My entire life I believed a person’s skin color had nothing to do with who they are. Complexion does not define one’s character, contribute to athletic ability, nor does it determine one’s fate. It is merely a physical attribute, of which we might apply biases, but the personality beneath it is what should matter most. Correlating behavior and morality with race, or other external identifiers, is dangerous. History has proven so, and I’m here to say that skin color is not a personality.
Coca-Cola recently got into some trouble for asking their employees to participate in diversity training which included a segment titled, ‘How to Act Less White.’ Being “less white,” according to the training means to be less arrogant, less trusting, less defensive and more humble and willing to listen, among other things.
Whether the story is real or not (I hope it’s fake news), there’s no denying the habit us humans have of characterizing groups of people based on stereotypes and ill-informed generalizations. Many generations have fought to change the negative perceptions unfairly applied to vast groups of individuals, specifically minority groups but, as it would seem, society has yet to learn its lesson.
Bigotry and negative stereotypes are being combated with partiality, prejudice, and racism. It feels counterproductive and hypocritical.
We know skin tone is not the determining factor in whether someone is good or bad.
We also know that not all black people act the same, have the same interests, or are inherently evil as past stereotypes once indicated. The same applies to whites and all other colors, but I’m confused as to why “whiteness” is now being labeled as problematic (as blackness once was).
As a general rule, shouldn’t we consider the heart of the person and not their pigment? Has that not been what we’ve preached since the 60’s?
Reducing individuals down to their external characteristics (and others like gender, sex, ethnicity, religion, etc) undermines the person beneath them. Sure, one’s color may affect how that individual experiences the world but a person has depth; their color, well, is just a color. It’s people’s perceptions of those colors where the issues lie, and I don’t believe creating more generalizations, pointing out and assigning differences as if they belong to one particular race (I’m referring to the diversity training mentioned above) is going to fix the problem.
I doubt it’ll close the gap in race relations. It may make things worse in the long run.
In my own life I’ve been told I act white by black people, and I don’t act black enough by white people. I’m mixed—half black & half white—and when I was good at basketball, I was told it was because of my black side. When I was good at baseball, it was because of my white side.
I still don’t understand what my color had to do with my interests or my behavior or athleticism. I don’t wake up and do mixed-guy stuff. White people and black people don’t go out and define their actions by the color of their skin. They simply do things while happening to be part of a specific race. Actions, like personality, are not defined by color.
And generally speaking, people create expectations of how certain types are supposed to act, even if those people belong to the same race (I think about Eminem and how everyone called him a Wigger). I did/do not fit within the one-dimensional, monolithic caricature descriptions people invented in their heads, so I was thought to be an oddity.
***Full disclosure: for those who know me know I don’t take racism directed towards me all that seriously (unless there’s malice behind it). I constantly joke about stereotypes and since I’m mixed, I like to say I get to be racist to both sides. Some people may find what I wrote offensive or won’t agree with my lighthearted approach, but all I do is laugh along because I know I’m more than what anyone perceives me to be and most people learn that after a few minutes of conversation.
I fear if we continue down this path, we will revert to limiting people based on their assigned social identities. The individual will be exterminated (figuratively) and all that will remain is the group they belong to and the characteristics society assigned to them. I’m no race expert, but I feel like that’s how hatred is bred. Instead of coming together around what makes us the same, we separate ourselves by focusing on our differences.
And no matter how hard we try to simplify the complexities of the world nothing about it will ever be black and white. We can try to summarize the intricacies of the individual into a group identity, but humans, nature, cannot be confined to the vague definitions we impose on them. Just as a tree is much more than its bark, a person is much more than the markings we identify with our eyes.
Before You Go!
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