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Black Heritage 2010

Every year during Black History Month, in the interest of being open about "race relations" in America, I devote an essay to the subject of skin color. Two years ago, I made my case against Black History Month, and last year, I addressed how obsessed this country seems to be with race, class, and gender. This year, I'd like to focus on how we teach our children to be disriminatory, because it is clearly the root of the problem in modern America.


A little white girl reading with a little black girl
February is the month in which we make sure these two understand how different they are

Perhaps I'm a foolish idealist, but I'd like to be able to teach my young son that there is no reason to separate people on the basis of superficial differences. I'd like to be able to instill in him the value of every human life and show him how, historically, when we segregated people based on skin color, ethnic origin, or religious background, it was wrong on the most fundamental of levels. I'd like to be able to show my son that racism and discrimination are things of the past. I'd like to teach him these things, but unfortunately, I'd be lying to him, and it wouldn't take him long to figure that out. He'd likely believe in Santa Claus longer than he'd continue to believe that we don't discriminate in this country.

It is my firm belief that racism is a learned behavior, and if we could stop telling our children that people who look different are different, we could put a permanent end to discrimination. Unfortunately, in America, we start indoctrinating our children at incredibly young ages to pay attention to things like skin color. We put commercials inbetween episodes of Spongebob Squarepants that highlight all the good things black people have done, so that children never forget that black people have earned the respect of the rest of us. Then, when kids get to school age, they are inundated with lesson plans based on Black History Month, and the first thing they learn is that black people are so different that they need their own segregated history. I'm surprised there aren't two separate books: one for regular history, and one for black people history. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are.

Skin color really is an absurd distinction, and if we started teaching our children to respect the separate history and accomplishments of people with red hair, I guarantee you we'd wind up creating a society that would be discriminatory against people with red hair.

The Smithsonian's NMAAHC model
The NMAAHC: further segregating history in 2015

I wanted to believe things were getting better, but then I heard that Henry Louis Gates--the black man arrested last year by a white cop for apparently trying to break into his own home--donated the handcuffs used to arrest him to the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is set to open in 2015. Then, a couple of days ago, Gates said, "I donít think as time goes on that I will be remembered for handcuffs. I hope not.Ē It would certainly help your legacy if you hadn't donated those handcuffs to a museum, Henry.

The part of this whole story that disturbs me the most is that black people are now going to have their own separate Smithsonian museum to reinforce their completely distinct history. I don't understand how this is supposed to foster unity; all it could possibly do is reinforce to all of us that black people are not the same as the rest of us. How this can do anything but further the racial divide is beyond me.

In the interest of clarity, I am crazy enough to actually believe that we are all--black, white, yellow, blue--members of the same human race. Even the word "racism" is a problem, because it implies that different people aren't even members of the same race. If we want to create a world where we judge people on the content of their character and not the color of their skin, the first thing we have to do is stop teaching our children that people of different colors are people of different races. At the very least, we need to find a word to replace "race" and all its derivations when talking about people of different skin colors or ethnicities.

Black History Month book selection
For one month only, black people get to have their books on display, without being tainted by oppressive white people literature; how is this not condescending?

It's not just that black people have their own history, their own television station, their own movies (don't make me bring up Tyler Perry, please), their own magazines, their own awards show, and now their own museum. It's that they have willingly alloted for themselves their own completely exculsive community--called either the black community or the African-American community--with their own leaders and their own unique concerns that white people just wouldn't understand.

For example, last week, several black leaders met with President Obama (good luck finding a news story about this event without the story mentioning that President Obama is the first African-American president) to discuss many of these unique concerns. There was Al Sharpton, of course, along with Benjamin Jealous, the unfortunately-named president of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League. Dorothy Height, chairwoman of the National Council of Negro Women, couldn't make it due to the intense snowstorms. The main concern of these black leaders was how the president's job proposals weren't discriminatory enough, because they didn't take into account the fact that black people are statistically more unemployed than white people. Thankfully, the president refused to consider giving special attention to people on the basis of skin color alone, though he did agree to put more focus on poor urban areas with high unemployment rates.

Some seem to think that there is a conspiracy behind the scenes to keep black people--and minorities in general--down. This has been a social meme for decades now, with people claiming that they deliberately put liquor and gun stores on every corner of every black neighborhood so that black people would all get drunk and kill each other. Even today, there is a widespread campaign, started in Georgia, to spread the news that abortion was invented by Margaret Sanger to keep the "unfit" from procreating. If you drive around in Georgia, you might see large billboards with close-up photos of black children and the words "Too Many Aborted" emblazoned across them. Abortion, you see, has apparently turned black people into an endangered species. I'm not making this stuff up! When poor, uneducated people are taught this kind of wild nonsense, it is no wonder some of them tend to believe that every rich person is a classist or, worse yet, a racist.

Black children are an endangered species
Black children: totally the same thing as the caribou

In a sense, though, every minority group is an "endangered species." With worldwide transportation getting easier every year, and with the industrialization and modernization of the third world underway, we probably live in an anomylous time when people are so easily separated by appearances. In another few centuries, the whole world will be a melting pot, and it will be much harder to distinguish white from black, Asian from European, American from Muslim, etc. Hopefully, when we finally get to that point, mankind will look back on our time in bafflement, wondering how we could be so petty and stupid. This assumes, of course, that we teach the proper lessons to our children.

The civil rights movement of the sixties and seventies was supposed to be about integrating people and ending discrimination. Now, however, we've made it so that there are hundreds of different minority groups that need special attention for their own different needs, because, you know, we're all different races. We no longer live under state-sponsored segregation, but we most certainly live in a self-imposed state of segregation that is arguably much worse. If we keep reinforcing diversity, photoshopping black people into crowds of white folks (or visa versa), discussing how such-and-such person is the first person of such-and-such ethnicity to be honored with such-and-such position, and hammering home the mantra of "race, class, gender" to our children, this problem is never, ever, ever going to go away.


-e. magill 2/16/2010

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