Monday, April 16, 2012

This Piece is not about Race or Racism

I thought about writing a piece about race and racism, but decided against it.  It’s just too hot.

If I had, I’d have written about the race prism through which Blacks and Whites can see the same event, like OJ Simpson and the Trayvon Martin shooting, in such different ways.

I thought I’d start by talking about my experience during the OJ Simpson trial:  Back then, I ran a company of about 100 employees split evenly between Blacks and Whites.  On the day of the OJ verdict, we put televisions in the lunchroom so that everyone could watch it live.  When the not-guilty verdict was read, the Blacks unanimously cheered and celebrated, while the Whites were unanimously depressed.  Then we all went back to work as if nothing had happened.  But, it forever changed my perspective on the racial divide. 
I thought about writing about that continuing dichotomy and the Trayvon Martin case.  How could the races see the same circumstances and come up with such disparate and unanimous conclusions?  (The Trayvon Martin case is mostly conjecture at this point, but nothing will change once the facts come out.  Trust me.)

If I had written about race, I’d have talked about how “culture” is the sum total of all the experiences of a group going back in time.  For instance, in the case of Blacks and Whites, I would have obviously pointed to slavery as the main cultural  point of departure in America. 

With that in mind, here’re some relevant facts from 1860, just prior to the Civil War:
  • Virtually all Blacks in 1860 were either slaves, recently freed, or had slavery in their immediate ancestry.
  • According to the US census, only 2% of Whites owned slaves nationwide in 1860.

It’s safe to say 150 years later, after multiple waves of immigration, and the civil rights gains of the 1960s, the cultures have not merged:
  • Black culture, attitudes, and world-view in America are still 99% affected by a direct lineage to slavery.
  • White culture, attitudes, and world-view in America are 99% detached from any direct lineage to slavery.

In other words, 99% of Blacks in America are the cultural descendents of slaves, and 99% of Whites are the cultural descendents of people who never owned slaves!   That does not put Blacks and Whites at opposite ends.  That puts them 200% apart; they occupy two different planes!

So what about discrimination, something Blacks have always dealt with in America? 
Unfortunately, discrimination is a human constant and not limited to White or Black Americans:
  • Within African cultures, where virtually everyone is of shared ancestry, there is widespread discrimination and a caste structure.  
  • In China, where virtually everyone is of shared ancestry, there is widespread discrimination and a caste structure.   
  • In India, where virtually everyone is of shared ancestry, there is widespread discrimination and a caste structure.  
  • I could go on about every single culture throughout history.

In other words, discrimination is a human constant and cannot be explained as racism.  That doesn’t make it any less real, but it does suggest that blaming it on race is intellectually lazy.
Why, I would have asked, had I written about this, did Barack Obama get a higher percent of the vote than recent White Democrats Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry?  Perhaps discrimination here is based on something other than race, just as it is around the world?  Perhaps we are similar to other cultures, only exceptional perhaps in that discrimination here can be overcome by ability and achievement?
I thought I’d write about all this, but then I decided not to.  This message is probably just too hopeful and too controversial, all at the same time.