Saturday, September 27, 2008

Black Girl, Light World I: Myth of the Melting Pot

For the last few days I've been mulling over a conversation I had with two friends about 1.5-2 years ago about the various cultural "prefixes" (African/Chinese/Cuban/etc.) to American and whether or not they are necessary or actually more hurtful in the scheme of becoming a cultural melting pot of Americans. My friends' position was that these titles separate us and that everyone should just call themselves American and have it done with. Doesn't the constant reminder of different backgrounds distract us from our common goals now that we're here as well as exacerbate racism and discrimination, making us weaker and more divided as a people?

At the time, my only response was to say that in remembrance of history it's valuable. How can you know who you are if you don't know where you've come from? The very thought that you can try to erase your background with new uniform title is ludicrous to say the least. We ended the conversation at a stalemate with me unable to adequately explain what I was thinking. Over the years, this and similar topics have come up but I the other day I found a blog and
a particular entry that better explained my thought processes:

I will never forget the words I heard come out of the mouth of one of these guys in response to the tensions between blacks and native americans:
“It’s nuts, you know? All these tensions based on race it’s just…stupid. Life’s too short, you know? This is America. We should just forget all this bickering and just become one culture!”
The last sentence of his claim sent me into fits of laughter in a discussion that was otherwise utterly un-funny. I fell BACKWARDS out of my chair, and rolled around on the floor of the classroom howling with laughter and clutching my stomach until I was thrown out of class and told to report to detention (this happened in high school)...
White people make the ‘one culture’ argument in front of minorities all the time, and they do it because they think it’s what we want to hear**. What they don’t know is that this argument enrages us for two reasons: 1.) It allows white people to forget about the consequences of historic racial injustice (which would persist, even if we were ‘one culture’) while continuing to reap the benefits of historic racial injustice 2.) ‘One Culture’ implies a melting pot, which is COMPLETELY impossible. For there to be one culture, there would have to be forced assimilation into an existing culture*, which is something that minorities (blacks and indians above all) are all too familiar with (think ‘YO NAME IS TOBY! and Indian boarding schools with the mission ‘Kill the Indian, Save the Man’, like the one attended by my father) The One Culture argument implies ignorance of minority issues on the part of whites, and an entirely self-serving agenda.

* White culture, to be exact.
**(my own note, not apart of the excerpted post above)
I don't think that all say this b/c they think it's what we as minorities want to hear;
some people genuinely believe this, and think it's the best way to confront racism.
While I respect the desire for racism to be a thing of the past,
I must say that I totally disagree with this point of view for the reasons stated below.

Basically, the idea of a melting pot culture means that someone else's culture is going to be totally oppressed, represented as inferior, and the people from that culture discriminated against. This brings to my mind a documentary I watched on Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. In history he is credited with uniting China and creating a common language, monetary system, building the Great Wall, etc. An often overlooked aspect of his unification is that he suppressed the cultures and language of the other five Chinese states and establishing his own as the "common" one. This is the same thing that happens in almost every human manufactured "unification" of cultures. The stronger really suppresses the weaker and makes it anathema. When my friends are saying we should just call ourselves American and see ourselves as one culture, the truth is that it's a white or white dominated culture that, of course, is affected by the surrounding minorities-it can't escape unscathed-but it's a definitely a culture that is geared towards the majority and looks down on the minority. But the majority (whatever majority we're talking about) can get away with not even thinking about this fact anymore because we are now calling ourselves a "melting pot" and have a "common culture". These differences don't divide us anymore or shouldn't anyway. Can't we all just get along?
My goal is no to "exacerbate racial tensions" or whatever you want to call it. My goal is to point out that racism isn't done and over with and, to be honest, I think it is now at the best it's ever going to be, noting the way the Bible describes the End Times as an outpouring of sin and hatred. Racism is definitely apart of that and I think we are living in the days close to those times. To be honest I already see it increasing from when I was younger, particularly speaking of antisemitism.

There is only--and I do mean ONLY--one superior overriding super-culture, and that is the culture of Christ. It doesn't discriminate against any culture, for all are valued in some aspects and all must give up some aspects of their culture that are fleshly and geared towards love of the world rather than love of Christ and His Church. Everyone has something to contribute to the Body culturally, and everyone has some things in their culture that detract from Biblical function of the Body.

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