“DNA is only as meaningful as lost and rudderless people make it.” ~kw
My then-6-year-old son Jacob and I were talking about names back a while ago.
He told me there was a boy in his class named Isaac like in the Bible. My son’s name is Jacob (the Biblical son of Isaac), so I asked if there was a boy named Abraham (the Biblical grandpa of Jacob) in his class as well.
I kinda thought it would be cool if there was.
This is how the rest of that conversation went:
Jacob: “No, but there’s a boy named Danthy.” (Yeah, not sure what that had to do with my question either)
Me: “Oh, is he from another country?”
Jacob (puzzled): “No … he’s from my class!”
Hmmm. From the mouth of babes.
I wonder how long it will be and what will have to happen to get us to stop segregating and dividing and subdividing people into groups and races and categories of this and that and us and them.
Why do we have to identify and classify people this way?
The Classificationization of Humanity
Why do we take the whole of humanity and carve them up into distinct categories of semi-related groups and subgroups, sorted and classified as separate clusters of generalized characteristics, all tagged and marked for racial and lingual and socioeconomic distinction, subsectioned into demarcated and clearly separated differences?
Why not think of others the way my son does?
Certainly classifications are useful in some instances. Identifying a suspected mugger comes to mind as an obvious example. To tell the police you were just mugged by a fellow human being is not very helpful, after all. We have over 38 million of them in my state alone.
But other than a handful of common sense exceptions, who cares what color you are! Who cares what one’s national origin, native tongue or favorite holiday is!
Certainly not as a measure of value or worth of the individual!
I think we have it wrong on another level as well. As a well-intentioned response to the segregation of the past, we’ve adopted the rhetoric of celebrating our differences. But I don’t think it will ever work in the long run because it focuses on our differences. It amplifies what’s not held in common and puts those differences center-stage.
I think the only way to root out the cultural subdivisions that plague us is not to celebrate difference, but to not care that there is any.
A Better Way
My son is half Chinese. I’m a white guy. But I would be pained to think that my son identified with his Chineseness any more than if he identified with his whiteness or Caucasianness.
I want him to find identity in his decency, with his values and character. I want him to find self-identity in our faith and our family culture informed by that faith.
I would cry if he found self-identity in the arbitrary accident of race.
Stupidity is Thicker than Blood
Race is meaningless. If my son’s identity was wrapped up in his race, his identity would also be meaningless.
As a matter of fact, I would rather my son lack a sense of identity altogether than have it centered in the poison of blood. Blood-centric thinking produces things like pogroms, Jim Crow laws, Apartheid, ethnic cleansing, slavery, neo-Nazis, concentration camps and Final Solutions.
Telling me you’re black or white or brown or yellow or any other color under the sun tells me nothing of importance about you.
I don’t know if you’re kind or compassionate, loving or responsible, honest, courageous, humble, funny, outgoing, determined or happy. I don’t know if you’re a good spouse or parent or neighbor. I know absolutely nothing of significance about you.
Us vs. Them
That’s what my son saw in his friend Danthy. Just a kid. Not someone alien or divided from him. Just a kid named Danthy. From his class. A friend. That’s all.
What would life be like if we all thought this way? What would happen to conflict and war and to our personal happiness if such was the universal attitude?
So much of the hatred, distrust, vengeance, anger, abuse and violence inflicted by one group on another would fade into history.
If we truly believed that every other person was a brother or sister, no longer “us” vs. “them”, much of the animus between peoples would disappear.
Then we could start identifying with humanity instead of some color-coded subset of the whole.
Did you know that only 12% of your DNA is different from every other race? That means 88% of your genetics are the same as every other racial category. Brothers and sisters are only a smidgen more than 10% more similar than two strangers from different nationalities, colors and cultures.
Biochemically we are 99.9% the same as any other human being regardless of race or national origin.
The point is, of course, that every single one of us is profoundly more similar to any and every other person on the planet than dissimilar.
(Read I and Thou)
If we can finally drop racial categorization as worse than a meaningless practice, but as a harmful, distancing and separating impulse, the Jacobs of the world will have taught us something deeply profound, but something that should never have been considered so.
Really, it should be as common and obvious as night following day.
My call to a new consciousness is not a naïve one. Sadly, there will always be those who kick dogs, but will control that impulse only when they cross a dog with sharp teeth willing to bite. Decent nations therefore need to keep their teeth sharp.
But I still look to a time when human unhappiness will be the largest international crisis.
In the meantime, I write in hopes of changing one heart at a time to open theirs and let those who look and speak differently in.
Your happiness depends on it.
So does the world’s.
What do you think?
Agree? Disagree? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.