Sam Smith – One of the reasons it’s so hard for America to
come together these days is that we have increasingly divided the nation
into twos: black and white, male and female, old and young, rich and
poor, socialist and capitalist. One of the few exceptions is LGBT+ – a
bizarrely bureaucratic phrase, to be sure, but one encompassing the
varieties of alternative sex.
Ironically a lot of this bifurcation is done on the premise that it is helping to reduce racism, sexism and so forth. In fact, the more you minimize the complexity of groups, the more the results become cliches. including highly derogatory ones that work counter to the presumed goal.
For example, applying the term “white privilege” to all whites ignores the fact that there are more poor whites than there are blacks in total and that applying the term, say to a mine worker or a car builder is not likely to help your cause.
And, as noted here before, Barack Obama is almost universally described as our first black president yet, in fact, spent less time with a black parent than he did at Harvard Law School. What is rarely noticed is that one reason Obama may be as popular as he’s been is because he understood both cultures and the complexities in their relationship.
In fact, Obama, as a child of an interracial couple, reflects 17% of all marriages today and 10% of all married folk. Back in 1967 only 3% of marriages were cross-cultural.
Further, while strong identity may have considerable psychological and cultural value, it can work against one’s political goals for the simple reason that if you don’t represent a majority you have to find allies. Finding issues that one shares with others won’t damage your self-identity; it will in fact improve the view of that identity in the minds of those with whom one works. This has been perhaps most strongly exemplified in the past by groups like the Irish and Jews who learned that one of the best ways to advance is for a minority to lead the majority – as, for example, Martin Luther King Jr did so effectively.
In reaching this goal, it helps to educate both children and adults in the true complexities of various cultures. If, for example, you teach kids about the varieties of history and culture within blackness, they will be less likely to reduce it all to a cliche.If the media would stop oversimplifying it to an either/or matter, adults would be helped as well. For example, the media might admit that our society is partly socialist already and we’re not about to dump our public fire departments.
i learned about cultural complexity as one of six kids with the same last name and skin color but different in many other respects. I like to tell the tale about having my older brother – then energy secretary of Puerto Rico – working to build an oil port there at the same time that my youngest sister was fighting one in Maine.
And living in DC where, for five decades, we whites were in the minority. skin color didn’t hold a candle to neighborhood, job, politics, education, achievements and so forth. After all, in many elections you had to choose between two or more black candidates. You learned to replace race with a name and a record.
According to the latest projections, America will become like DC in a couple of decades. Whites will be in the minority. The best way to handle this is to stop dividing American into twos. And for the media to report the true complexity of our various demographic groups instead of quietly supporting the damaging cliches about them. And let’s stop treating cultural diversity as a two sided coin rather than countless variety. After all, the more true diversity we recognize, the more likely we will find something in common.