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Race, Ethnicity, and Vision

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Many things can be, and are, said about America. However, one thing is undeniably true; we are a nation of many different types of people. Different not only personality, social standing, or religion, but in ethnic background as well. In few other countries can one find an eclectic array of individuals having ancestors from opposite ends of the earth. Academia and the media often squabble over whether to call this country a salad bowl or a melting pot; I wouldn’t want to paint with a broad brush in either direction. However, I am certain that the United States offers a view of the world from a perspective unlike any other; sort of akin to standing on a mountaintop watching the cities and towns bustling below.

To appreciate fully the liberties afforded to us all as citizens or legal residents, it’s probably best to take a good look at your own family lineage and the history associated with it. You might discover wonderfully pleasant or shockingly embarrassing facts; certainly, variations of both are sure to surface. In any case, you will gain a profound sense of personal knowledge which can be built on to avoid the mistakes of ancestors as well as to grow on their successes. The past can serve as a key to unlock many doors that we struggle to open in the present. Learning about it can only bring a wealth of new opportunities; many of which we may not have even known existed.

Focusing too much on your race or ethnicity, though, can present serious problems. When one develops an attitude of tribalism, inevitably leading to the point of placing group identity above individual merit, terrible things are sure to follow. This is why I treat my own heritage in a strictly relativistic manner; what my forefathers experienced was exactly that, and it does not give me the excuse to take up qualms in the present day. I believe that if more were to share my stance, society would avoid needless and destructive conflicts. Imagining a world where a person can be judged on the basis of character as opposed to skin pallor or ancestral origin is only too serene a dream of mine.

Very often, I wonder why a greater number of people do not share my dream. What is so attractive about one’s heritage, which can also come in religious form, trumping one’s capacity for reason? How can it be that, almost instinctively, those of a certain appearance gravitate toward those of a like or similar one? The same can also be said for theistic belief, though this is readily explainable on the basis of common ideals. Race or ethnicity, however, engender some sort of truly unexplainable bond for far too many.

Since ethnoracial bigotry is anchored in the notion that genetics, rather than socialization and education, determine the content of one’s mind, it’s no surprise that it is widespread among the culturally, scientifically, and technologically deficient. Of course, genes do provide us with innate predispositions, such as being artistically or scientifically oriented, but these are reactionary in nature. Our genetics offer us no form of instantaneous knowledge, something that would be quite necessary for ethnoracism to make even an iota of sense. How, then, can there be a superior race or ethnicity when neither has any bearing on human intelligence in the first place?

A rational argument against ethnoracism leads inevitably to the conclusion that there are intellectuals and idiots in every human group. However, ethnoracists are thoroughly uninterested in facts, so this is sure to fall on deaf ears. Oh, well. Still, every time I hear someone pontificating about being proud of his or her race, or about ethnic supremacy, I can’t help but grimace. If only humankind could see the forest through the trees and come to the realization that each of us are individuals, unique in our own respective ways, and deserving of being treated as such. The failure to recognize this easily observable fact is found in humans of every race and ethnicity, though slowly but surely, progress is being made in rectifying this.

In the end, we are all united in a single race: the human race; ethnicity matters not a whit. It is amazing how many can either forget this or simply neglect to take notice of it.

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About Joseph F. Cotto

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Joseph –

    Very often, I wonder why a greater number of people do not share my dream. What is so attractive about one’s heritage, which can also come in religious form, trumping one’s capacity for reason? How can it be that, almost instinctively, those of a certain appearance gravitate toward those of a like or similar one?

    Still, every time I hear someone pontificating about being proud of his or her race, or about ethnic supremacy, I can’t help but grimace.

    I won’t address the part about ‘ethnic supremacy’ – most of us know the evils of that.

    Joseph, you’re saying you really don’t understand why “birds of a feather flock together” when it comes to race? The answer’s easy – you’re not a minority…and even if you’re a minority in your current location (as I am), you’re white (as I am), and whether you like it or not that gives you a wealth of benefits that most whites take for granted – of heritage, of culture, of trust…and even of power. In our schools, the history books are chock-full of white people (mostly men). This is of course not out of racism, but is the history of our nation. But it’s much easier for a white guy like you or me to look back with pride at, say, Eisenhower or Teddy Roosevelt, than it is for a black kid to do so. The black (or Hispanic or Asian, etc.) kids look at those history books and say, where’s the ones who look like me? Didn’t we count? Didn’t we matter?

    There is a vast amount of pro-white racism, not just from whites, but also from people of color. It’s there, it’s real…and if you haven’t seen or felt it, then you haven’t been paying attention. As a white growing up in 71%-black Sunflower County, MS, I saw it almost every day. I saw it in Hawaii. I saw it in every single overseas port I went to in the Navy (except Australia – they’re almost all white anyway). I see it every day here in the Philippines where I sometimes go days without seeing another white person.

    Before I go any further, remember that I’m not trying throw your ‘whiteness’ back at you, nor am I trying to brag about or to decry such racism. Personally, I don’t like this pro-white racism – but it’s like wishing away the rain and the sky – ain’t gonna happen.

    There have been studies where whites disguised themselves in one way or another as this one did and found out just how deep, how comprehensive the prejudice is when all of a sudden one’s skin isn’t white anymore. And it’s not just here, Joseph – it’s all over the world. Why? Who do you think have been the richest and most powerful in the world for the past several centuries? Associations like “he’s white, therefore he’s got money” burned themselves into the collective psyche of cultures across the planet over the centuries. Today, if you’re white and you go to a third-world country, you’re expected to have money. What? What do you mean you don’t have money! You’re [a white] American – all of you have money!

    That’s a caveat about living here in the Philippines, btw.

    Anyway, if you want a small concrete example of how perception of wealth and power can change a cultural attitude about an ethnicity, think back to Japan and the 1980’s. The Japanese economic bubble was growing and Japan was buying up everything in sight. All of a sudden we were shocked to see how moneyed the Japanese were…and all of a sudden quite a few Japanese wound up with white models for wives. This isn’t to say anything bad about the women – it’s just the way things have been for untold thousands of years.

    Anyway, Joseph, that long diatribe may not sound like it directly addresses your question, but it was absolutely necessary to point out the pro-white prejudice that you may be taking for granted – for it helps us understand why we whites often have no problem whatsoever with being in a situation where we’re even a very small minority. But a person of color in a sea of white people feels a very different sort of pressure than what you and I face.

    It’s very easy for you and me to know where we came from, culturally speaking. But it’s not so easy for non-whites. They have to try harder to find a past to be proud of, a sense of community, a feeling of being a very real part of something much bigger than themselves. It’s easy for thee and me…but it ain’t so easy for them. Thanks to our many centuries of cultural and racial history pre-dating even Rome, we whites by and large don’t have to deal with our own cultural insecurities – but those of color (excepting those from China) rarely have such advantages

    That’s why there’s African-American Month, Asian-American month, ethno-centric festivals of every type all across the land. Join them, appreciate them, support them! To be sure, the world is changing – the pro-white prejudice is not as prevalent, as obvious as it once was. But it’s still there and it’s still strong, as anyone of color can tell you.

    That’s why birds of an ethnic color flock together.

  • Cannonshop

    Glenn, I had a friend who made Sargeant about the time I got out of my (short) term in the service, and at my going-away bash (ETS party) he got a little too drunk and asked me if I thought he’d earned his rank.

    This guy was a damn good soldier, a decent guy, smarter than me. (Not hard to do, admittedly).

    I had to sit there, tell him “YES” and tell him “WHY”.

    Because he was Black, and the big kerfluffle on the news and talk shows we were hearing was “Affirmative Action in the Military”.

    It’s not right to make someone question their own accomplishments, or wonder if they’d have gotten their stripes if they WEREN’T of a certain racial background.

    The bad perception goes beyond just the ranks of bigots and would-be-bigots, it hurts guys who get there honestly and without someone thumbing the scales.

    Civilian world now…
    “Ethnoracial History/appreciation day/week/month” doesn’t strike me as anything so much as a paternalistic pat on the head, a sop, and not a very good one. It always seems to strike me as “We’re going to have this little, make-believe appreciation for your skin colour to make ourselves feel better about shitting on you the rest of the year”. I don’t see that as fixing much of anything, Glenn, I see it just changing HOW the damage is done, and making believe that one week, or month, or day, can make up for the rest of the time.

    and it don’t.

    Why do we only hear about Frederick Douglas, one of America’s most influential thinkers of the 19th century in February?

    George Washington Carver, agronomist, figured out a lot that is still used today in making the U.S. the food=basket of the world. Never shows up in the classroom except in February, when you aren’t doing agroscience anyhow.

    Dumping them and others into little bits of official time every year just serves to make the closet-bigots feel better about themselves “See, we gave you some appreciation, now get out of our sight”.

    really, there’s gotta be a better way to integrate our minorities than this…

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Cannonshop –

    We either celebrate the diversity, or we don’t. Due to the strength and depth of the ‘white’ cultural heritage, we have a huge advantage beyond benefit that non-whites get in America due to affirmative action.

    And the thing is, if, say, the African continent had been the major colonizing and economic power in the world instead of Europe, we wouldn’t be discussing the strength and depth of the white advantage today – such would have enjoyed by the blacks, and ‘affirmative action’ (if any) would have been there for the benefit of non-blacks!

    By encouraging affirmative action, Cannonshop, we aren’t handicapping whites – we’ve got plenty of advantage already and to spare – and we aren’t handicapping minorities, for even today they face racism and discrimination beyond anything that whites face. Not only that, but racism by whites in America is worse than racism by other ethnicities.

    Read that last sentence again carefully, for it seems racist in and of itself. But it’s not. It’s a sociological fact easily verifiable throughout history. Why? Because almost without exception, in every nation and culture, the worst acts of racism were committed by the dominant race or ethnicity. The ‘almost without exception’ caveat comes from the early-1990’s Rwanda genocide since the victims – the Tutsi – were actually the upper class for generations prior to the genocide.

    But that’s why I say that in the big picture, racism committed by whites in America really is worse than racism committed by blacks or any other ethnicity. Racism committed by the Han in China is worse than racism committed by the Tibetans or Uighurs. Racism committed by the ‘Christian’ Serbs was worse than racism committed by the Bosnian Muslims. And then there’s what the Jews have faced for two thousand years….

    So…no. I have zero problem with affirmative action. We whites have so many advantages already, and by being magnanimous, by allowing others to have some small advantages such as affirmative action and celebration of diversity, we set the example for the distant days when whites are no longer the dominant race. Which reminds me – we laughed when Newt Gingrich talked about a moon base…but somehow nobody’s laughing when the Chinese talk about doing it. The day when we whites no longer have such an advantage might come sooner than we think…and then we’ll wish we had something like affirmative action for us.

  • jamminsue

    Cannonshop, I have never seen you speak so wonderfully. This was something very good to see.

  • jamminsue

    Joseph, excellent, thoughtful article as usual.

    Glenn, your additions are excellent.

  • Cannonshop

    #3 Glenn, when what you’re doing undermines the true objective of why you’re doing it, it’s time to reassess tactics and acknowledge failures in prior attempts.

    Telling EVERYONE ELSE that someone is equal means nothing if they, themselves, don’t believe it, Glenn. Nobody talks about the “asian slum Problem” because there isn’t one- Viet, Hmong, Tamil, Han, etc. etc. succeed, because they believe that they CAN, without having the game rigged.

    Affirmative Action, on the other hand, has failed the Black and latino communities in this country-it failed to give them the understanding that they CAN make it on their own, in a culture as immersed as American culture is within the idea of ‘self made’, that’s a major problem, made worse by Paternalistic policies that breed in failure, not success, which reinforces negative stereotypes not only BETWEEN ethnic groups, but WITHIN them.

    It’s hard enough when someone ELSE is telling lies and blackballing you, it’s damn near impossible if some little voice in your head is affirming they’re right, and using the programmes that are supposed to help you as evidence.

    We NEED a better approach than sops that are really there to make whites feel more moral, Glenn-which is what Affirmative Action REALLY is.

    Gotta find a better way, Glenn, is all I’m saying. I don’t have the answer, I’ve just seen that the system’s broke.

  • http://rwno.limewebs.com Warren Beatty

    Joseph, you say, “In any case, you will gain a profound sense of personal knowledge which can be built on to avoid the mistakes of ancestors as well as to grow on their successes. The past can serve as a key to unlock many doors that we struggle to open in the present. Learning about it can only bring a wealth of new opportunities; many of which we may not have even known existed.” WOW! Now there is a concept – learn from the past – that I wish was more applied by people of ALL political and ethnetic makeup.

    You continue, “Focusing too much on your race or ethnicity, though, can present serious problems. When one develops an attitude of tribalism, inevitably leading to the point of placing group identity above individual merit, terrible things are sure to follow.” Well put. That is EXACTLY the basis for “affirmative action.”

    You continue, “…what my forefathers experienced was exactly that, and it does not give me the excuse to take up qualms in the present day.” Yet another great concept – live in the present, but LEARN from the past.

    Overall, a very good article – please keep up the good work.