We need to stop the mental racial divide. To preface this post I don’t feel that I am overly qualified as one to speak on the racial issue, but as a human being, I feel that I have to stand up and say something. I grew up in a very white Christian community in Utah until I was 19. I then spent two years in St. Louis serving and associating with many who were not the same color or religion that I was. Here, I found a love and appreciation for others beyond my youthful bubble. Now as I travel with my wife and children I choose to expose them to religious and racial history in this country and around the world. It is not pretty.
It has been disappointing over the past few years to watch our country digress on the issues of color, religion, and gender. Yes, there are great movements being made in all of these areas and maybe it is my awareness, but it seems to be rising up to be an issue again. I remember growing up hearing about the Watts Riots and the onset of racially polarized rap. Over the past couple of years, we have seen Charlottesville, Pittsburgh synagogue, mass shootings related to color and white supremacy. It does not seem to get any better. We are all humans. We need to see each other as humans no matter our skin color, religious preferences, or gender. All should be respected the same. We need to make America and the world great, but we need to stop focusing on “again” because there is too much tainted in the past that we don’t want to step back. We want to move forward.
In one of my philosophy classes, we are reading Black Skin, White Masks, which is a philosophical work on being and race that was written in France in 1957. As I read it it seems just as relevant today as it was 62 years ago when it was written. Because of events hundreds of years ago there is an inferiority complex has been created and perpetuated all around the world. This is not a black issue. This is not an American issue, It isn’t even a Latino issue. This is a human issue. We all have to do something to change this narrative. We need to stop talking in regards to race. We are all the same. We come from the same God. We are all humankind.
Just prior to class today one of my classmates sat next to me and expressed his disdain with the book. I asked why. His response was somewhat appalling to me. He expressed that this was outdated rhetoric that didn’t matter. I asked how he felt that it was outdated because it seems as timely today as it was back in the 1950s in France. We have a lot of racial, religious, and gender tension right now. But then what really shocked me was that he stated that “it is ‘their’ problem”. I responded, “who’s problem?” And pointing out there he stated again, “THEIR problem”. How much I disagree with that sentiment. This is OUR problem. We need to attend to it as an entire society. He then left class in disgust as the discussion ensued. I know that there are many that hold such contempt, but to think that this was the case in an open-minded upper division philosophy class was a bit surprising to me. Such seeming ignorance.
Excusing our racism as not as bad as another’s is a disservice to the way that we view other individuals. Among the racial questions lies the need for us to grapple with our ontological view of the Other regardless of skin color, religious preference, sexual orientation, or origin. By judging the other based on one of these factors is to give up any lived experience that they might have or experience. We are not allowing them to be them. We have removed from the individual their right and freedom to experience a life that is free from constantly feeling looked upon by the Other.
In Black Skin, White Masks, Frantz Fanon takes a deep look into the issue of racism and its effects on society. “Is there in fact any difference between one racism and another? Don’t we encounter the same downfall, the same failure of man?” (Fanon, 67) These are the rhetorical questions provided from Fanon. As we ponder these questions we begin to see that even what we would consider minor racism is still a failure of us ontologically.
We are unable to consider individuals as identical in the ontological because we are unable to fully comprehend their own experience. As Fanon expresses, in relation to a black man’s new dealings with the white man, “his reality as a man has been challenged.” (Fanon, 78) It is not whether he is black or white, it is, to him, whether he is a man or not. It is a question of being, but of being in relation to his place in humankind. “A white man in the colonies has never felt inferior in any respect whatsoever…Let us have the courage to say: It is the racist who creates the inferiorized.” (Fanon, 73) Here, we are challenged to push against this status of inferiority. Years of oppression have caused the black man to ponder his state among the white man and what that really means for him. It is beyond just color, it is a question of manhood.
We expect the black man to assimilate themselves to white culture, white language, white being. We anticipate that because someone chooses, or is forced, to live among white communities that they should have no problem with being white in the way that they speak, dress, act, work, and live. When they don’t live up to what we expect we blame it on their culture and look down on them. We expect them to live white even though they want to retain a part of their culture, if not the whole of it. This puts a taxing burden on others as they are always in consideration of how to respond to the Other in what they do. This is the racist structure that we have perpetuated.
We each stand as objects. “I came into this world anxious to uncover the meaning of things, my soul desirous to be at the origin of the world, and here I am an object among other objects.” (Fanon, 89) Often, we make others our own objects, or objects of our gaze. We look at them with this sense of superiority. We also feel the gaze of the other as we feel that we just don’t match up. This feeling of inferiority within racism is what makes it challenging for us to truly appeal to the Other. It makes common ground difficult to find. It often causes us to assume and belittle. It is this that impedes progress. As Fanon points out in learning to grow with the Other, “Understanding something new requires us to be inclined, to be prepared, and demands a new state of mind.” (Fanon, 75) We should be the one to step outside ourselves and come to a new state of mind and not always expect the Other to do so.
We have concocted a superiority and a fear of the Other. To squelch this fear we strive to submit them to our wills. We demean and cast off. By doing so we have created this “white gaze”. This gaze of looking at the Other with some mythical thought that we are supreme and they are lesser. By creating these walls of separation we have made it difficult to understand the being of the other. We need to destroy these walls, consider lived experiences and overcome our own superiority complexes to allow us to connect, respect, and appreciate the Other.
Three quotes below are very timely from the book.
“It [color prejudice] is nothing more than the unreasoning hatred of one race for another, the contempt of the stronger and richer peoples for those whom they consider inferior to themselves and the bitter resentment of those who are kept in subjection and are so frequently insulted. As colour is the most obvious outward manifestation of race it has been made the criterion by which men are judged, irrespective of their social or educational attainments. The light-skinned races have come to despise all those of a darker colour, and the dark-skinned peoples will no longer accept without protest the inferior position to which they have been relegated.” Sir Alan Burns as quoted by Frantz Fanon
“May the truly French [or I would insert American here] values live on and the race will be safeguarded! At the present time we need a national union. No more internal strife! A united front against the foreigners [glancing at a black man] whoever they may be.” Frantz Fanon
“When I switch on my radio and hear that black men are being lynched in America, I say that they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead. When I switch on my radio and hear that Jews are being insulted, persecuted, and massacred, I say that they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead. And finally when I switch on my radio and hear that in Africa forced labor has been introduced and legalized, I say that truly they have lied to us: Hitler isn’t dead.” Quoted by Frantz Fanon from 1945 Political Speeches in France