a little east of reality

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

better watch out for the skin deep

but I think I saw a brand new light coming over the horizon
brighter than any other, and it says
all men are brothers
all women are sisters
we're all related, under the skin

All these years of scientific and medical research and they still can't find any genetic determiner of race. There are differences between the races, superficial ones like skin colour, but nothing to prove in any conclusive way that we haven't all emerged from a common ancestor. Most genetic variation occurs within races, not between them.

Not that I'm surprised. I'm one of those crazy types who actually believe that Adam and Eve were more than a metaphor and that the whole human family is actually related. In fact, I've always felt that people trying to prove that the races are in some other way inherently different are ignoring really obvious clues about how we came to look so different. I mean, whose ancestors are the blondest, palest people? Hmmm...could that be those people living in all those icy cold countries that don't see much sun all year? And is it really so weird to think that people who happened to have more pigmentation than others lived and survived more easily in hot, tropical places like Africa?

Yes, yes, I'm being simplistic. If you actually want a more detailed, correct and interesting explanation of why our perception of 'race' is ill-conceived, check out the information on this website, but my point is: do we still need someone to tell us that racial differences are superficial? Who out there still hasn't figured out that if you cut us we all bleed, and the blood is the same colour?

I understand why people a thousand years ago didn't get this. At that time physicians didn't know things about the human body that we now teach children in basic biology classes. The average, and even the not-so-average, person didn't travel or have access to information about people in other places. When the whole of your understanding of human diversity is contained to your own personal experience within one small geographical region, of course you are going to think that someone who looks completely different IS different ~ there's nowhere to slot them into your paradigm and it takes time to learn enough to know that your paradigm is inadequate. People today are so information rich in comparison, it seems impossible that anyone could still be ignorant of the fact that racial differences are literally skin deep.

Which begs the question: when ARE we going to stop fixating on superficial differences and internalise this reality that race has only that significance which we give it? We can't ignore history, we can't erase the how our world has been shaped by what humans have done to other humans in the name of racial difference. But we can refuse to keep perpetuating the myth that these differences are anything more than misinformation and social construct. And we can stop treating our cultures like static forms, sacrosanct and unchangeable, and often linked in our minds to the colour of our skin. We can't change our skins, but everything else is negotiable.

Human beings made this mess. We can unmake it, too. Bring on the paradigm shift because I am REA-DY. I am s.o. .t.i.r.e.d of 'celebrating diversity', because sometimes it just feels like another excuse for pointing out difference. Yes, we're diverse. Yes, that can be cool. But can we stop dancing the haka long enough to have a chat about how similar we are? Seriously, when do we start celebrating that? I tried to look up an antonym for 'diversity'. I found words like uniformity, homogeny, standardization - negative, soulless words. The only positive word I saw along the way was equality and it's a pretty poor antonym for diversity anyway. I want to celebrate connection and whatever word it is that encapsulates the idea of commonality of human experience, even if it isn't yet in my theasaurus. Any suggestions?