Ever since that Tower of Babel incident way back in history, we of the human race have been engaged in diverse forms of racial, religious and socio-economic one-upmanship. Some subtle, some overt.
The perennial question: why is race is such a lightning rod? In the USA, it has been debated ad-infinitum and unfortunately may not be answered for yet another generation. One would expect more mature, reasoned thinking and acceptance of this unavoidable and patently obvious fact; we are all interwoven with DNA strands that distinguish (all of) us as being from the same human race. Apparently some individuals beg to differ.
One notable case in point. Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America in 2014. Her plan was to follow her family tradition in medicine and become a cardiologist. She also happens to be of East Indian descent. Interestingly there are those who have chosen to denigrate her based on culture, but somehow adroitly miss the substantive fact that she is highly intelligent and was born in the USA. One online writer (The Thinking Housewife) even stated that because of Ms. Davulri’s appreciation and promotion of diversity in the pageant, that must mean “..she is proud that she is not a white American.”
In a word….Wow!
Continuing this train of thought, in North America, certain “official” elements of authority, admit to profiling whole people groups, mainly because they “look the part”. All this in an inane attempt at fostering public security. This unfortunate response has been adopted by hate-filled, ideologically stunted individuals; arguably, those with less officious mindsets. They categorize people out of fear, and by doing so, culturally castigate them out of ignorance. This not only diminishes a person’s humanity; it strips us all of human dignity.
Here in Canada, racial issues are no less real. and can appear to be less in-your-face; at least in contrast to our neighbours south of the 49th parallel. I am however fully aware that many in Canada have been, and continue to be, on the receiving end of overt expressions of racism. While that may be an uncomfortable truth to digest, at times I wonder if subtler forms of racial intolerance are more insidious than those that usually motivate a person to go eyeball to eyeball with identifiable, intractable narrow-mindedness.
February has been set aside as Black History month. Ostensibly to celebrate and honour the achievements of those past and present who have an African ancestral line. While I applaud the intent of the accorded honour, there are those who wonder if it really accomplishes what it sets out to do. Some argue that it is just a method to assuage any latent colonial guilt of the majority who oversaw unfortunate things like the early African Slave Trade, or legal segregation, (schools, public transport etc). There will always be those who look with disdain, suspicion, or outright hostility on certain indigenous, cultural, or religious groups, without having one lick of understanding about who they are, or what their life is like.
This year will mark my 37th year in Canada after emigrating from Jamaica in the West Indies. I left a country where I was in the majority. Arriving in Canada, I attained minority status. I was still the same 16 year old who left Jamaica, wide-eyed and fascinated; eager to embrace a new culture, but a 3.5 hour flight adjusted my geolocation sufficiently to render me “different” in the eyes of some. Thankfully I had parents who had grounded me in the realities of life. I was taught that not everyone would accept, or in some cases even acknowledge me. Solely based on the fact that I did not have to pay exorbitant amounts of money to travel to destinations to acquire a tan, which would eventually fade in 2 weeks after returning. But if truth be told, I have had way more good than bad happen while living in Canada.
While I am grateful for the country of my birth, proud and not ashamed of my heritage, Canada, of which I am a citizen, is my home. My French Canadian wife and I have taught our (now adult) children that character traits such as integrity, compassion, forgiveness, courage, among others, go a long way in defining who they are. External differences such as skin colour, hair type; the shape of your nose or lips, among other readily recognized physical features that differentiate the global populace, also affirms and promotes what I like to refer to as the “unique cohesiveness of diversity”.
I pray that February is not a once-a-year crutch for some to appease guilt; or others to foster guilt, by always throwing the racial horrors of the past into our faces. While I will always advocate the need to remember history, let us seriously try to learn from it; by not staying in the past, but embracing the future with all people groups, so that our next generation will take up the mantle of inclusiveness and acceptance with more understanding and awareness than their predecessors.