Why Must Race Always Be An Issue?

SeleenaK_2011-10-21-14.38.17I’ve been called a liar when I explain my childhood and my feelings about race.  But it’s just the way it’s always been for me.

I grew up in a Canadian middle class neighborhood in a border town that was very ethnically, racially and culturally diverse. In almost all of the neighboring families, the parents were not born in Canada, like mine were, although I thought most of the kids were born here.  Add to this mix, an endless stream of tourists from all over the world and you might have an idea what it was like.

Many of the parents either worked directly in the tourist industry or worked at something closely related.

Our neighborhood was made up of modest but relatively new homes.  Behind us, lived a Japanese family; beside them, Bulgarians.  Beside us were Irish on the right and Czechoslovakians on the left; and beside them, a black family, then a Scottish family.  Across the street, Hungarian, Hispanic, German and Jewish. Oh, and there was a large Italian family with a son who was cool – older than me, so not in my circle of friends – but I always thought he spoke and acted like a girl.

It’s funny that as I write this, my point of reference is the wonderful  food the families were able to make.  You see, growing up in my world, the only difference I was aware of between families was the smells emanating from homes at meal time.

People were people; the nice one’s were nice and the nasty one’s were nasty.  It was that simple to me and still is.

But the thing most unique about that one Italian family was that they seemed to always put ethnicity first.  And maybe this is the reason they seemed to be somewhat isolated in the neighborhood.

The reason I’m telling you this now is to try to  come to terms with my feelings today.  These days, people seem more inclined that ever to want to isolated based on things like race, ethnicity or religion.

Recently, a fabulous blogger I follow on social media, shared a gorgeous photo of a very beautiful woman in fabulous lingerie.  It was originally posted by a person or entity who calls themselves”Black Pin-up Models”.

Reading the word “Black” in front of Pin Up Models changed that photo from a beautiful pic of a gorgeous woman into something less.

BLACK Pinup Models?  In 2014? Really. An account based on race that’s restricted to black stuff?  This still makes me very uncomfortable.  I just don’t see why this is necessary nor why it’s accepted and propagated, especially by those who profess to be  so inclusive.

In the post-Pearl Harbor decade, I could only have imagined how things would have changed in the old ‘hood if our new Japanese neighbors had felt the need to start a “Japanese whatever Club”or if the black family felt the need to celebrate their race by starting a Black anything organization.

Yes, I’m naive, I suppose.  And yes, I suppose many attended gatherings that only included others of the same ethnicity or racial group but in the big melting pot, we melted!

The US has always thought differently than the other cultural melting pot to it’s north.  NAACP? Black Entertainment Television?  Really?

No matter how much good these entities do, in my heart I honestly believe they isolate.  They build a wall.

My childhood friend, Rosemary, was just my friend Rosemary.  She was never my black friend Rosemary. Not to me.  EVER.  And my heart still struggles to go there today, even though society seems determined to draw lines.

And, sadly, the US seems determined, since 2008, the further divide – not only by skin color or ethnicity but by political ideology.

If someone asked me to describe my friend, I would have said she was about my height, pretty, solid build, dimples when she smiled, dark eyes and dark hair that she usually wore in a semi ‘fro and very dark skin.

I know … “bullshit, Seleena” but it’s true!  “Very dark skin”.

In my neighborhood, the Japanese family wasn’t held responsible for Pearl Harbor.  The German folks weren’t automatically Nazi’s and the Italian’s weren’t fascists. The Jews, the Catholics, the Baptists and the Buddhists were all buds.  We went to different places to worship but so what?  And we learned about, and helped to celebrate, each other’s holidays.

People are people, or at least they were.

This is why try so hard to avoid exclusionary advocacy groups and have never been able to jump on anyone’s bandwagon.

Black folks, if you need to build exclusionary walls, have fun but this girl can’t join you.  Trans people, calling each other “sisters”, is a lame attempt to build a family but it really just advances exclusionary thinking, and this is why I so often struggle with those groups too.  Calling me a “sister” probably distanced others within ear shot and sometimes my spouse is that person.

And to that young lady online,  as long as you remain unable to understand that the black banner throws race into the face of us who’ve only ever thought of you as a woman, you’re correct – you will be nothing more than “that black girl”.

And please don’t use words like “demoralizing”,”micro-aggressions”, “undervalued” to someone who risks physical harm or worse whenever she steps outside in your country.  You’re not making history, lady.  Many of us would gladly accept those travesties if we felt it increased our chances of returning home safely.

You’ve tried to make me feel like a bad person and have talked down to me, simply because I struggle with your baggage, and that just doesn’t work.

Tonight, you lost a huge ally, whether you can understand it or not.

5 thoughts on “Why Must Race Always Be An Issue?”

  1. Hopefully one day we will all be able to identify ourself as being a part of the human race … until then I guess we can settle for “judgemental human race”.


  2. It seems to be a common human trait to want to apply labels to everyone, and sadly those labels are then used to separate , isolate or ostracise.

    Here in Australia at the moment we’ve drifted (only slightly) away from racial labelling to religious labels People are ‘group judged’ on the basis of the actions of a minority while bigots and alarmists rant and rave to make that minority seem a major threat.

    US-based right-wing web sites are propogating their hatred in the fertile minds of Aussie bigots. I say fertile because I believe the minds of such people are so full of sh*# that they have to be fertile.

    If only we could assess people based purely on that ‘nasty/nice’ criteria. But maybe I’m just one of those ‘sickos’ that such sites deride.

    1. Jane, I was with you until you isolated “US-based right wing web sites”. For the sake of understanding, I read both the right and the left and the hate spewing from the left far exceeds anything coming from the right, in my opinion.

      Also, using the ‘nasty/nice’ criteria to assess individuals sounds wonderful and I think most will do this given the time and opportunity to get to know someone. But “out there in the street”, is it so wrong to lean in one direction or the other based on past experience when we feel threatened and when there’s no time to “get to know”?

      Call me a bigot but I would be reluctant to leave my 7 year old son in the care of a a clergyman from the church based near Rome, for example.

      I think it’s prudent to fear the bear in the forest simply because she’s a bear, even though she’s not usually dangerous unless she feels threatened or her cubs are near by.

      1. I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. On my FB page I posted something I wrote called ‘labels’ which is essentially about judging and labelling people without valid reason. To me, those valid reasons include evidence, personal experience or observation. So, as far as care of your son goes, I wholly agree. Fearing the bear in the forest is also prudent based on evidence and common sense.

        The reason I mentioned right-wing hatred specifically is because that seems to be the “cause celebre” many of our vocal bigots have taken up, those who choose to wrap themselves in the flag as justification for their hatred.

        During my career I got to observe the hatred and venom that spewed forth from both extremes of the political spectrum, none of it is pleasant and none should be tolerated. The ‘left’ here at the moment seems to be more focussed on attacking our conservative (and thus right-of-centre) government. The irony is that in order to do so they are actually appearing to support many of the groups they would normally attack. It’s an example of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” and we’ve all seen where that can lead.

        So evaluation based on observation, experience, evidence or caution is common sense not bigotry. It’s the unwarranted fear, paranoia and hatred that some people use that I don’t like.

        1. Jane, I read your post about labels and it all makes total sense to me. Nicely written too!

          We do seem to hear bigotry and hate from different sides of the aisle though. Here, it seems the right condemns activities – abortion, homosexuality, etc. while the left demonizes people. So based on this, it really appears that the hatred you don’t like is coming more from the left than the right here.

          And yes, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” often applies even though it shouldn’t.

          Thank you for taking the time to share your feelings on a very complicated issue!

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