Diversity Day!

July 14, 2010

I’m not a racist.

I guess if anyone’s going to talk about race, you have to preface it with that bullet point.  A white middle class guy like me can’t really say anything that has anything to do with race, ethnicity or culture without having to clarify that he, in fact, does not hate, distrust, slander, pillage, or beat up people of different skin color.  I’m finally posting a blog entry that I haven’t known how to write for several months.  This week, I decided I’d just write it and see what comes out. 

Okay, here we go. 

I don’t watch basketball.  Because I have things to do.  But the controvery over LeBron James leaving Cleveland has proven just entertaining enough to make basketball temporarily tolerable.  The majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote an open letter to the Cleveland fans, a letter which had all the maturity and eloquence of a pimply eighth grader being dumped by his first girlfriend (for a much less pimply eighth grader) on the night he was hoping to get to second base.  For real, it’s pretty sad, and by sad I mean hilarious, like reading your sister’s diary.  Then the other day, Jesse Jackson called Dan Gilbert a racist who looks at LeBron James as a “runaway slave.”  This is getting juicy.

I remember a couple of years ago, on the eve of the Presidential election, people were hoping that America would soon become a “post-racial” society.  Obviously, that hasn’t really happened.  I’ve got three completely non-racist thoughts about why that is.

People don’t want to be raceless.

I guess if you asked someone what “post-racial” means, they’d say that it means that people no longer see each as different races.  The fact is, we’re all too dang proud of our race and culture to be able to give it up.  White people don’t want to give up their white culture.  Neither do blacks, hispanics, or Asians.  We like what makes us unique too much, even when our cultural habits make us look stupid and/or inept to other groups.  If people want a post-racial society, they should stop listening to hip hop music, eating with chopsticks, and driving around in minivans and just be homogenous.

America is thought to be a melting pot, but that doesn’t mean people just grow out of their cultures.  Even though most of us have absolutely no connection to the country our ancestors came from, we still like to hang onto that.  People are proud to be Jewish, Italian, Irish and Greek, even if they’ve never been to those places!  You’d be hard pressed to find a member of most races that wasn’t proud of their heritage!  And if you’re a white guy like me whose family line is so muddled, he doesn’t know what he is, your race is just made by where you live.  I’m a midwesterner, specifically from Kansas City.  That means everyone on TV learns to talk with my non-accent, I know how to make better barbecue than all of you, and I may be a country bumpkin who does not own shoes.  If someone says they live in New York, Boston, Texas, Seattle or Los Angeles, many of us can make a lot of assumptions about that person’s “race” with some degree of accuracy.  People like to be different.

We like blaming each other too much.

Look, I get it.  The story of human existance is one group of people exploiting another group of people.  I really don’t like that.  I try to live my life with justice and mercy in mind. 

But if there’s one thing we don’t like to give up even more than our own culture, it’s blaming another group of people for our problems.  And when we run out of problems that we can legitimately place on someone else, we start blaming them for our other problems.  Can you think of any group of people that has never been hated by another group of people?  I can’t…maybe New Zealanders. 

Anyway, right now Americans are having a tough time trying to figure out how to deal with illegal immigration (consisting primarily of one particlar ethnic group.)  We don’t want to look like racists, but it’s kind of hard to not look like racists.  We’re worried about our jobs and economy.  And a bunch of people are whining about how, “These people aren’t assimilating!  They aren’t learning the language or becoming ‘Americans!'” 

The fact is, anyone who knows history would be able to tell you that this isn’t a twenty year old event in the making.  We went through all this a century ago when approximately a million-bajillion Europeans immigrated here and took a bunch of crappy factory jobs.  Everyone flipped out about that, and no one liked these foreigners who didn’t speak English or become “Americans.”  Guess what?  Those immigrants had kids, and those kids weren’t foreigners.  They were Americans who spoke fluent English and listened to iPods nonstop.

I’m not weighing in on the best solution to the problem today.  But I promise, even if all 20 million Hispanics aren’t “put on a bus,” this will still be America.

We like cramming people into very small boxes.

People like categories, stereotypes and generalizations.  It helps us make sense of the world.  We like to have the world fit into “black” and “white” boxes; “us” and “them;” “right” and “wrong;” “saved” and “damned.”  We like these categories because it prevents us from having to think too much.  And when you put people in those boxes, it’s really easy to assume what they are thinking.  Jesse Jackson did a great job winning the argument by telling Dan Gilbert what Dan Gilbert thinks.  It’d be pretty easy for me to do the same to you, or for you to do to me.  You could say that I’m white, so I’m a racist.  I’m a male, so I’m a misogynist.  I’m a Christian, so I’m a homophobe.  You see what I mean. 

And until we stop telling people what they think, our hopes of being at peace with each other is pretty slim.

Okay, that’s my little take.  I don’t want a post-racial society.  I want a society that can have an intelligent conversation about how to solve real problems.  What say you?  Are we capable of creating a culture without race, or do we even want to?

If you haven’t done it already, be sure to check out last Saturday’s post to get some free goodies from me!

32 responses to Diversity Day!

  1. I grew up in a country with strong racism and government sponsored oppression. We’re feeling a little better now, thank you.

    One local satirist commented that the difference between a non-racial gathering and a multi-racial gathering is that at a multi-racial gathering you stand around talking about how nice it is to see other races gathering together, and at a non-racial gathering you stand around and pretend not to notice that the person you are talking to is a different race.

  2. I like your perspective. Everyone likes to blame someone.

    I live outside KC area and work up there. (small world)

  3. A cogent post that makes more sense than a lot of racial dialogues I’ve read. And you did it with humor too.

  4. Great take, Matt.

    A melting pot is not homogenous, like gumbo, each thing in the pot has a flavor, and together they have a unique taste – well except for the ochre!

    Look, the sign of post racial society will be the end of organizations like the NAACP… it’s going to take a long time for all of your stated reasons.

    Sharktbait is right on about boxes – in the end (when Jesus returns) it will only be Christians, Jews, Muslims and those that are too afraid to claim any religion.

    Being PC about all this has gone so far that some police calls do not include the skin color of the perp.

    Immigration is a tough issue because the US government refuses to take responsibility for what they have allowed. And it is not just about those from one country, although the noise is loudest in AZ. I have a solution:

    1 Close the border
    2 Get a real guest worker program
    3 Toss the criminals
    4 Regretfully, we need to address families that have been illegal for DECADES due to our lack of border and law enforcement. A fine, learn English, and pass a citizenship test (actually all Americans should have to pass a test on the constitution!)
    5 Make a real “line” with real citizenship requirements. Currently all you have to do is perform a job better than any American, marry a US citizen, or wait for amnesty.

    The system is unfair to legals, and to those that want to come here. My neighbor gets busted for cocaine and after 7 years under the radar ends up with a green card. My best friend comes and goes legally on religious visas for 10 years and can’t get a green card. He speaks 6 languages, has 2 masters degrees and a Phd. Now that’s racist.

    • I completely agree with you that the system is completely unfair to legals. We had a friend from Europe who had to leave for a year because of some kind of red tape. She ended up going to Asia so she could come back to the Midwest. Meanwhile, an illegal resident is rounded up and send home, and they’re back within a week with a new ID. I spoke to a sheriff on the East Coast who says this literally happens. She knows these people by sight now.

      • Its crazy – law enforcement is overwhelmed, and the Justice Department does little to help. We need to close the southern border, or no solutions will work. It’s better for everyone, safer, and then we could meter the flow while we clean up the mess inside the border.

  5. For the record, New Zealanders and Aussies have had their share of issues in the past. But I heart them all!

  6. Matt, I appreciate your take on how we are proud of our origins. I am proud that my dad was Hungarian and my mom Polish. Why shouldn’t African American people be proud to be African American, Hispanic people proud to be hispanic, Kansas Citizens proud to be from Kansas?

    I recognize the truth in your comment about blame, and wish you were wrong.

    As for putting people in boxes… we do that all the time, even with friends we have known for years. (By that I mean not allowing for friends to have changed and matured, but still similar..).

    I do believe you hit the nail right on the head with this post, thrice.

    • Helen, I agree with your box statement. I have a school friend who I don’t see a lot, even though I see her brother and his wife (another school friend) regularly and are godmother to their daughter, simply because she refuses to acknowledge that I am not the person I was at school. Yes, we were best friends at school, our families got on really well, I was in her wedding. But I am not the same person I was back then, and it is really hard work spending time with her now because it is like she is stuck where she/we was/were and I have changed (Jesus has a lot to do with that. Her brother and his wife and Jesus-followers too.)

  7. You’re such a racist. I noticed that no one had said that yet, so I wanted to get that in. I also noticed that you took a stab at Jewish people up there when you said the word, “Jewish.” Otherwise, this was a wonderful post.

  8. My wife and I lived overseas for a few years and enjoyed having a diverse group of friends. Since we moved back to the US we like to ask people we encounter about their ethnic background. We half-expect people to get offended and say “I’m American!” and shun us somehow (if they happen to be a cashier, refuse us service). But this is never the case. The bottom line is, we (all people) like to share our stories, no matter how far back the stories may go. Acknowledging differences (not in a negative way) seems to show more often than not that we notice the individuals. I think when we pretend to ignore differences we unintentionally send the message that we are ignoring people.

  9. Pam to Dwight ” Well , If I have to us sterotypes , I would maybe say that you don’t drive very well”
    Dwight ” Oh Crap, I’m a woman?”

    I like to think of America as less of a melting pot and more of salad bowl. A big Pittsburgh style salad with fries on top.

  10. Misogynist…now there’s a term you don’t hear everyday. Probably because of the Jews or Muslims too!

    (eye roll)

    Since I’m a Southern, white male…I’ll just offer a heartfelt ‘Kumbayah’ and state that I don’t, nor have I ever, cut eye holes in my pillow cases…and leave it there.

  11. So you’re a racist, misogynistic homophobe? That’s the takeaway here right? 😉

    Great, great post.

  12. Thanks for the great post, Matt. Just yesterday I was on pins and needles as I was trying to explain why I’m looking to date someone of the same culture as me. I guess it’s hard for a white guy from Northern California to feel like he has a culture, but I just know that I would be overwhelmed trying to get along with the in-laws when our values are polar opposites.

  13. Racist propaganda! I’m praying for you, Matt. :) No, I agree. There’s nothing wrong with truly celebrating our differences and of course, there’s always common ground too. It’s when in people’s mind that those differences (color, culture, etc.) automatically disqualify someone that it becomes ridiculous.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go listen to some DC Talk, “Colored People” and applaud my not-racist-ness…

  14. Matt,
    I was gonna leave a comment as Mel Gibson but I thought that might be in poor taste. I think the idea of a post racial society is nice but unfortunately not reality.

    You know it’s not overt, way over the line racial comments that bother me the most. Most reasonable people realize that warped people who espouse such trash are way wrong. (i.e. Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, jimmy the greek…etc.)

    What bothers me is “practical racism” which very few people talk about. As an example, If you look at the school systems funding or safety record where many young African American and Latino teens are trying to get an education then looked at other white schools, why such a financial discrepancy from the state? That’s just one example. Police, parks, library, infrastructure… the list goes on and what as Jesus followers do we do about that? Let Dan and Jessie fly off the handle because they are easily dismissible and mildly entertaining. However, the followers of Jesus should be SALT and Light! Just my .02.

  15. I saw this post almost sure I would hate it… I was wrong and I can own that. You have an extremely wise analysis here that is hard to ignore. I enjoyed this post thanks for sharing it!

  16. My social psych professor specialized in issues of race and ethnicity, so we talked a lot about how societies (usually Western culture vs. East Asian culture) feel about individual differences and standing out etc. One point really stuck out to me…one study concluded that (in the West) morale was higher in workplaces that promoted some sort of diversity day or occasionally celebrated the various cultures represented by the employees. Employees who worked in environments that promoted strict “color blind” frames of mind (i.e., discouraged any mention or discussion of race/culture in the workplace) were not as happy.

    The bottom line being that people get along and enjoy themselves more when we stop pretending that we’re all the same and we’re just open and honest and genuinely interested in what makes us all different. So I agree; we LIKE being different :-)

  17. I just wrote a post about this myself. Although I didn’t put it quite so concisely or humorously. I tried, but to no avail. Props to you.

  18. Love the comment about New Zealanders. We pretty much are loved everywhere (accept occasionally by the Australians because we beat them in some sport :)

  19. Very succinctly put, Matt.

    What disturbs me about people like the Rev. Jackson is how much they seem to utilize race to make their living. When real discrimination is taking place, then it may very well be worth having an organization drag that out into the light. But LeBron James didn’t need anyone to defend him from that mean, nasty former coach of his. If Jackson’s response makes any sense whatsoever, then James is one of the highest-paid slaves in history.

    Is it about real equality anymore, or is it about attention and what one can milk from an opportunity? As long as that mentality exists, then these veiled “efforts” to effect equality will only serve to further segregate our races and cultures.

  20. i am like abraham an alian a stranger aforiener in this world seeking a kingdom not here but in heaven.christ wants a relationship with us on a 1 to 1 bases not with contry or ethnic group so let rember we all have one father in heaven to him be the glory .amen come lord jesus

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Tweets that mention Diversity Day! | The Church of No People -- Topsy.com - July 14, 2010

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Matt Miles. Matt Miles said: RT @MattTCoNP: Today is "Diversity Day" on The Church of No People. Why we can't create a "post racial" society http://wp.me/sSZSu-737 […]