I’m hesitant about posting the following thoughts. The reason I’m hesitant is because of how deeply the subject affects me. I woke up this morning looking to get a good, early start on the day. Something that I succeeded in for the most part. The concept of getting a jump on the day in an attempt to be productive is a main focus of my life right now. So it legitimately makes me feel pretty good when I am successful with it. Today has been no different.
Until I opened the newspaper.
One of the actions I’ve taken in my life over the past year or so in an attempt to reduce stress is to pretty much stop watching and reading the news. This is tough at times, as my wife is one who loves her newspaper. She is very much of the mindset that the death of the Newspaper is the death of a part of our culture. There’s a small part of me that agrees with her. It is the other part – the much bigger part – that gets pissed off or depressed every time I open the paper that doesn’t agree with her. I am in the camp that our Media (TV, Newspaper, Magazine, etc.) Culture has gotten out of hand and does nothing but trumpet the Zero Sum Game. It doesn’t matter if it is “Reality TV” that is about watching and waiting for someone to get hurt or to be in pain for someone else’s entertainment, or politics which is the walking billboard example of a Zero Sum Game these days. The Zero Sum Game seems to have become part of our culture, if not our cultural mandate.
The racial divide in The States seems to be playing this game and it became painfully apparent with the whole Trayvon Martin situation. Even if you’re like me and actively avoid The News, you can’t ignore what is going on in Florida right now. While I didn’t know the details I knew that someone had kicked a hornets nest down there. It was this morning that I allowed myself a brief glimpse into this story by reading an editorial in the Vancouver Sun by Sheldon Alberts of the Montreal Gazette entitled, “Obama avoids wading into the U.S. racial Divide”.
I’m not the poster child for anti-racism campaigns by any stretch of the imagination. I grew up in a predominantly white, affluent part of the world and turned a blind eye to friends and classmates who used racial slurs and laughed openly at racial jokes. I even allowed myself to go along with it and for the most part thought nothing of it. I had grandparents that were openly hateful. All of these experiences rub off on a kid. As a consequence, I grew up as a stupid white kid ignorant of the pain and damage even naive racism can cause.
Once I turned 18 and went away to University, something started to change. I know the most cliche thing a white guy can do is play the “I have black friends” card, but I am going to. I am going to play that card because it is the experience of my interactions with my friends (who happen to be black) on the Purdue University track team that changed me. I still remember, to this day, sitting in a hotel room in the middle of a Mid-Western University Town with my teammates during one of many road trips. I was the only white guy in the room and we talked about race and racism. It was the first time that I was introduced to the scars of racism. The anger. The hurt. It became personal. It was very, unbearably, human.
That experience was a personal event horizon for me. There was no going back to thinking about the color of one’s skin as making one different. It was my first steps towards actively pursuing color blindness.
The next step was my move to Canada. There is a fundamental belief in Canada that is different than the U.S. Canadians follow a cultural standard called Multiculturalism while in the U.S. it is a melting pot philosophy. It is very similar in nature but fundamentally different in it’s mandate. It took me a long time to figure it out and come around to it. The melting pot is so very deeply engrained in U.S. Culture. I never realized it until it was being pulled from me. It goes something like this:
A Melting Pot is where everything is thrown in the pot and mixed together homogeneously. Different cultures are supposed to come to America and adopt “our culture”. It is easiest to sum up with a statement I heard many times growing up in the States, “if you don’t want to speak the language, get the fuck out”. In other words, you move to the States and you are supposed to learn English and drop your heritage in order to become “American”. Multiculturalism is about embracing the cultural differences of the world. You can come to Canada and keep your culture, even speak your own language. It is that clashing, and mixing of cultures which dynamically changes and, in turn, creates what is “Canadian Culture”.
The most recent step towards color blindness was travel. Until I moved to Canada I had little to no exposure to Chinese People. Similar to my experiences as a kid growing up in the U.S., it was easy to make jokes about the poor driving habits of the Chinese. But living in Canada, and travelling the world has helped strip that ignorance away as well. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I was in Taiwan last October. As I was riding on their public transit on my way to a Night Market, I was able to sit back and observe. Similar to my night in that hotel room, I was the only white guy on the train. There is nothing like a “minority experience” to strip you down to your own thoughts. As I was sitting on this train, I was watching a father and his daughter. They reminded me of me and my daughter in that moment. She was snuggled into her dad and they were talking and laughing about something I couldn’t understand as I don’t speak Taiwanese. But the love in the father’s eyes was unmistakeable. Similarly, the feeling of security in the daughter having her father talking to her with his arm around her was fully apparent. Again, the idea of race was stripped away. It was another intense moment of realization that we are all human.
Back to our Zero Sum World.
The story about Trayvon Martin makes me sad on so many levels. Rather than being a story about a boy being shot by a man, it is a story about a white man who shot a black boy. It is a subtle, yet painfully different perspective on the story that makes this not a human story, but a racial story. The article I read this morning succinctly points out that my history in combination with the election of Obama had me naively believing that we were on our way past the racial divide.
Reading that article showed me that Obama seems to understand, and is even attempting to lead the world towards the thought process I’m alluding to in this blog post. He deftly stated, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”. Think about that for a minute. That is about as human of a statement possible. It reminds me that Trayvon is somene’s son. The President of the United States is black, but he’s also Human. If he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.
Honestly, I don’t have answers. Hell, writing this does nothing but make me hurt even more when I think about it. I do want to continue believing that if a stupid boy growing up in Mid-Western United States can change, so can the world. I want to believe that if everyone, no matter what the color of their skin starts to look at the person next to them as a human being things will fundamentally change.
Give it a try. Next time you’re on the bus, or train stop and observe. Watch that person that looks different from you and look for the similarities, not the differences.
If we can stop and remember that no matter what your take is on the beliefs of Zimmerman or the actions of Martin, somebody’s baby boy was shot and a trial must occur. The fact that a zero sum game law is in place in Florida could possibly allow one human to walk away from shooting another human without a trial is appalling. It makes me sad beyond words.