Friday, May 1, 2015

People of Color

"Blue Skies"
-At the Desert Retreat House -

As a result of all the turmoil coming out of Baltimore recently, a number of cities across the country have witnessed marches in their city streets. The media has been flooded with image of thousands of protesters taking to the streets of cities like New York, Philadelphia and, of course, Baltimore - everyone carrying banners and placards demanding justice. 

Yesterday as I watched some of the news reports covering these "protest marches," I had this sudden flash insight.   

The media has pretty much framed what's been happening on the streets of America as a call for "racial justice;" and for the most part, the people protesting in the streets have been characterized as "people of color." And yet, when I took a closer look at exactly who was in those crowd of protesters yesterday, I saw a whole array of many colors. There were black faces as well as white faces and all shades of other faces in between. 

It wasn't just "black people" demanding justice for the black "race," it was a sea of humanity demanding justice for the human race. 

In fact, the whole scene on TV yesterday very much reminded me of some of those earlier Civil Rights' protests of some 50 years ago  - Dr. King walking hand-in-hand across the bridge in Selma alongside people who were a rainbow of colors from all across the country, all raising their voices on behalf of any and all human beings who had been denied their rightful place of dignity at the table of life.

As I watched the protest marches yesterday it struck me that maybe part of our problem lies in how we have come to define what "race" means, and perhaps part of the solution may lie in rewriting the entire narrative we have built up around the very issue of race in general. 

The truth is that the idea of different "races" is essentially a delusion - "race" is a myth. 

I am reminded of some recent scientific DNA research establishing the fact that all human beings are so genetically close that, in essence, all human beings are "one race." Today's molecular anthropologists have also observed that no so-called "race" and no "ethnic group" is ever "100% pure." In other words, all human beings are mixtures of many past cultures and many different tribes of peoples.

A recent article in the New York Times observed: 

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.

I am struck by two words here: "arbitrary and societal." 

In a very real sense "race" is an idea concocted by society - it is arbitrary and societal. The idea of "race" and "racial differences" is a narrative invented by society to help the society make sense out of the world; but more than that, "race" is a useful tool for those in power to keep those not in power under their control. 

It is highly convenient for the rich and powerful to resort to racial classifications, labeling the poorer and weaker as "people of  color," and then treating them as "racially inferior." But what happens if the idea of "race" goes away and all of a sudden everyone with the same DNA is standing on level ground?

I am very fond of this one particular 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.

We are all "people of color," and our true color is blue. 

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Yet there is still the truth of our history, in the states and elsewhere, where one form or another human bondage was practiced based on tribal definitions of who was or was not of a caste so low that others could exploit her or her. We are still paying the price for this, and our failure to admit to it and make amends. This is a world-wide problem that is still very much with us, wouldn't you say?