Recently I attended an all day seminar at work regarding race and racism. That’s one of the many beautiful things about living on the left coast. I doubt it would even occur to my former employers in Florida to allow us to have such training, let alone make it an annual event.
I learned much that day. For instance, on a scientific level, race doesn’t even exist. If you look at our DNA, only one out of every thousand nucleotides is different, from human to human. In fact, Penguins and fruit flies have more genetic differences within their own species than we humans do. (I didn’t learn this in the training, but I’ve read somewhere that our DNA is has 40 percent in common with that of a banana! Think about that the next time you eat a banana…)
The trainers showed us a fascinating video in which they did an experiment with a high school class. They sequenced a portion of each student’s DNA. Before the results came back, they were asked who they assumed they had the most genetic similarities to. Naturally, the African Americans assumed they would have more in common with each other, and the Whites gravitated toward the Whites, the Asians with the Asians, the Hispanics with the Hispanics, and so on. But here’s the interesting thing. That turned out not to be true at all. The commonalities and disparities were actually amazingly random.
The skin color thing is a function of the sun. Humans in more overcast climes developed lighter skin over time so that they could absorb every ounce of vitamin D that they could. Otherwise they would not have survived to pass on their genes. It’s just a melanin thing, as simple as that.
Race is something constructed by society to further political and economic goals. Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote that all men are created equal, also wrote, in Notes on the State of Virginia, that “Blacks are inferior to whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” That was, in essence, his way of justifying his ownership of 225 slaves. But there is no scientific evidence of these inferiorities whatsoever. The only reason blacks became slaves in our society was that the white indentured servants who used to do our scut work before slavery could too easily run away and blend in with the general population. Whereas if your skin was a different color, you had nowhere to hide. Slavery was a much more sustainable outrage than indentured servitude.
We often talk about America being a melting pot. I was taught to believe that that meant we are diverse, and we’ve all blended together to become Americans. I used to be so proud of that! But actually, the melting pot concept was more about the desire for all Americans to be able to assimilate and be exactly the same. It was all about only allowing white Christians to sit at the table. I’m repulsed by how twisted I got this. I’d much rather that we be a hardy stew.
One last thought for those of you who still think others are inferior because they have not reached your level of success. It’s easy for us W.A.S.P.s to forget that everyone else has to start 30 yards deep in their own end zone. They don’t have the leg-up that we were born with and never earned. This picture is one of the hand outs from the training. Print it out. Mark off all the privileges you have. Then mark off any additional ones you feel you don’t have that people will assume you have. (For example, I’m not a Christian, but people would think that I was.)
Once you’ve marked off all that privilege, think about who has to be oppressed for you to have each one. It’s a sobering realization. Now, tell me again how all men are created equal?