Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I Am Not My Race... But I Am

Some things you should know:
  1. I am male
  2. I am Caucasian
  3. I am a reformed Catholic, which is to say I believe in the tenets of Jesus Christ, just not in the Roman Catholic Church
The most important thing you should know, is that my world view has evolved quite a bit over my lifetime. I have worked very hard to eliminate the vestiges of prejudicial thinking that pervade the normal human mind. I have sought out knowledge in a wide and extensive variety, to ensure that my personal ignorance is at a low ebb, though I admit I do not know everything, nor can I. I have done my very best to absorb the teachings of human history and learn the lessons of human frailty. I have made the personal determination that it is best for me to approach each and every person as a person, despite any differentiation society would have me make. I refuse to judge based solely on surface features or perceived/actual differences between myself and someone else. As I choose not to judge others, I would expect others to do the same in kind.

Therein lies the problem.
Even those of us who have sought a more enlightened path through life, who have worked to expunge from our world view the perceptions and judgments and stereotypes that dog greater humanity still, show a great deal of hubris if we believe that such thinking elevates us to some higher moral plain that allows us to be "above" those of our brethren who have not "caught on." While it is certainly desirable and admirable to not allow oneself to be mired in the iniquities of human societies past, and while one might be congratulated in trying to promulgate said enlightenment, to simply rest on one's laurels or assume that this changes matters is to miss the point of the exercise.

Any one of the three things I outlined about myself at the beginning of this tract could be construed by any person as a reason to be hesitant about my conversion to more humanist thought. For while I might have them take it as read that I am "not like other people," I cannot so easily be divorced from the categories under which I fall.

While I may do everything to free myself from the dogmas of the past, and hopefully, in doing so, sharpen my moral character, it would be wrong to assume that my example so easily floats down to others that, basking in the radiance of my reason, they will simply see me to be that which I proclaim. For we are all different. We come from different backgrounds, different places, different happenings, different paths through life, and my path, though perhaps no different than that of many to me, will appear so to someone outside my ken. They may interpret my words and actions as arrogance, or self-importance, or worst of all, privilege. No matter the wisdom or thought behind what I say, they will react to it differently because they cannot help but do so.

The world sees us differently than we see ourselves. We encounter this every day. Judgments are made about us that -- were we to know them -- would probably anger us. Any attempt on our part to rid ourselves of our judgmental aspects does not alter this; we can only speak for ourselves. As such, though I may wish to treat each and every person as a human being first, and anything else secondarily, that does not automatically translate to anyone else. I can provide nothing but the idea and the example; I cannot force another to accept that this is a more honorable way to live.

I speak of these things in the most austere manner, but in daily life, it is not so intellectual. Our world is filled with examples of a group making claims that other groups are mistaken in believing they should take offense to a word or gesture or action because "it wasn't meant that way." The speaker or actor who begins the drama is usually unaware that what they say and do could be found offensive until it is found so, and they are called on it. This invariably leads to a defensiveness, a need to "prove" that the other person so offended or outraged is merely "overreacting." This defensiveness is a sign of a refusal to critically examine ones own views in the light of reality and history.

I am a Caucasian male of Catholic upbringing, and it can be said that this particular troika of attributes makes me susceptible to scrutiny of a type that I could easily find offensive, of itself, for violating the tenets of my belief. But I cannot, must not, will not, find it so, for the simple expedient that, while I may feel myself a part of the greater humanity more than a part of any of those attributes, they are still a part of me. I and my family may not have perpetuated injustices on those of different creeds, colors, or the like, but that is no absolution from the fact that members of the groups whose attributes I share did. Perhaps I have bettered myself beyond them, perhaps I have struck a blow through my enlightenment, but even peripherally, I still bear the stigma that attaches itself to every one of those things.

My view of the world is that we will all eventually have to drop the pretense of seeing others in terms of natural and artificial divisions before humanity will make true progress as a species. That day is many centuries hence; we are only at the very cusp of it now. The history of the races of humanity is still fresh, the wounds are still deep, the divisions still remain. The Caucasian portion of the human race has wrought deviltry that catches our breath and grates on our nerves, that we are still living with the aftermath of the ignorance and bigotry of our ancestors. Like it or not, we do represent our race, even if only through the eyes of those of other races, creeds, orientations, and nationalities. As such, we have to be sensitive to that fact, and we have to accept that fact, and, above all, not take it personally. It is not you or I who did these things, but we are nonetheless the beneficiaries of the actions of our narrow-minded and insensitive ancestors, and we will continue to bear some of the burden of their ignominy. What will set us apart from them and the reprehensible actions of the past, is how we act and react in the present and future. So, we stand, we accept, and we work toward showing others that we are not representative of our history, but of a new and better future, and we do so without rancor or spite. It’s the only way that we can equalize the pressure, bring all people together, and fulfill our human duty towards each other.

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