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Why racism? It solves nothing

A View From the Edge

Four hundred or more years ago, the first missionaries into Africa wrote of the “ebony skin” of the native population. Some speculated that if a black skinned person interbred with a white skinned person the result could be like a zebra’s stripes. I am not kidding.

In America the name calling, categorizing, mental segregation, differentiation and just plain overt racism in America seems not only acceptable but desired across all political factions. Here are some of the divisive words used as description heard just this morning on NPR and ABC (and I quote in each case): Jew, Black, Afro-American, Italian-American, Hispanic, of color, of racial background, Jewish (people in New York), Mexican-Americans, Gay, lesbian, Arab-Americans, Baptists, Arabic citizens (of America), Native Americans, Indian and tribal.

As a child, I was taught that to singularly choose or differentiate between people based on color, creed, choice or religion was bigotry, racism and un-American. Yet here we are bombarded every day with the media and politicians telling us that it is not only normal to do so, it is acceptable. I refuse to think of the color of someone’s skin as a defining character that should be used as a means to know who he or she is. 

I do not think the term “Black director” when talking about Spike Lee tells me anything, unless the purpose is to tell me that the user is a racist who thinks that the color of Mr. Lee’s skin somehow colors the work he is able to produce. Now, before anyone tells me I’ve missed the point, that his very ethnicity does affect the timbre and impact of his creativity, let me say that I do feel his background, his sensitivity to oppression and slavery, injustice and struggle, and the plight of a significant portion of American society with those issues all do color his creativity. 

My argument is, what the hell does his skin color have to do with it? If you simply express these factors as one of color, you allow racism to be reduced to sound-bite acceptability. He’s “Black,” his work is “Black,” and, therefore, you can only see it in that context. Art, surely, does not need to be segregated in your mind. Do you really need to know the color of his skin to see the movie?

America was not created as a people within a people, a nation holding nations. We were created as “One Nation under God.” Why, then, do we allow the media to talk of politicians pandering to the “Christian vote” or the “Afro-American vote” or the “Jewish vote?” Are they referring to people of a specific race or religion who, somehow, are apart from the rest of American society? Are they, perhaps, referring to people who have issues of a particular religious significance (e.g. Israel and Palestine) with which they would like to see politicians fall into accord? Is it important that their religion is Jewish? No. Is it that their sympathies are pro-Israel? Probably. However, to label them, stick that star on them and call them Jewish, is to segregate them in the reader’s mind, to reduce their collective and individual opinion on serious issues to one only of different religion. That is un-American.

As someone who has traveled fairly extensively, I have briefly been discriminated against because of skin color or ethnic origin. I had the option to return to our country where that is supposed to be forbidden and thereby avoid the hurt and frustration that differentiation brings. People who have, historically or recently, been discriminated against because of their origin, choice, beliefs or skin color, need a safe haven here in America, they need a place where the laws protect them and where they are no longer treated as separate, or identifiable as separate. We need to remove the stars from their breasts, yellow, pink, Black, rainbow, or otherwise and accept them for what they are: individual Americans. 

Any time you use the words “he’s a Black guy…” or “they’re Hispanic…” or “she’s pro-Jewish…” you are condoning a type of segregation that allows those who are racists and bigots to ply their trade. Let’s beat them at their game and see people, talk about people, and understand people for the complex individuals they really are not simply the ancestors of those discriminated against.


Writer Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now resides in New Mexico.

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