their worst they are used to justify horrible, horrible acts. Racial and ethnic labels are just geographic and cultural organizations.  The scientific racists, the social darwinists, and the poor, stupid inheritors of that well-conceived but poorly applied ideology seem to like the biological approach.

Most days, so do I.

Human beings are scientifically classified thusly:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Tribe: Hominini
Genus: Homo
Species: H. sapiens

There is nothing to further divide us by phenotype or genotype. We aren’t divided into subspecies or breeds like horse, cats, dogs, other domesticated creatures. Maybe we should be. Maybe if we were, we could talk about our differences as matters of fact rather than matters of superiority or division. Should one be “better” than another. No, not spiritually, not legally. But are some folks better suited to things than others…well sure. Physical facts exist and some of those are because of where our ethnic group evolved.

The loudest shouting folks say that phenotypes (outside physical characteristics) don’t matter, we are all biologically the same. Well…we aren’t. Biologically speaking. Some of us have different pigments, different body types, different diseases, blah blah blah. These differences are biological and evolutionary. This means they developed based on needs for survival. Many of these needs were geographic and climate based. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a thing. It means that my African-American sister Aries may need sunblock, but not nearly as much as I do. It also means that I have stick straight hair that won’t hold a curl and that she can do amazingly elaborate things to hers. Big flipping deal.

The comparison is a no-brainer, but people don’t like it. People need to feel superior to the rest of creation. (Hundreds of Creation Stories confirm this.) Human beings are better than animals. They are not animals…pay no attention to that pesky Kingdom classification.

The Scientific Classification for the Wild Horse is:
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Subgenus: Equus
Species: E. ferus

It further divides into three subspecies which include the domesticated horse and the myriad shapes, colors, and constitutions therein. They can all breed with one another, they all possess certain characteristics in common, and at the end of the day they are all HORSES.

This shouldn’t be a stretch for folks, really. If, for all their differences of both phenotype and genotype, the Arabian–with its dainty feet, flared nostrils, and love of sand–and the Clydesdale–with its giant feet, shaggy coat, and love of cold weather–are the same species then why on earth do human beings look at themselves as completely separate from one another based on the same set of criteria???

Well, I’ll tell you. Human beings did not survive as long as they have by being friends with each other. Oh, no. They survived because they were exclusive, not inclusive. Kinship and religion were the first (and are still the most powerful) ways that they sectioned themselves off. Outsiders were liabilities. They brought newness. Newness could destroy the fabric of codependency so necessary for hunting together, gathering together, and breeding. Newness became Otherness and Otherness, my friends…that is the fear that rules the whole dang world.

People on this planet are born fearing the Other. From the time we’re old enough to toddle through the house or yard on our own, it’s in there. That need for the approval of our parents, our siblings. That drive to belong, to not be other. It’s a survival mechanism. You think the rebellious cave-child lived long when it decided to buck the status quo and do its own thing?? Nope. It died, starved in the cold without passing along that rebellious independent gene. You want your social Darwinism? There it is.

Belonging has for millennia been the device that propelled the species forward. If you belonged you were safe, well fed, mated. Those who belonged produced the next generation of little knuckle-draggers just begging to…you guessed it. Belong.

Others, however, they were not to be trusted. I mean come on…why didn’t they belong somewhere? They must be bad. Maybe their group kicked them out, or maybe they brought calamity and their group was destroyed. Didn’t matter. Different people don’t belong. And large groups of different people spell catastrophe.

So humans had two choices: destroy the others or make them belong. “Make them.” See that…that’s coercion. By physical force or the threat of survival. It’s forced. And it isn’t always easy. Not everyone wants to give up their belonging (even upon threat of death) and become what they have always viewed as other. And the requirements for belonging are always defined only by the victor.

Racism is the application of this “other:belonging” duality. It’s the result of the world getting smaller. Because physical differences (like we discussed with the horses) develop based on environment, it was not likely that people with dramatically difference physical traits would encounter each other. It’s not really rocket science. Think back on how “primitives” looked at anything that departed the norm: hair color, eye color, disfigurements. The unfortunate bearer of these traits was either revered or reviled. In a great many cases, physical differences were a death sentence.

Modern racism is the just the same sordid thing. Human beings are pack creatures, always have been, always will be. You don’t take out a mammoth on your own, folks, and a human against a lion without the aid of technology is just lunch. Humans wouldn’t have survived to become the dominant pestilence on the planet were it not for strong drives toward social collectives, divisions of labor, and bureaucratic stratification. Technology would be nothing more than a really good rock, and a really nice stick. Do you think humans would have started smelting if left to forage for food all day? Nope. They wouldn’t have had time. But they gathered around communal fires, shared food, and divided up the labor. Pretty soon, few could feed many, and the many could divide up the duties to advance the species. Hello, better weapons!

The very nature of human evolution has created a world where different is scary and belonging is paramount. Judging someone on their external characteristics is just an expression of old, inherited fears, and basic survival drives. It is sad, and frustrating, and makes me want to hit things, but that’s the why of it folks.

Human beings are nothing more than they’ve ever been. Two hundred thousand years and all that’s changed is the stuff that they make.