Perspective: Race and Nation
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about perspective this week.
It’s a topic I often hone in on, though in my everyday life I settle fairly firmly into my own shoes, like most people. Still, I remember the absolute eureka moment when I once learned about some particular African tribal practice (don’t ask me now what it was) and it occurred to me, some time late in my high school career, that I didn’t know shit about what it meant to look at a problem from a different perspective. I thought I knew difference, but in fact, the multitude of options of this world are always going to be beyond my grasp – and I like that. I like knowing that there’s always a new way of looking at things, a new way of understanding.
Wednesday night, I went to an MLK week discussion called “Open Mouth, Insert Foot: An Open Community Discussion on Hate.” Though a lot of what we talked about were things I’d already considered, I did hear some perspectives that were new to me. It had never occurred to me, for example, that when journalists always mention that the Postville immigration raids happened at the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the country, the decision to include the kosher part might be interpreted as anti-Semitic, even though Judaism is part of my (rather complex and syncretic) faith. As a panelist put it, “those guys weren’t Jewish crooks. They were crooks.”
Yesterday, I listened to an inspiring address by National Urban League President Marc Morial on the topic of Obama’s presidency and the new multi-racial America. He’s a fabulous speaker, and even in a lecture hall at the law school with maybe thirty people, he spoke as if he were addressing a crowd of hundreds. He made a lot of very poignant statements, but the one I copied down was this: “We as we look to the future cannot be restrained and straitjacketed by the analytical frameworks of the past.” A simple statement, yes, but immensely powerful. He spoke about how whites will soon no longer be the majority, but also about how minorities themselves are complex and diverse – more Africans and Caribbean blacks, for example, are coming to this country, and Latino and Asian populations are similarly made up of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of interests, values, and concerns. He didn’t mention this, but I also thought about how ethnic minorities include women, and LGBT people, and linguistic and religious minorities. He spoke about how the society is not post-racial, but multi-racial, and we should embrace that. I wholeheartedly agree. I also would add that we should reach across lines, find commonalities and use those points to approach and learn about difference. For example, I have friends who are women of color whom I met because we share a lesbian sexuality. Though I’m learning how to do this in appropriate ways, I would like to use this connection to ask questions about these friends’ perspectives as a racial minority, and as women of color specifically, and I would like to learn what interests and concerns these friends have that are different from my own, both as someone who may be involved in policy and also just as an interested citizen.
Finally, I read this article by Robert Kagan for my European Union law class, and I found it very interesting (and readable whether you’re a legal person or not). Rather than race, it’s talking about the difference in perspectives based on position of power, comparing the United States and Europe, and it’s a way of looking at geopolitics that I hadn’t quite considered.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this.