Stop the Dichotomies

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Two different Facebook friends recently shared related-themed articles:

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While I found the articles interesting, and germane, I still felt they had serious oversights and fallacies involved in them.

The first article starts out with a statement to “dear fellow white people”, on the assumption that white people are one unified group, just as the whole dichotomy of “black lives matters” assumes that all blacks are one unified group, arrayed against  a unified white privilege. The article goes on to encourage the thinking that continues to ghettoize the black community by insisting on black spaces and white spaces.

The article brings up the “problem” with colorblindness, that whites can ignore race, since their culture is the norm, while blacks cannot. While true in a certain extent, this misses the whole multitudes of divides among “white” culture — “hick” farmers, “hillbillies”, “rednecks”. This dominant culture is only really normative for a small portion. The rest of the whites have similar senses of being outside their own. Only from the outside — or the inside of the elite that own this norm — does “white” culture look monolithic.

And this divide also unfairly creates a false image of a monolithic black culture. This monolithic facade is actually worse for them than for whites. The monolithic white facade still gives whites something they can move in. Creating a monolithic black cultural facade fences them in. If black culture were more heterogenous, it would also be more permeable, like the heterogenity of white culture makes it permeable for its members. That permeability is how it absorbed wave after wave of immigrants. Enforced black homogenity was the primary tool for keeping them separate.

This enforced homogenity also totally externalizes the forces that shape the black community, and rob them of internal responsibility, and self-determination.

The second article takes an interesting historical example of cultural  hegemony and gives an extrapolation that seems logical, but misses so much of what really happened. The author talks about how William the Conqueror enforced French on the English as the language of culture, and how 1,000 years later we still think of the French as culturally superior. After all, we dine at a fine restaurant, but eat at a barbecue.

What he totally misses is the cultural appropriation going on. Yes, we still use those words, but they are used by the English, who now took the conqueror’s ways and one-upped him. A similar saying could be said for the Yankees — who took that label of approbation and made it a badge of honor. When he makes the statement:

Culture defines all of our social expectations, but also our social prejudices. Every single thing we do and say, we do and say in the context of our culture.

He say something that sounds profound, but misses so much of the dynamic of what is going on. He talks about making a culture normative, and how it was used to keep slaves down. What he misses is how much of black culture was, and continues to be absorbed into the normative culture.

He also misses the variation and heterogenity within the normative and non-normative cultures, or the very strength that gives to both.

The failure is looking solely at groups, instead of counting individuals.

Which is a good transition to influence number three for this post: Zootopia. This animated movie discusses prejudice in interesting ways. I’d recommend it as a good discussion piece. Because it points the way of individual initiative, opportunity, the ability to be what you choose to be, without having to deny the background of where you came from and what you are. The ability to create a new social fabric.

But that fabric doesn’t come from embracing the emblems of division from the past, of requiring the members of certain groups to act like their group, to agree politically with their group. No, it comes from them taking responsibility and individuals both within and without their groups, for the better good of everyone, regardless of those differences.

The first article encouraged you to take these online tests, to measure your unrecognized bias. I took both online response tests it recommended, and was told I tested neutral: my responses proved no bias to any skin color or race. On the contrary side, I could see bias in the tests. When the one test required me to see grief as bad, for example, instead of part of a good, healing process, it made me realize that tests can’t easily be neutral, even if by some interesting turn of events that same test declared me neutral.

But what the tests really told me was that a true colorblindness, of seeing the differences, but not requiring one to act according to the expectations of those differences, is the real way to come through this. As the movie pointed out, if we keep carrying fox repellent, we keep seeing foxes as a separate species, instead of another sentient like ourselves.

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