If you are a regular here on my blog, you know that I don’t get into controversial topics like this very often. But I have had this thought running through my head most of the day, so I decided to get it out of my head and onto my blog. It’s really more of an opinion piece than I normally write, but I’d really like to get your thoughts on this, too.
This current thought-stream stemmed from the incident at Harvard this week, where a black man (who happened to be a Harvard professor) was spotted breaking into a house (which he happened to be renting). When the police arrived, this professor refused to calmly sort out the matter, shouted all sorts of nasty things at the officers, and was arrested for disorderly conduct. (You can read the news article here.)
Now, here’s my line of thought.
Was it racism that prompted the neighbor to call the police when she saw “two black males with backpacks on the porch” because one of them was “wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry”?
I don’t know. I hope that she would have called the police regardless of the color of the men she saw breaking and entering into her neighbor’s home. And I assume the professor would have been extremely grateful had she caught someone (other than himself) actually trying to commit a crime.
Here’s where I have the problem. In the professor’s mind, she was being racist because she reported two black men trying to break into a house, even though that’s what was happening! The racism wasn’t there until the professor injected it into the situation. She was being a neighbor; he saw a racist. He is the one who brought it up.
The title is “How to perpetuate racism”. We don’t do it by reporting or imprisoning criminals, regardless of their skin color. We do it by intentionally pointing out the things that don’t matter and making them a big deal. Here’s what I mean.
When a person uses the phrase “African-American” to refer to a black person, or when a black person demands that he or she be referred to as “African-American”, I believe that is helping perpetuate racism by placing black people into a separate category than other people around them. It’s pointing out their differences and making those their defining characteristic. The same holds true for Asian-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Native-Americans, and the rest.
“Now,” some would say, “we just want to hold onto our culture and customs. That’s why we call ourselves that.” Great – I have no problem with family traditions. We have customs in our family, too. But we don’t force them on our neighbors or expect others to treat us differently because of something that really has nothing to do with them.
Our family eats homemade pretzels every Christmas; it’s our tradition. I really hope you don’t treat me any differently because of it. Will you pretzel-haters out there start calling me a “pretzel-lover”? Will you avoid me the day after Christmas because you know we ate pretzels the previous day? Will you define us by our culture of Christmas pretzels?
Silly? Of course. But why should a country of origin a couple of years, decades, or centuries ago be any different? Does my family background define me any differently than the pretzels I eat?
The fact is that many people who demand to be called “African-American” are from families that have been in America longer than mine! I have traced my family’s move here, and it wasn’t all that long ago.
Should I, then, demand or deserve to be called “Austrian-American”? And even moreso because my blond-haired, blue-eyed son fits a German-Austrian stereotype better than many lighter-skinned blacks fit the African stereotype?
Do you see that every time we point out these things and make an unnecessary distinction, we are actually growing the very cancer we say we want to remove?
It’s not racist to call a black man “black” any more than it is to call me “white”. Most people just really don’t care that much. Neither do they care where your family came from or what your family had to go through to get here.
It’s when we focus on those things that we not only allow racism, we actually continue it.
You want the solution? I’ll offer it in another post entitled “How to end racism”.