The Continued Significance of Race
Here is a particularly revealing article on the recent racially fueled rioting in Australia. In light of this and the Fall rioting that occurred in France (although for VERY different reasons), what is the current status of race relations internationally? Are they improving or deteriorating? This is a question rarely debated by intellectuals on an international scale and I don't propose that I am the most capable person in answering it. Being born and predominantly raised in the U.S., I can say very little about race relations outside of these borders. I can, however, say that I feel there are certain powerful forces that continue to make race a salient factor in people's daily and long-term interactions. Additionally, far too often people neglect to bring up these issues in public setting to avoid voilent results of racially motivated social unrest. Even the most vehement Black Panther or Weather Underground Organization members and supporters surely wished they could achieve their goals and still avoid violent clashes with the most powerful, wealthy, and deadly government in the history of mankind. Race is far too complicated, deep-rooted, and personal, however. (more in expanded post)
I, for one, truly wish race did not exist. As a Black man in the 20th and 21st Centuries, it has rarely worked to my benefit. Race as a recent social construct in the Western World was created out of a need to justify the discrimination between Blacks from Africa and Whites from Europe on a basis beyond simple nationality or ethnic grouping. Blacks were identified as being from a different, lesser race and therefore it was OK for White Europeans (with all of their modern civility, religious piety, and intellectual maturity) to enslave, beat, kill, and rape them for financial gain. The effects of this supremacy of one group of people over another group of people based on physical traits such as skin tone, eye color, and hair texture in addition to cultural traits such as religion, style of dress, and marital customs has not been erased despite the external slave trade being officially ended in the U.S. nearly 200 years ago. An excellent book on this subject has been written by Na'im Akbar and I suggest it for all who are interested in such a topic. Sadly, far too many Whites in the U.S. and abroad still see themselves as the master and far too many Blacks and other people of color still see themselves as the slaves.
Racism is still alive and well, despite what many U.S. residents think and especially at places like Harvard. Most students who identify as racial minorities can most likely state a number of incidents during their time here where they were treated a particularly unfair and hurtful way on the basis of preconceived race-based notions. These situations occur in the streets, in the yard, in the classrooms, in dining halls, and anywhere else stereotypes are not confronted and prejudices not debunked. A campus-wide debate on race is something that is far from most people's minds. This might sound strange to individuals on campus who are in groups like the BSA, AAA, or Fuerza where these topics are frequently discussed in some respect, but for the majority of students on our campus who are White (non-Hispanic, of course) and choose not to become members of these groups (since membership in all of them is completely open) four years can pass and they may never confront racial ideas that they held as 17 and 18 year-old first-years. For all the lauding of campus diversity here, simply attending class with someone of a different background or living down the hall from them does not suffice. In order to get the most out of the relative diversity that Harvard does offer, one must emerge out of their secluded and comfortable bubble. Remarkably, Harvard IS the most diverse school I've ever attended since my previous schools were even more racially, socioeconomically, and religously homogenous.
In his seminal book The Declining Significance of Race, Lewis F. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor William Julius Wilson posits that class disparities are becoming more salient than racial disparities and now form the chief rift in U.S. society. Whether or not you agree with Professor Wilson, one cannot neglect the fact that race still plays a huge role in domestic and global society today. The two riots at the beginning of this post that garnered international media attention attest to this. Hurricane Katrina attests to this. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's comment on the recent public transportation strike attests to this. The recent murder of Stanley Williams by the State of California attests to this. The end-result bad guy in all of these scenarios is White (Bush, Bloomberg, and Schwarzenegger) and the victims are overwhelmingly or solely Black (Katrina victims, Union members, and Stanley Williams). This is exactly what racism is: power utilized by a member of one racial group to the detriment of another. Two of these situations brought about death (Katrina and Stanley Williams) and the other brought about fines and may bring jail time. The power that Whites have over Blacks worldwide is still widespread. Until government bodies are representative of the populations they serve and understanding and fruitful collaboration is fostered between individuals of different backgrounds, positive race relations will continue to be hampered on campus and in the far corners of the globe.