MARK L. BAKKE'S
Night Owl Mk. II

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RACE RELATIONS

The United States is a country whose history has been strongly influenced by issues of race. The defining moment in our history -- the Civil War -- was, revisionist historical nonsense to the contrary, fought over the issue of Negro slavery. Amazingly enough, even though every non-Indian citizen of this country is either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants, the issue of "foreigners" coming to this country raises the hackles of many people. Even in a 1990's culture which professes a love of multiculturalism and diversity, an off-hand remark by a white professional golfer can cause a national uproar of racist outrage at the same time that "urban contemporary" music artists can attract widespread praise and legions of fans while selling millions of CDs which contain blatantly overt lyrics extolling such things as racial hatred, cop killing, and sexual abuse of women. Something doesn't add up.
What's the root cause of this? Are Americans naturally more prone to racism and intolerance than other people? I don't think so. I think that what we witness happening in this country is a symptom of basic human nature.
Even in social groupings that are racially homogenous, the members of those groups will always tend to find ways to "choose up sides". It could be "athletes" vs. "nerds", "uptown" vs. "downtown", Catholic vs. Protestant, Coke vs. Pepsi, or anything else that can be used to separate people into different camps. Once lines have been drawn, each group will tend to find ways to rationalize themselves as being "superior" to the others and will "defend their turf", if necessary. If the groups stay separate and the issue is one which tends to discourage interaction between those groups, the division will tend to escalate and can eventually reach what might be termed "critical mass". At that point, rationality can be completely lost and the probability of reconciliation or settlement of differences becomes quite low. In this respect, the only real difference between a Catholic-Protestant feud and a White-Black conflict is that it's much easier to tell the difference between a White person and a Black person at a glance. You might have an irrational bias against Protestants, let's say, but you could "accidentally" befriend one before discovering his religious preference. It would be next to impossible for the same thing to happen between Whites and Blacks who are biased against each other.
If Blacks had never been enslaved in America, it's highly doubtful that "racism" would be a major social issue today in this country. Human nature would still rear its ugly head from time to time, of course, and that won't change until we can truly embrace the societal ideals we like to preach. Also, while we need to learn from history, we need to ensure that our history is taught accurately. For example, it's a popular misconception that all Southern Whites owned Black slaves. In fact, slavery was almost the exclusive enterprise of the prosperous plantation owners. The majority of Southerners owned no slaves. It is also a popular myth (such as what is depicted in "Roots") that the African slave trade consisted of White men rampaging through the jungles of Africa capturing and dragging off any Black man they could catch. In reality, the large majority of Black slaves were sold into slavery by other Blacks. Normally, these were tribal warlords and chieftains who sold prisoners of war, criminals, or others in exchange for European goods and money. Similar arrangements have been the main source of slave labor throughout the history of Man. What really brought the practice of slavery in American under scrutiny was our own Declaration of Independence. This is the document which declares that "all men are created equal" -- a very radical idea in its time. How could a society founded upon that principle justify enslaving other humans?
So, human nature plus the sins of the past combine to create the issue of "racism" in this country. Is there any hope for us? Of course there is. However, that is dependent upon how much we actually want things to change. Part of the problem is evidenced by how we choose to identify ourselves. We still like to see ourselves as members of smaller, homogenous groups rather than trying to be "Americans" first and foremost. I'm of Norwegian heritage and am the 3rd generation of my family here in the United States, but I don't demand to be classified as a "Norwegian-American". My family arrived here a few decades after the end of the Civil War. This means we have neither owned Black slaves nor had anything to do with the slave trade. Yet, I have still experienced racial hatred from some Blacks simply because I am White and it was "White folks" who owned Black slaves.
On the plus side, my career in the Army has afforded me the opportunity to travel the country and the world and meet a wide range of people. The more people you meet and the more you see and learn about them, the more you come to realize that we are all basically the same. It is easy for anyone to befriend anyone else. It is much better to use one's arms to open doors and embrace others than to close doors and shut them out. Whether you believe in evolution or in religion, both essentially claim that we are all descended from a common source. That means that all members of all races are brothers. It's time we started acting that way. Whether you're White, Black, Green or any other skin color, there's no acceptable reason for locking out the portion of the human race that is a different color from you. If all members of Homo sapiens suddenly turned Purple tomorrow, the only differences between us would be in how we choose to behave. And, isn't that essentially the only real and important difference in the first place?


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