Friday, October 23, 2009

Can We Stop Calling Each Other Racist?

These days it is more likely for soylent green to be referred to as people than an actual human being. Everyone has to referred to by their ancestry, which may or may not even be accurate most of the time. A so-called African-American could be a 6th generation American, and his ancestors didn't even come directly from Africa then but from Europe. A Latin-American inaccurately refers to South Americans as well as Central Americans, not to mention immigrants or descendants of immigrants from those countries in those areas; all this despite the fact that none of those countries uses Latin. The worst is Asian-American, since Asia is the largest continent in the world and contains people from the middle east, Russia, India, Malaysia, and the far east. Why can't we all just be called "people?"

While researching the old mascots of my college--which I found out to be the Citronaut and later Vincent the Vulture; the latter name dropped because vultures are disease carrying harbingers of doom--I came across the Student Profile entry on Wikipedia. I was astonished, flabbergasted, mildly outraged, calm, greatly outraged, and finally annoyed with our country after reading that bit of information.

You see, the entry contains a little chart that divides the student body up into categories. Rather than allow the population of UCF to be counted on a one-by-one basis, students have to be divided into demographics, a fancy word for categories based on physical attributes. I thought the whole point of the Civil Rights Act of the 1960s was to shed these barriers and show that despite a person's misplaced beliefs, all Americans, and in this case all people attending an American university, are equal. But I guess I was wrong (if anyone knows a way to portray in text that I am over-enunciating each word to make them longer for dramatic effect, please tell me).

I imagine this was the reaction of someone after these numbers came out:

"Sure, the University of Central Florida has 53,537 students enrolled in the fall of 2009. But how many of those students are African American? Oh okay... let me see... 8.81%. That's nowhere near the national ratio of blacks to general population! Less than ONE PERCENT are Native American! And you can't be serious that we have a higher percentage of Asian Americans and European Americans enrolled than the state averages!? We can't allow this to go on! Stop the presses... Hey you, over there in the corner! Why are you still typing?? I said STOP the presses! We have to figure this thing out!"

Why are demographics even an issue anymore? For all of its good intentions after the Civil Rights Act and the subsequent issues that came up because of that, affirmative action is an outdated method of controlling who gets something at the expense of someone else. I agree, affirmative action (or something like it), was needed at a time when certain people were getting shafted on job, college, housing applications. But now, this system giving special treatment or denying it to others based on physiological differences, even in the name of helping minorities, is creating the same problem it was meant to destroy.

Perhaps I went a little overboard regarding the student profile of UCF. There was nothing in the entry that actually suggested affirmative action needed to right the wrongs of disproportion at UCF. But it owes to a much bigger problem in our society: the issue of race.

A quick background of myself if I can. I graduated from this fine university with a bachelor of science in anthropology. Anthropology means "the study of humans." That can mean from a cultural standpoint, through biological, historical, or even linguistic study. In my biological courses, one of the main points that is hammered down repeatedly is that the races, as we have come to know them, do not exist. Sure, there are physiological tendencies, and original biological anthropologists divided these characteristics into three groups, Caucasoids, Mongoloids, and Negroids, which we have come to refer to as Caucasian, Asian, and African, respectively.

But even so, these features that are used to categorize humans come from the bone structures, and the differences are minor if there at all. Any outward appearance has little or nothing to do with the internal bone structure of a human, the most noticeable being the size and shape of the nasal bones and mandible. Other than the facial differences--which have everything to do with dietary and climatological differences and nothing to do with proximity to lower beasts--all human beings contain the same number of bones, the same internal organs, the same number of teeth, the same anatomy through and through.

The problem is fear. Fear that one group will be oppressed in order for another group to be lifted up. Fear that we will revert to the misinformed days of lore, when people were killed simply for the way they looked. I hope that we will never go back to the old ways of oppression, but not as much hope that we won't enter some new version, where people are oppressed just for ideas they hold, regardless of action.

There was a time when great injustices were done, but I've believed we have moved past that. That's not to say society is completely blind and fair now, as a rare event in Louisiana pointed out. But those occurrences are fewer and far between, and the norm now seems to be swinging in favor of curtailing any kind of dissension. It seems a person's first thought after not getting a job is whether or not racism had something to do with it. The same can be said for the concepts of sexual orientation and sexism (although the latter is a subject for another day.)

It's no longer about righting past wrongs. It's about having power and keeping power. Therein lies the second, and more telling problem.

We no longer live in a society where the best and brightest are chosen, because that would mean someone else could not be chosen. For the same reason that it has become a common practice for every kid to receive a trophy, regardless of how shitty s/he or their team did, the playing field must now be leveled so that everyone is on equal terms. But unfortunately that doesn't mean everyone else raising their game; today's society coddles those who can't even play.

We need to stop playing "the race card" and start getting people to make the most of themselves. The idea of racism is more like a crutch for people who are too afraid to fail, let alone to even try. Rather than work from within to become better, they would rather use the system to work for them and punish those who rejected them. Instead of showing that moxie and inner strength truly define a person, we would rather quit and rely on an outdated principle of discrimination to fight our battles for us.

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