The Wrong Public Idea About Difference

It’s amazing how many examples about the wrong public idea about difference surface regularly, pointing to our ongoing inability as a modern, presumably educated and advanced, global society, to overcome the legacy of racialized difference. Say what you will about Brexit, the role racial fears played into the vote cannot be ignored.

Brits’ beliefs that keeping out a certain group of people will make life better, or society safer, echoes the GOP’s push for bigger walls along the Mexican border and other anti-immigrant policies and positions playing out across U.S. communities. The same ideas fuel the Dominican Republic’s treatment of Haitians, or Indians’ treatment of immigrants from African nations.

Yes, the problem is global, and it feels inevitable. It feels as inevitable as death. No one escapes death, so the understanding goes. Therefore, racialized difference, like death, is real. The public idea about racial difference, reiterated everywhere by everyday people, government officials, celebrities, progressives and conservatives alike, the world over, is wrong.

This wrong idea about racialized difference rests on a myth of euro-centric, white superiority, where the “races” of the world fit along a hierarchy. The hierarchy in this myth positions and equates white skin with high intelligence, advanced culture and superior morals, which is on one end of the spectrum. Black skin equates with low intelligence, primitive culture, and inferior morals, located on the opposite end of the spectrum. According to the myth, if you follow the color spectrum through the different “races” you will know which ones are smart and which ones are less smart just by looking at people.

There is no white race. There is no black race. There is no Indian race. There is no Hispanic race. No Asian race. No Arabic race. And so on and so on. No, we know better, and yet, we don’t do anything about it. In the public spaces, across educational institutions, in government practices, on television, in the newspapers, on the radio, the wrong public idea about racialized difference persists.

We don’t talk about the fiction of racialized difference. Instead we talk about how it would be nice for the different races to get along. By maintaining this concept, even when using it in a positive statement or belief, we keep the wrong idea about a hierarchy difference alive in public consciousness. We are not truly different in this way. There is no such thing as a better race.

We are geographically different because we are born in different parts of the world. We are ethnically different because we connect our ethnicity with differences in cultural practices, or beliefs, or language. We are nationally different because we are born within certain nations. We are culturally different because we practice different ways of engaging life. We are physically different because of the arbitrary circumstances of environment influencing superficial, physical adaptations.

Yes, we are different. We are different in many, maybe even countless ways. But there is one difference that does not exist. We are not racially different. Which means that there is no inherent, no essential, difference of intelligence, or compassion, or humanity that can be, or is (in any real scientific way), caused by racial difference. Whatever differences we observe in other human beings who are not like us, we need to remember that those differences are the result of a set of random circumstances, such as place and time, where those others were born and reared.

Racial difference has been scientifically debunked in both the natural and social sciences, yet we maintain the wrong idea about this difference in the public consciousness at every turn. How are we to change this if not by attacking it on every front, from pre-school to university, from the church pews to the work crews? Without wholesale, comprehensive, all-pervasive educational instruction and reinforcement about the myth of this difference, we will continue to rely upon it to make bad public decisions out of fear for the other and fear of losing racial purity (whatever this means).

We will never make a dent in the issue of inclusion if we don’t have more systematic processes and mechanisms in place to undo this myth. Without such efforts, more isolationism, xenophobia, and outright ignorance will continue to inform public decision-making that affects us all, no matter where we live in the world, giving rise to the types of misinformed and dangerous rationalizations made by this congressional hopeful.

Without such efforts, the racist boys my son met in grammar and middle school will become adults within the next ten years. As adults, these children of the 21st century will tell their children to stay away from brown, or yellow, or red skinned kids because they are less than, or are wild, or are terrorists, or are thugs, and on and on.

We need radical, revolutionary change. Without it, the next two to three generations will continue to bring forward into society the wrong ideas about difference.

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