Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Myth of Race

morning skies

As I sat in my meditation garden this morning, watching the sun rise, I reflected on the series of events that have unfolded over the last few days in this country. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has engaged the national consciousness and re-opened the debate about race in America.

News reports, talk shows, articles, tweets and Facebook posts, along with millions of "water-cooler" conversations - all about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  The story has indeed morphed into  a national conversation about race - how racial prejudice and racial injustice continue to exist in this country, even in our own day and age. 

As I sat and reflected on the Trayvon Martin phenomenon this morning I realized that there was something nagging me about the many "race" conversations of the past days. I have been feeling like there is something NOT being said.

Then, this morning, I opened my iPad and read a letter to the editor in the New York Times,  and I had an "aha" experience - I figured out what I think is missing.

It seems to me that most of the recent expressions of outrage and calls for racial equality operate under the unspoken assumption that all the different races "should" treat one another with respect. In particular, the majority race should not oppress the minority race(s).  

This morning, the New York Times featured a letter to the editor in which the author pointed out that, in reality, there is no such thing as "race" in human beings. Genetically speaking,  "race" doesn't even exist. 

Today's cutting-edge DNA research has established the fact that all human beings are so genetically close that we are all ONE race. Today's molecular anthropologists have also shown that  no "race" or "ethnic group" is pure. In other words, all human beings are mixtures of many past cultures and tribes of people. 

So,  our "racial" classifications and commoly-held beliefs about the different races are mental constructs. The whole notion of "race" is a myth.

The author of this morning's New York Times letter writes: When we look at someone and automatically think about that person's "race,"we must realize that we are not seeing "race" but instead seeing an arbitrary societal classification imposed on a continuum of physical differences.

As I see it (and this was my "aha" experience this morning) the thing that is so blatantly missing in our national discourse about racial injustice and racial equality is a recognition of "the myth of race." Our underlying assumption in the conversation about race should be, "Race doesn't exist." 

We aren't called to treat people of different races with respect, because there are no "others."  We are all one race, we are all one another. 

There is a Zen wisdom saying:

The true person is not anyone in particular;
but like the deep blue color of the limitless sky,
it is everyone-everyone in the world.

Yes, we are all "one" person, and our color is blue. 


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