Saturday, June 27, 2020

On race and human nature

Several years ago I went to hear James Earl Jones give a lecture. He said something I will never forget. "Who am I? Obviously, I am partly African descent." But then he added "I am also part Cherokee. And also part Irish. Who am I?" Jones elaborated that he was a person of many ethnic backgrounds, and that "it is not right to call me an African-American." It was more important to be simply an American, with all of the nuances that come with that.

I think of my own racial background. I am part English, part Scotch, part Irish... and also 1/16 part Cherokee. My great great grandfather and his two brothers walked all the way from Oklahoma Territory to Patrick Springs, Virginia. Several years later my maternal grandmother was born. I'll always find that fascinating (and who knows, maybe Jones and I are distant relatives!).

But those things don't really define who I am today, any more than Jones said that he felt obligated to be black, or Irish, or native American.

Last night I remarked to a friend (and I hope she and I can always be friends regardless of our differences): human weaknesses doesn't "pick and choose" who is like this, and who is like that. No matter our ethnicities, we are ALL beholden to human nature. And human nature is ubiquitous: none of us are exempt or immune to it.

I believe there is such a thing as racism. But it is extremely wrong to ascribe racism - or any other weakness of character - to one "race" or another and no other. I have seen racism across the board, coming from practically every ethnic group I have encountered. I have seen white racism against black, black racism against white, white and black each harboring prejudice against Asian descent, one Asian culture prejudiced against another. I have even seen black against black racism...

Get the picture?

Human nature. It's not determined by skin color. One way or another we each have stock in it. And it really ISN'T about color of skin, or creed, or anything else. It's about how each of us, as individuals, CHOOSE to respond to that nature. And also how we choose to respond when others allow their own natures to overwhelm reason.

Don't let a weak and petty thing like "race" be a rationale to excuse yourself from human nature. We are all in this together, without favor.

And you never know: you might be a lot less "white" or "black" than you've come to realize. Heck, you and I may be relatives from somewhere up the line. Although whether you want to admit that I'm in your genealogy should probably be better left an exercise for the reader :-)