If America was a cookie, it would probably be chocolate chip.
Sure it’s mostly dough, but the chips are what give it flavor!
I mean, come on! Who wants a plain sugar cookie!? Yuck!
Maybe that’s what they meant all those years ago when they described us as a melting pot. All these different races and nationalities blending together to form a delicious whole.
However, some flavors just don’t mix – or at very least are slow to come together.
In fact, since the very beginning, much of America has been obsessed with ensuring we DON’T mix! Chips and dough can’t melt together! We must preserve the purity of the batter. In fact, let’s send those chips back to Belgium!
But times have changed. We’ve tried to legislate our way to equality. Voting Rights Acts. Anti-Segregation Acts. Non-Discrimination Laws. But the legal system is far from perfect, and it can only do so much. If we’re really going to become one big tasty treat, we’ve got to do something about it – each and every one of us.
So how do we all come together? What should be our goal?
For some people, the answer is silence. We shouldn’t talk about this stuff at all.
To which I say, yeah, many things such as race, nationality, even sexuality are to a large extent man-made. They’re the product of culture and society, but that doesn’t make them unreal. They’re totems, archetypes, symbols we use to navigate the social universe. If you think a social constraint is unreal, try violating it.
Moreover, ignoring inequality won’t solve it. That only ensures that the status quo continues to reproduce itself.
In short, if we don’t talk about prejudice, we’ll never get over it. Our biases will never go away.
Other folks – many with the best of intentions – think not that our differences are unreal, but that we should ignore them. Don’t talk about us and them. It’s all just us.
And I do see your point. We are all important regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But is this really the best way to come together as a nation? If all of us taste the same, we’ll certainly be one – one bland and lousy confection sitting in the bakery that no one in their right mind would really want to eat.
Homogenization has its strengths. Look at white folks. We used to be very different. Czech, Slovak, German, Russian, etc. Now we’re one indistinguishable whole. Sometimes we venture outside of that label for a few hours to celebrate some ethnic festival, but most of the time we’re just white, White, WHITE. Having a beer and a Wiener Schnitzel during Oktoberfest doesn’t change how you usually identify and how you are identified in the world.
But something has been lost here. You can only be blind to the differences in people if you wipe away the rough edges. People become less distinct, more similar. That’s not the best way to be.
There’s another way.
I am the proud product of this culture! I am the son or daughter of this type of person! I love this! I believe that! I am not just anyone – I am ME!
There is a danger when anyone suggests conformity as a way to fight racism, sexism or any form of prejudice. It puts the responsibility on those who are different. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, YOU need to conform.
I think this is wrong. You have the right to be yourself. Instead it is the responsibility of those who would discriminate to STOP.
If you’re racist, YOU need to stop.
If you’re sexist, YOU need to stop.
If you’re homophobic, YOU need to stop.
And so on.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just walk it off. Prejudice is the result of years of enculturation, socialization and bigotry. It takes time. It takes a loving heart. But most of all it takes two very important things that few people in America have truly achieved:
That’s where we are today.
Very few people exist in the United States without some prejudice. People feel uncomfortable around those unlike themselves. We have preconceptions about how certain people will act. We think we know better how other people should live their lives.
These are all prejudices. And what’s worse, many of them are actually unconscious. I didn’t even recognize that I got nervous around black people – and now that I do, I don’t want to feel that way. I know it’s not justified, but I still can’t help the feeling!
So there is much to be done here in the USA to make us the best we could be. And it is our job to do that work.
Because the cookie of America has lots of cracks in it and more than a few nuts.