Not a Problem We Can Solve

John Coffman
Rocklin, CA

I used to believe that we all were heading somewhere. As a kid I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation, a TV show about a future where humanity had progressed to a point where all cultural/religious/racial/political/financial/identity barriers had been dissolved and everyone (except for those less “evolved” alien races) was able to pursue excellence in whatever form they preferred. In the twenty years I’ve lived since the airing of that show I’ve come to believe that such a future is impossible, and undesirable. As a 30 year old Hispanic male of a multi ethnic heritage who grew up near Los Angeles I’ve frequently struggled with issues of race identity and felt the sting of institutional and individual racism. And I can’t believe for a moment that I myself don’t harbor some dark prejudices that color my opinions about people. In my relatively short time alive I’ve seen tribalism of every sort define and determine the course of a person’s, or people’s, actions and worldviews. I could spend pages citing all the historical accounts of racism and tribalism throughout history, and the uncomfortable truth we’d arrive at is that such divides are an irremovable component of the human psyche: It’s always going to be us vs. them. However, while I’m stating this is a problem we can never solve I’m not endorsing we do nothing about it. We should embrace our identities and be open to accepting others. The richest experiences I’ve had have been among people I don’t directly identify with. I’ve spend time in Japan, on the Maasai Mara, and in local communities whose experiences and world views are entirely foreign to my own. The cost of such rich diversity and breadth of human experience is factionalism. A future devoid of differences, a future without people having vastly different cultural/religious/racial/political/financial/identities isn’t a future I want to be a part of. Diversity in America means we’re going to have a diversity of opinions. Some are going to be deeply flawed and outright toxic. But for every tragedy/ really &$#@’ed up situation like the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case there are untold stories of people in this country crossing over to meet each other in understanding. I’m the child of two such people and as demographics shift multiethnic persons such as me are becoming more commonplace. Racism isn’t a problem “we” can solve, it’s an irremovable stain on our psyche, but it is a problem that we should never stop addressing.

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  • Andrea

    I agree w/ most of what you said, but I’m curious about why you include “financial” in your list of variables of “identity”. Do you consider economic status to be just another “difference” between ppl, , similar to differences in culture, religion, race, etc? Those are things to be respected & celebrated, differences that are neither good nor bad. Economic deprivation is not merely a “difference”. Poverty is not an inborn trait like race that cannot be changed, nor a welcome variation that contributes to diversity. It is both changeable and negative. Greater acceptance of increasing diversity in race and ethnicity is a good thing; greater acceptance of increasing disparity of wealth — as the US is now experiencing — is definitely a bad thing.

 

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