Am I a white person? I checked in the mirror before I started this column and decided I am tan but Caucasian. My dad has always said (possibly in fun) that we had a black ancestor somewhere in his more distant past, and in truth, we are not as white as some others who claim similar European heritage. I’ve not yet had my DNA tested, as I never considered that matter of importance. My lineage doesn’t really matter to me. I am just me. Who I am is not based on whatever my skin tone happens to be. Before you classify me as privileged, I grew up quite poor and have picked cotton under the hot sun and spent countless hours toiling in the fields.
We all hear talk related to skin color used to classify people broadly, but is woefully inaccurate when applied to diverse cultures. Most people tend to think a person with black skin as having ancestors originating from Africa. Genetic science has shown that all humans descended from early Africans who then migrated across Europe and Asia. The current and historical population of that continent includes millions of Arabs, many of whom many would be considered closer to “white” than “black” when someone puts them within those limits.
I believe it is more culture, rather than skin color that creates tension between certain groups of people. Skin color is just a convenient way of identifying one group or another. Why is it important? Because of a lie. When we say we “hate white people” or we “hate black people”, what do we see in our mind? A sea of people with a particular skin tone, not acknowledging differences of culture, only basic colors. They become a compilation of the perceived negative traits we consider a group to have. We also see their history in mass, not the history of individuals.
To improve race relations, we need to understand that the cultures of the past are not the same cultures of today. A person whose ancestors came over on slave ships from Africa is typically culturally far removed from the person living in that nation today. The same applies to white Europeans. It applies to Latinos and the Irish and Italians and Pakistanis, and Arabs and all the rest. We eat different foods, we speak different languages, worship different gods (or not), we participate in different activities and perhaps most importantly, we look at the rest of the world far differently than our ancestors did.
Within each major culture, there are sub-cultures. Whether it’s the culture of wealthy inner circles, poor inner cities, the young or old, or regional cultures, like Queens, the Bronx, uptown, downtown, southern states, northern states, or the strange culture of southern California, they all differ. There seems to be an endless variety in the human race, not based on color, but on diversity of culture and geography.
In trying to solve the problem of conflict between different cultures, we tend to think and act in terms of stereotypical groups, lumping distinct individuals with diverse qualities, good or bad, together simply by nationality, culture, or skin color. Each of us, no matter the race, religion or any other aspect of culture, is unique in our own way. Connecting with each other and gaining an understanding of each other as unique individuals can dissolve the barriers to peaceful co-existence.
To me there is no rational reason for the divisiveness between races and cultures. There must be hidden influences that profit from fomenting this anger and fear. I can think of a few.