Black, White, Latino, Asian, female, male, disabled, able, heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual... How many labels are we able to put on a person? Is this how we should really treat each other? Read this article to have some food for thought.
By Sheila Rainey
My view of the world is idealistic, which means I am often disappointed.
As a person educated in the United States, I was indoctrinated early to believe certain things: that democracy was the best form of government; that racism was bad, but people and objects that were darker were objectively worse than lighter-colored objects; and that in all things, America led the pack.
We do lead the pack in so many things, we Americans. We feel entitled. Entitled, maybe more than any humans of any other countries, to fulfilling work that is well-paid with benefits such as sick pay and health insurance. We feel we are entitled to safe food and water. We believe our country – a very wealthy country based on the wealth of our politicians – should take care of its veterans and help the homeless and help the sick who cannot help themselves. We are told repeatedly that we live in a land of opportunity, yet our elected officials often spend years de-funding those opportunities: they want more tests in schools and less teaching of critical thinking skills, or they will take education money away. Or they block our right to vote because they know we would not vote for them, or they re-draw voting districts so that the “right” people (read: the ones who will vote for them) are in their districts.
It is human nature to focus on our own problems and issues, and the news media (I almost put the word news in quotes because so much of what claims to be news right now is hype and/or propaganda) uses the psychology of human nature to make us more anxious and hyper-focused on the problems of the day. If a cop brutalizes a Black man or woman, a network – or a politician, or a celebrity – is always there to emphasize the difference between those of us who are likely to be beaten or killed by police and those who are not. The idea that one can control a police officer who is bent on using his or her fists/gun/other weapons to hurt another human being is ridiculous. But the media and politicians are excellent at separating us into our categories – Black, White, Latino, Asian, or female, male or cop, not cop – and therefore making us feel only they – this member of the media or this politician – can keep us safe from the “other” members of society. The ones who are not like “us”: and “us” (to those who would separate us) is white, male, middle class to rich, heterosexual, and able (without a medical condition which affects his daily functioning).
The good news is this: the “us” the politicians really want to separate out and prop up is shrinking fast as a population. As people in the United States get older, they are extremely likely to deal with health problems like diabetes or cancer or heart disease, which sometimes leads to death, and more often to disability and (we hope) empathy for others who are marginalized or minority members of our society. Death of those who are aging and/or sick means there are fewer of the demographic group which currently makes up most of the members of the media and elected officials.
As a country, we continue to welcome people of all races and nationalities who come to the U.S., who marry and have children, adding to the non-white, non-native population. Television is less important to young people than it was in the 50s-90s, but the current shows which draw large audiences have casts of mixed races and varied sexualities and often – as with Saturday Night Live – espouse liberal viewpoints. People who are LGBTQ+ are more and more likely to live their lives openly as society accepts them. The view that America is white, male, and heterosexual is changing, if slowly, and those who wish to divide us and make us fear each other will soon be the minority.
If you were educated in the United States, you almost certainly learned racism. We are not the first and won’t be the last to teach a country’s children to believe their country is the best place to live in the world. But, maybe, just maybe, the answer to the country’s current problems: hatred for people of certain races, religions, or beliefs, and the division between those of us who believe every American is equal to every other American and those who are certain the fight for equality is, instead, as one told me, a fight for “white genocide”, is not creating more division!
It is currently no one’s job to educate people on white privilege or xenophobia. This is a huge failing of our education system. Instead, children grow into adults and learn from the world around them. I believe learning from the world is incredibly important and vital to every child, but things like discrimination and bigotry should be taught. The visceral feeling of being discriminated against is a learning experience like no other.