I came across a quote in Time magazine that made me cringe. It was by Rachael Dolezal, the ousted NAACP leader who was born into a white family with two white parents, who then died her hair and darkened her skin to change her appearance. She then pretended to be black for several years, rising within the ranks of the civil rights group. Here’s the quote:
“I don’t have any regrets about how I identify. I’m still me, and nothing about that has changed.”
Here’s my peeve: “Identifying” as black or white only reinforces the racial segregation that is at the root of the problem that we have to begin with. It’s also absurd. Race is an illusion. Scientifically speaking it doesn’t exist. Black, white, Latino, — all of these are nothing more than human-based stereotypes that segregate people according to rudimentary outward appearances. Skin color is but one tiny little trait that has more to do with the climate in particular areas of the world than differences between people. Take a groups of “Black” people and move them to the Arctic Circle, and their skin would get progressively lighter with each generation in order to adapt to the low levels of sunlight exposure. In areas around the equator the opposite trait is adaptive, so people have darker skin. But there is no such thing as a black race, or a white race, or an oriental race. A person with white skin may be more genetically similar and closely related to “Black” people than they are other whites. And visa versa. If I went around the mall tomorrow and randomly assigned people I meet to be either “Klingon” or “Feringi,” this would have as much scientific validity as our notions of race do.
Thus Rachael’s whole charade is the very epitome of racism: It reinforces these divisions and stereotypes. (Of course, one could also argue that racially segregated organizations such as the NAACP do the exact same thing.) I would very much like to see people stop identifying with stereotypes. The only label one needs to identify with is this: Human!
We regularly speak about the destructive power of beliefs because there is not other force in the world more damaging than a negative idea. Here’s yet another example, involving a dead teenage girl and the twisted notions of her father.
So called “honor killings” are nothing new. They’ve been happening in Muslim cultures for some time. A girl who was perceived to disgrace her family in some way (by acting too western or dating the wrong boy) is hunted down and killed, often by her own relatives, usually a father or a brother.
In a recent example, 17-year-old Ambreen Riasat was accused of helping another couple elope. So the tribal council of the Pakistani village ordered an “hone killing” as punishment for her roll in letting the couple escape. So her killers first drugged her, placed her in a van, then set the van ablaze. The 13 members of the council who condemned the girl to death include the dead girl’s own mother. They were arrested and will be tried by an anti-terrorism court. The police are pushing for “exemplary punishment” for those accused.
Such destruction and devastation — not just of this girl, but now for the 13 people arrested — all in service of a life-limiting idea. What drives people to such foolishness. In addition to the destructive belief, there is also a strong social element. Many of those who partake in “honor killings” feel that they have no choice but to act; that to fail to kill the girl in question would bring dishonor on their family or their tribe. They are held to this practice our of fear of negative judgment from their peers. In a way, entire communities are trapped within this self limiting mental prison; too busy looking over their shoulder and engaged in group-think to see their actions rationally. This is why women — even a girls own mother — will kill their daughters in defense of a misogynistic idea that subjugates their own gender. People seldom realize just how much they build their own cages.
We find such examples horrible by Western senses, and indeed they are. Yet we non-the-less to similar things in regards to our own set of prejudices and personal beliefs. We regularly condemn people in service to silly ideas. We routinely mold ourselves and others to ridged standards that suck the joy our of life, often for no other reason than that is what we have been told. The problem, of course, is that all these irrational ideas seem perfectly legitimate at the time. The world would be a much better place if we all routinely challenged our own assumptions.
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