Terra Incognita: America’s poisonous obsession with race

I look back across the ocean at this race-obsessed landscape and think how the discussion of race poisons the mind.

A STUDENT walks past a college notice board at Yale. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A STUDENT walks past a college notice board at Yale.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s difficult not to wince at the deluge of headlines on social media that focus on race in the United States.
After the mass murder in Nevada, one of my Facebook friends posted a tweet from Lena Dunham that reads: “no way not to politicize this tragedy. It’s about gender and race.” Scrolling down, someone posted a meme of the killer claiming that “not a white person in the world will call me a terrorist.” Someone posted a screenshot of a tweet by Sally Kohn, a political commentator: “Muslim shooter, entire religion guilty; Black shooter, entire race guilty; white shooter, mentally disturbed lone wolf.”
The Intercept headlined an article “The white privilege of the ‘lone wolf’ shooter.”
The article, by Shaun King, claims that “white men who carry out mass shootings are primarily described as “lone wolves,” but Muslims are called “terrorists.” Newsweek: “White men have committed more mass shootings than any other group.”
Vox: “White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners.”
White, white, white, white, white, white.
American media is a flood of these racial groupings. Either “white” or “black” and add to that now “Muslim” which has apparently become a new “race” in America, even though it used to be a religion.
This is especially true in any controversy.
Everything that happens in America is about race. A woman makes a video about sexual harassment, it’s about race.
Someone wins an election, it’s about race.
Crime? Race. Police brutality? Race. Test scores? Race. Mortgages, hairstyles, voter IDs, immigration, health care – every single issue gets twisted, wrangled, molded, manipulated and jammed into a funnel of intellectual ignorance and banality until it comes out at the other end as a racial issue.
Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s when challenging racial stereotypes and institutionalized discrimination became the vanguard in the US, interest in race has not dissipated but increased.
It has had its moments of ebb and flow.
For instance there was a rise in racial consciousness in the 1960s and a decline in the 1980s. Then there were racial tensions in the early 1990s and the riots in Los Angeles, and the OJ Simpson trial. There seemed to be a sort of hiatus as America began to focus more on Hispanics, homosexual rights and then Islamist terrorism. But then race came back into the spotlight during president Barack Obama’s tenure and specifically after the Ferguson, Missouri riots.
However, issues of race are always there.
And they hover in the background, not in a healthy way but in a disturbing, obsessive way. The more America has become diverse, the more multicultural, the more common interracial and inter-ethnic marriage, the more people discuss race. This is interesting because there are more nonwhite people in America than at any time since independence.
“Children of color” are now the majority of children born in America according to NPR. Not only are there more non-white people but interracial marriage is at an all-time high. According to another article, 10% of all married Americans were with someone of a different race in 2015 and 18% of all new marriages were across the divide. In Honolulu the number is 42% and in Las Vegas 31%.
According to BET it is actually black Americans who object to interracial marriage the most. “One in five African-Americans actually believe marrying other races is bad for society.” Nevertheless 24% of black men who marry, marry someone of a different race, according to the article. 12% of black women do the same.
So America is more of a melting pot than ever before. Yet there are more headlines about “white” and “black” than ever before. If America is becoming more different shades of brown than ever before, why is it always trying to talk about “white people” more than ever before and more about “white privilege” than at any time in the past decades? Because American popular culture doesn’t like nuance. Steve Jobs and Ralph Nader are both of Middle Eastern background, but they are “white.” The 9/11 hijackers came from the wealthiest countries in the Middle East. But they are considered non-white because they are “Muslim.” Wasn’t the Boston Marathon bomber white? He came from the Caucasus, right? Like Armenians.
Are Armenian-Americans white or black or Hispanic? Those are the only allowable racial categories that exist in America.
Sometimes reduced to just “people of color” or “white.”
If people from Syria are “people of color” are people from Turkey, just across the border? And if they are “people of color” then aren’t people from Greece, some of whom have Turkish ancestors and vice-versa, “people of color”? And what about Macedonians? How do we know where to draw the line of “white”? Bosnians from Europe but who moved to Palestine in the 1880s – are they “people of color” or “white”? They probably never asked themselves this, unless they then moved to America and had to decide.
Oddly, in an America where many “white” people are not that white, there hasn’t been a rush of white people to flee whiteness and claim to be people of color.
Why is that? Why do Americans accept the definitions that popular culture has enslaved them by? Why do they accept being turned into masses of “whites” and “blacks”? Why don’t they rebel? Bob Marley, who was half white, like Barack Obama, sung “emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.” Why can’t Americans emancipate themselves from the slavery of racial categories? Who benefits from the racial divisions in America and media’s constant focus on race? It’s unclear why Americans continue to run to their simplistic and narrow definitions of race. An article at PRI.org may shed some light on it when it discusses “love, race and white privilege.” It described an Indian-American man who wanted to date a Korean-American woman. She told him “I’ve only dated white men because I would want my children to have privilege.”
The same article describes a black woman whose relatives told her not to marry a white man. The article notes “marrying someone who’s white means someone who has benefited from those privileges historically. For instance having more wealth and disposable income.”
It seems that no matter how many people blur their racial origins through intermarriage, society in the US will still need them to be white in order to maintain its disastrous divisions and obsession with race. For instance a black and white couple who have kids will have kids that are either “black” or “white” because America demands this. It requires everyone to be divided. It cannot countenance the increase in people who have mixed background because a central pillar of society is race and racism.
When you apply for jobs, mortgages, university, or fill out the census, you are always asked to be “white” or “black,” you cannot be both. Even though tens of millions of Americans, maybe more, are not of one race, they are required to define themselves as such.
Martin Luther King said he dreamed of a country where people would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. King was murdered and his dream became a nightmare. People are increasingly only judged for the color of their skin in America. Even when your skin is neither white nor black, the Nazi-like race experts are there to tell you that you to need to step into one box or another.
As someone who hasn’t lived in America for more than a decade, I look back across the ocean at this race-obsessed landscape and think how the discussion of race poisons the mind. The world is not white or black, it’s many different, diverse groups.
American civilization refuses to accept that diversity and in so doing has caused lasting damage to hundreds of millions of Americans and has impacted the world for the worse. Only a new generation of Americans can seek to reduce the disastrous focus on race as an explanation for everything. Judging by social media and the unwillingness of people to challenge racial definitions and constructs, it doesn’t appear this generation will question race. Maybe the next one will.