Race Relations in America - the Good, the Bad & the Ugly
With the upcoming inauguration of our first ever African American president, I can honestly say that this is one of the few times in my 24 years that I have felt true pride in my country. It's the kind of pride that fills up your chest and burns your nose like a fresh cut onion; makes you stand just a little bit taller and walk just a little bit slower. That kind of pride.
But at the same time, I also wonder, "What now?" Though a recent survey found that only about a quarter of Americans still see racism as a large societal issue, we are still talking about it. It can still be found in hushed conversations in quiet corners, in bawdy comedy skits, in TV drama series. It does, however, seem that our perception of racism and the application of racism has changed. By definition, racism is:
A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
With that definition in mind, the idea of giving one race permission to do or say something while denouncing another race for the same act, is racism. Let us then consider the example of "the N-word". Often while listening to my favorite radio station or watching DVR marathons of "Comedy Central Presents...", I am annoyed at the constant bleeping of expletives, especially "the n-word". But by and far, what irks me the most is that despite the mock burial of "the n-word" by the NAACP in 2007, we are not only still using that word, but commercially reproducing it for our entertainment!
With discussion of racism comes the topic of equality, or "the quality of being the same in quantity or measure or value or status." But why is it that as a Caucasian, I would be (at best) chastised for even daring to repeat those same lyrics? How is it that one single word can both be a term of endearment or the highest of insults, depending on the color of the face that uttered it? What is equal about that?
One of the other nuggets of racial discrimination that we can't seem to let go of is how we refer to people by their race and what is considered to be an acceptable reference. For example, the term African American describes an ancestry, not a look, yet it is often used very generally to describe people with certain visual characteristics and skin tones (the same often applies to the terms "Mexican" or "Chinese"). By definition, an African American is actually defined as an American citizen of African Ancestry.
Though my father was born and raised in Italy, I cannot remember a time (outside of my Food & Culture class in college), where I was referred to as an Italian American. I am simply considered "white" or "Caucasian" because of my light skin tone. If it is most practical to describe people by skin color, why not be more specific? I, for example, would be somewhere between Light Blotchy Peach American and Dirty Porcelain American. Or maybe we could create breed standards like the American Kennel Club, and place individuals into certain color groups like Tan, Rust or Mahogany, to name a few.
I suppose that all I am really saying (in a lengthy and somewhat contradictory way), that it is time to let go and stop talking about racism. It is continued and spread through the people who are still looking for it, and it will not go away until we finally bury the words and the references that criticize our differences rather than embrace them. Rather than making excuses like exercising your "Freedom of Speech" to say "the n-word", let's recognize that there is nothing freeing about that word or the double standard it is best known for.
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