Tag Archives: Race

Race/Color/Heritage/Identity


The first thing I learned in Lit Theory was that the relationship between the Signifier and the Signified was completely arbitrary and it blew my mind. This is the theory of Semiotics and quite frankly it makes a huge difference on how I look at language as a whole. Basically, we have words for things (signifiers) and we have things (signified) and there is literally no logical connection between them, no fixed state. The word is not the thing and vice versa.

Completely lost yet? Yeah, that’s how everyone starts with this theory. So I’ll give you the example my professor used to make it less foggy. Take the word “chair.” You know what a chair is. You can picture it in your mind. And even if everyone in the room with you is picturing a different chair, they are all essentially a chair. There must be, then, a Universal Chair, one which embodies the word and is imbued with the word at the same time. Except, well, no there isn’t. The word chair has a basic definition, true. But it is also burdened with connotations. Let’s look at a synonym for chair, “throne.” Now, a throne is definitely a chair, right? But is a chair a throne? Not really, no. Throne has different connotations. If you follow this logically, moving from synonym to synonym it is possible to eventually reach a word that is absolutely not a synonym for chair. Or to think of it in another way, we could translate the word “chair” to a different language. I went onto Google Translate and did just that. I went English to Spanish to Chinese to Russian to Scottish/Gaelic. And then I noticed that when I switched the Russian back to Gaelic, the words changed. So I went back and forth between them a few more times and then translated the Gaelic back to English. Suddenly the word was “home.” I could probably stretch my thinking to where home and chair are synonyms, but it’s a pretty far stretch. Language is pretty neat like that.

What this means is that the word “chair” and the object “chair” are not intrinsically linked. In other words, all language is made up and each and every word is encumbered with rich meaning and history. When we name things, we define them and those definitions shape them. But we must never forget that the name itself is arbitrary. The name isn’t the thing. The thing isn’t the name. The words change, the meanings change and this is absolutely the way it should be.

I started with that because I want to talk about race, color, heritage, and identity. These words are powerful and dangerous and sticky. They are not synonyms for each other and should not be treated as such. Are they connected? Yes, as are all words. That is the nature of language. But we need to divorce ourselves from the notion that it is all one and the same.

Heritage and Identity are big words. I may touch on them later.

Race and Color are also big words. I’ll deal with those now.

To lay out my credentials, I have none. I read stuff. I have a bachelors in English. I am white. I have no right to speak on this, but I’m gonna.

Race and color are not the same thing. Race is a social construct. Color has to do with skin pigmentation. The connection between the two is arbitrary, just like the word “chair” and the object “chair.” You probably already know this if you think about it.

When Europeans colonized (re: raped and pillaged indigenous civilizations in a quest for power and resources) the world, they did so under the banner of spreading civilization and the Christian faith. I’m generalizing, of course. That’s a huge chunk of history that includes hundreds of years and dozens of empires, but that’s the gist of it. Europeans needed resources and the best way to get them was to discover new lands, that coincidentally had been discovered thousands of years before by other people. And instead of abiding by the dibs rules, they decided to bring plague and slavery to the natives. They called it civilizing the savages, even when those savages were significantly further along in the indoor plumbing department. And then they had to justify all the violence, because even in those days you couldn’t just enslave a people without good reason. Ah, well, they’re savages, they aren’t really people. How do we know, well, LOOK THEY’RE BROWN.

Now I am definitely conflating the conquest of the New World (the Americas) and the colonizing of Africa, India, Australia, etc, which are not precisely the same thing. The motivations are the same (Europeans want more stuff), but it’s not like Europeans forgot that there were brown-shaded people when they traipsed across the Atlantic. People with darker skin-tones have always existed and Europe was never some kind of pale utopia wherein a time traveling sunscreen salesman could be king. For all of human history, race wasn’t a thing. Color was, sure, definitely not contesting that. But race? Nyope. Do I have sources for this? I have a NatGeo article which is very interesting and points out that scientific racism wasn’t a thing until the 1800s.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/04/race-genetics-science-africa/

There are actually a ton of articles on the subject and most of them seem to agree that the concept of race as we understand it is incredibly new. And it’s confusing really. Cuz we have this idea that people can identify as their race. I’m white. Other people are Black or Asian or Indian or Middle Eastern or Hispanic or First Peoples and you know what they are because they look like their race, right? That guy is black because he looks black. I’m white because I look white. But again, we all picture that Universal Chair and it turns out we mean home.

Race isn’t synonymous with skin color and the proof is the concept of “passing.” Now how is passing as another race possible if color and race are inherently linked? Someone who passes as white can still be black or Hispanic or Native. To be defined as POC, all you need is one POC in your bloodline (defined, not identify, which is something else). To be defined as white, you can’t have any. Which is impossible since all bloodlines started in Africa. If you’re a white supremacist, DO NOT get one of those ancestor DNA tests. You will be very disappointed. No, nevermind, do it. Enjoy some reality. (Did you know that some DNA tracing businesses will falsify data for customers who refuse to believe they have any African heritage?!?)

But wait, if race doesn’t exist according to science, how can people identify as a race? I’m glad you asked. It’s pretty complicated. You see, when Europeans colonized places, they gave priority treatment to pale people. And then they came up with science that made that okay because the not-pale people were OBVIOUSLY a different species. They labeled people, created boxes for specific characteristics and then said THIS BOX IS BLACKS AND THEY ARE INFERIOR AND YOU CAN TELL THAT BECAUSE THEY’RE DARK-SKINNED. In this way, colonizers not only justified the murder and enslavement of entire civilizations, they convinced the conquered people that they deserved to be murdered and enslaved because they didn’t look European. This was totally new. You murder and enslave people for land and ideology, not because they look different (I’m guessing).

Think of it this way. Some people like to point out that a lot of the slaves sold in Africa were sold by natives. See?!? Savages! Blacks sold their OWN KIND! Except that assumes that Africans are all one people when they are in fact the most diverse continent on the planet. They weren’t selling their own kind, they were selling slaves from other tribes. Slavery has been around a loooooong time and just about every civilization has had a hand in it. It was only in the recent past that it became hereditary, but I digress.

So Europeans invent race. We are good because we are White. You are bad because you are Black/Asian/First Peoples/etc. If you aren’t white, you are secondary, subservient, less than. Even in your own country. Even if you outnumber the white colonizers. Even if you have generations of much better personal hygiene and sophisticated calendars and managed to sail to your land in tiny boats while white people were still figuring out the Sun doesn’t orbit the Earth. And Europeans propagated this message for generations. They erased entire languages, cultures, and peoples trying to force homogeneity. Not to make everyone white (which is impossible from the white perspective because having a drop of POC blood means you aren’t white no matter how white you dress, talk, act), but to make everyone want to be white.

White is basic, normal, the standard. The only proof you need of whiteness is to look white. By that I mean you have pale skin and European facial features. Whiteness has more to do with skin color than any other “race.” That’s how it is possible to “pass” as white, a social strategy most commonly used to escape being not-white. Imagine that concept? To be a POC, all you have to admit to is one non-European ancestor. To be white, you have to erase 200,000 years of human history. And I know that feels like a leap, it’s simply math. When a white slave owner raped an African slave, the children were half black and still slaves. When those children were raped by a white slave owner, their children were a quarter black. When those children were raped by a white slave owner, their children with an eighth black, and so on. You can approach whiteness but never achieve it.

And not to put too fine a point on it, the slave (Sally Hemings) who bore Thomas Jefferson’s bastards and is the reason Jefferson is a common surname in the Black community, was three-quarters European and still somehow Black by race. She was also probably Martha Jefferson’s half sister, so you know, ew.

I have a friend who I served with for most of my military career and I was shocked (SHOCKED I tell you) to discover pretty early on that he was Black. He’s as pale as I am and has blond hair and blue eyes. But his father is Black and apparently if he grows his hair out it’s an afro. But when he enlisted, his recruiter told him to write down that he was White. Because it would be easier. That was only 20 years ago.

Which brings me to Black Africans. Black Americans have the distinct (what’s the opposite of privilege?) of being descendants of dark-skinned people who were kidnapped from their native land and forced to work to death for several generations. This great sin sundered our nation according to an arbitrary designation of race and has left devastating, unendurable damage to our people. We will never heal from it because we continue to cover the wound with diseased bandages and telling ourselves that the noxious smell is just bad apples. But anyway, when we (the ruling White class) legally defined slaves as Black because it didn’t matter what nation/people they came from, we erased their heritage. When we took their names and their children and their futures and their pasts, we erased their identity until all they had was the word Black to define who they were. And they took that word and remade it into their identity based on a shared trauma. That’s pretty damn neat.

But what about Black Africans. If Black Pride is rooted in the shared trauma of slavery, does that mean Black Africans are excluded from that pride? Knee-jerk reaction was no, of course not. Why? Well, they’re still Black. Obviously. What a stupid questions! Just look at them… ah, that’s right. Race and Color are not synonymous. Hmmm.

That right there is the problem with Euro-American, white-centric education. I learned barely anything about my own nation’s filthy racial histories and nothing at all about the rest of the world. Slavery in America didn’t exist in a bubble, apparently, and racial inequity was the norm in most of the world thanks to the British Empire (and the French and Spanish and Portugese and Dutch). Colonialism plagued the whole planet, not just the Americas. POC’s suffered under brutal, racist regimes for centuries and that left lasting, irreversible trauma. Black Pride, Native Pride, Indian Pride, that all stems from shared trauma at the hands of Whites. They flourish in spite of an entire system engineered to make them fail. That’s something to be proud of.

Right now I’m reading a book called Black Skins, White Masks by Frantz Fanon, who was a French West Indies psychiatrist and political philosopher in the middle of the 20th century. It goes over my head somewhat (neither philosophy nor psychology being strong suits of mine), but it is giving me incredible insight into the generational psychological trauma of colonialism on Black people. It is disheartening to read about all his pain and anger throughout the text, relaying the same dehumanizing treatment many of the Black community are still dealing with almost 70 years later. This is looking at what it is to be Black outside of America and it is literally no different. Trust me, Blackness doesn’t exclude based on geological origins.

I’m running out of steam on this and I appreciate you for sticking with me. I know this sort of meandered all over and probably doesn’t make a bit of difference in the grand scheme of things. The people who need to understand these concepts won’t read this. To be fair, a lot of people won’t read this because I don’t have a lot of followers. But it was something I had to parse out for myself and maybe this will help others put into words exactly what is wrong about any calls for White Pride.

All lives can’t matter until Black lives matter.

2 Comments

Filed under Misc Short Stories

The Race Problem


We need to talk about race.  Because we have a race problem in this country.

That’s actually a load of crap.  We don’t have a race problem.  Race doesn’t exist.  It is simply a variation in the amount of melanin in the skin.  Race has no more effect on a person than eye color or hair color or flat feet.  That’s genetics, and while science is not certain how much genes effect personality, most agree that we don’t make complete carbon copies of ourselves merely through genetic contributions.

The problems we face are cultural.

Travel to a new country.  Good.  Now look around and get shocked by the weirdness around you.  Train stations in Japan are clean.  Space bubbles are significantly reduced in South Korea.  English food is awful.  The French are rude.  The languages are different, the food is different, hand gestures, common courtesy, all vary from place to place.  What doesn’t reliably vary?  Race.  A black German is still going to speak German and ride the reliable public transit systems and drink German beer.  He’ll wear German clothes and have an opinion about politics and have behavioral traits which are deeply entrenched in his environment.  Being black doesn’t change the fact that he grew up in the country, learned the traditions and history, and has developed an identity in an environment completely different than someone of the same skin tone living in Africa or America or Asia.

A long time ago, mankind was born and had a hankering for travel.  As he travelled, he evolved to fit his environment.  This is why we all look different.  People from cold climates are pasty because they don’t see the sun ever and people from warm climates are dark because that protects them from cancer.  Simple.  And because there was no internet, he didn’t keep in touch with his old relatives.  So after a few millennia, he didn’t recognize his own species and thought he was meeting new animals which he of course thought himself superior to.  And then he defeated his enemy using superior technology and enslaved him.  This happened a lot throughout history.  Like, A LOT.  I mean, it’s pretty much the same story throughout human civilization from the Sumerians all the way to modern history.  The immorality of slavery has only really been recognized by the majority of the first world for only two hundred years, if that.

Well, a new world is “discovered,” and people are sent to colonize it.  The funny thing about these people is the presumption that they were superior to every other variation of humanity.  They were more civilized, culturally and technologically.  Or so history tells us.  I guess.  It seems more likely that they were just better at popping out babies in high enough numbers that a third of the population could die of plague and they were still over crowded.  Over crowding leads to technological advancement as a means of providing for a population that couldn’t be supported otherwise.  Anyway, a bunch of people show up with fancy weapons and deadly germs.  Some of them sex up the locals which is why the lands conquered by the Spanish early on are still mostly brown in skin tone.  Further north, the conquerors were not so eager to plant seeds.  See, the northern Europeans were never conquered by the Ottoman Empire, so they could still feel superior to brown people.  Plus, there are religious factors in this.  The Spanish and French and Portuguese were nominally Catholic, which advocated conversion through procreation.  The English, Germans, and Dutch leaned harder toward Protestantism (with varying levels of crazy).  For most that meant doing the opposite of decadent Catholics, as hard as possible.

These are all factors, among all kinds of other things that I am not qualified to speak on, which lead to much of North America remaining pale in skin tone.  Cultural differences clashed and instead of mingling with the natives, the natives found themselves evicted from their lands before the concept of land ownership was even a thing for them.  And this misunderstanding between two tribes (the Europeans and the Natives), baffled both sides.  Europeans say, Hey, that idiot sold me this land for a handful of crappy beads.  Natives say, Hey, that idiot gave me shiny beads because he thought I owned the land.  Have you heard of the countless people who were scammed into buying the Brooklyn Bridge upon coming to America?  Same deal.  The only reason the trope of stupid savage stuck over stupid pale face is because stupid pale face had bigger numbers, bigger guns, and small pox.  (Ask me some time about my theory concerning the US/Native relations and how they could have been fixed.)

Again, the differences between the two tribes were cultural.  However, humans are visual beings.  Strong visual acuity is how we survived the jungle when every other species was still being tricked by the camouflage of apex predators.  We conflate visual patterns with behavioral patterns.  Orange stripes mean something is trying to eat me.  Brown skin means someone is obviously a dumb savage who needs to be civilized.

And when Europe started exploring the world because they were out of room (since plagues were no longer effective and the apex predators were reduced to fancy throw rugs), they went out to explore the world.  New worlds were discovered, Yay new resources!  New people were discovered, Yay new work forces!

What I’m getting at is that the European tribe spread out, killing and enslaving all other tribes in order to keep resources for itself and become stronger.  And when they had conquered everything, they set up trade systems that moved these new resources where they were most needed.  And some of those resources were people.

Somewhere about this time, the Enlightenment happened.  Cultural revolution all around.  Mankind wants to be great again, like the Ancient Greeks and Romans.  Up until this time, slavery was just a thing that happened.  It wasn’t right or wrong, it was the natural order of things.  Yeah, it sucks for the slaves, but they lost.  So, you know, they get it.  But then the winners effed up.  They got greedy.  They made slavery a permanent condition.  It wasn’t something you could work your way out of any more.  And somewhere along the way, they stopped viewing it as the winners and losers.  Morality started wedging into the argument.  The Enlightenment made it really difficult for those “superior” thinkers to look at slaves and not see people.  In order to remain the good guys, the narrative had to change.

People were slaves because of their culture, which was too uncivilized to survive without a benevolent overseer.  People were slaves because they were evolved to be so, otherwise why would they be so good at manual labor?  People were slaves because God wanted them to be.  That’s how he punished the Hebrews, after all.  And eventually, we get to where the people who are slaves are not really people.

Millions of people are ferried across the ocean and forced into a 400-year breeding program that privileges strength, durability, coordination, and loyalty (though not to the overseers).

The slaves were treated as subhuman, as alien, and as pets.  Above all, they were treated as separate.  There was a strict cultural divide between the slaves and the rest of the population.  So instead of being a part of the community, valued and respected as a cog in the machine that kept everything running, they were foreigners.  And you might be wondering why a slave would ever be valued and respected.  My answer is a long history of slave revolts.  Sure, you can crucify seventy of them along the road to Rome, but then you still have to get more slaves.  In working societies, slaves were considered property and property was highly valued.  In the societies that failed, human property was disregarded as less valuable than rarer commodities, like livestock and gold.  An overabundance of supply, you could say.  Which leads to devaluation.  Unfortunately, while devaluation of those other commodities is an economic inconvenience, when a large population of human beings become expendable, they respond like people rather than livestock.  Abuse an animal and you’ll get kicked or bit.  Abuse a tribe of people and they forget their place.  Horses don’t have the opposable thumbs required to slit your throat in the middle of the night.

THIS IS WHY WE HAVE A RACE PROBLEM.  The conflation of race and culture, the complete separation of the slave “tribe” from the rest of the nation, and a massive superiority complex all contributed to the development of a culture that is alien to the majority (which is only the majority because of a ridiculous preference for sexual partners with a fear of sunlight and a penchant for freckles and skin cancer).  The division of tribes created cultures born out of completely different roots.  Again, my world traveler analogy.  You are about to travel to a foreign country, but first you brush up on the culture (if you aren’t a typical American) so that you don’t commit a social faux pas accidentally.  Some perfectly normal hand gestures here are serious insults in other countries.  Or you just show up, talk loudly so everyone is sure to understand you, and act offended when the waiter spits in your wine because in his country you called his wife the c-word.

Oh, but the slaves were freed so long ago, why haven’t the cultures integrated?

Um, yeah, they effed that up, too.

Congratulations!  You are the last in a long line of people who have known nothing but hard labor and subjugation.  You have no formal education, speak a dialect that is both distinctive and nearly indecipherable to the privileged elite, and you are still considered a lesser species by a majority of the people around you.  But you’re free now, so get off my land and start working for a living.  Did I mention that you will be reviled because your freedom is a daily reminder that we lost and thousands of our sons spilled their blood for nothing?

Former slaves stuck together for safety.  Because all the high-minded laws didn’t stop the lynching, burnings, rape, and systematic abuse.  Not to mention the fact that freeing the slaves didn’t give them rights.  They were still foreigners.  So the cultures continued to diverge to this impasse we still have.

Black people aren’t getting shot because they are black.  People are getting shot because their skin tone has been conflated with behavioral patterns attributed to a specific culture.  Instead of learning about and accepting that culture as part of the rich heritage of this country, it has been branded as violent, uncivilized, uneducated, and inferior.  Why?  See above.

Skin tone is incidental in culture.  Granted, having a specific skin tone means someone can automatically claim a specific culture.  When I embarrass myself on the dance floor or tell corny jokes, it’s because I’m white.  When I enjoy a wide variety of ethnic foods, know all the words to a rap song, or like big butts and am unable to lie about it, I don’t suddenly stop being white.  But somehow a person who exhibits traits too divergent from the dominant culture isn’t authentically black (or Asian or Hispanic, etc.).  You’ve heard the terms: Oreo, Twinkie, Coconut, Wigger.  These are oddities because their appearance no longer fits with the cultural expectation.  And in converse, a person who is most certainly divorced from a culture can still claim it if their skin tone is applicable.  Think of any politician who has tried to claim street cred.  I understand the struggle this community because I am (brown or whatever), even though my privileged upbringing took me completely out of the environment that defines your culture.  Vote for me because I am also a minority, though I clearly haven’t suffered the same way you have or I would be where you are looking at a political candidate spewing the same nonsense I am now.

Or in another line, I can’t believe that guy’s a star quarterback because he is black, and while dark-skinned people dominate athletics in this country (possibly due to that horrendous breeding program I mentioned earlier), traditionally their leadership skills are undervalued since the black culture is so obviously inferior to more civilized peoples.  And a woman who is unbelievably rich, supremely popular, and highly influential in the highest social circles can still legitimately claim a deeply felt connection to poor, undereducated, underemployed, and systematically underprivileged people because she is “black.”

Does this make sense to anyone?

I’m tired of hearing “White cop kills black person.”  Police officer kills a person.

This is not an All Lives Matter thing.  It’s called Black Lives Matter because skin tone is still the dominating influencer of prejudice.  It is assumed that a darker skinned person will have behavioral traits that are considered undesirable by the people in power.  Which is dumb.  African American Vernacular English is symptomatic of lower intelligence, right?  Actually, no.  Embracing and learning cultural differences is how we grow as a people.  That means we stop seeing cops as the enemy so they stop seeing us as threats.  Because when you are in a hostile environment, you’re going to be edgy, which leads to more violence than anything.  That’s the visual conflation again.  A uniformed person is an enemy because they’re plotting against us, watching us so they can catch us doing wrong.  They’re supposed to be protectors, not bullies.

Please.  This isn’t a white vs black thing.  This is a dominant elitists vs the systematically disenfranchised.

So stop.  Stop claiming that black people are stirring up trouble.  That they’re all on welfare and drugs.  Stop telling them that they should straighten their hair to fit in.  Stop telling them that they need to act white in order to be taken seriously.  Stop claiming that full lips are only attractive on white women.  Stop using genetics to justify superiority.  Read To Kill a Mockingbird for clear examples of how skin tone doesn’t dictate the moral superiority of anyone.

Stop.  Playing.  The.  Race.  Card.  You are not your skin tone.  You are a beautiful person.  And if someone treats you differently because of your skin tone, it’s because they’re an idiot.  The fact that I bear the physical markers of a tribe that lived in a dark cold place for several thousand years doesn’t mean I’m going to be the ideal candidate for a white collar job.  Seriously, that would be such a bad thing for me.  Those rare times I reveal that I don’t have rhythm, I can blame my ballet training, which heavily discouraged my learning to get jiggy with it.  Corny jokes and bland dialect are both gifts of my Midwestern upbringing.  And the reason I’m not getting a “tribal” tattoo any time soon has less to do with me not wanting to look like a pretentious white douchebag and more the fact that my tribes were more into blue face paint (but also that other part).

And hey, stop simplifying the complexity of human behavior down to juvenile stereotypes.  I’m just getting tired of the whole conflict.  I know it is difficult to overcome the behavioral programming, but seriously this is the only way we can get right with God.  Love your neighbor.  Not your black neighbor or your white neighbor or your Christian neighbor.  Not only the neighbor who lives next to you or the neighbors on your street or the neighbors who vote for the same guys or the neighbors who like the same teams or wear the same clothes or speak the same language or WHATEVER.  Love your neighbor.  Got it?

Good.  I feel a little better now.

Leave a comment

Filed under Ramblings, Rants