I was listening to “Angel Down” by Lady Gaga. It’s one of my favorite songs, filled with sincere inquiry, true devotion, religious irony, and political satire–just my type of poetry and the music is awesome. I was feeling particularly satirical myself one day after listening to several talks in church about sacred bloodlines and cursed races. The following dialog resulted between my daughter Lanie (five years of age) and myself:
- Lady Gaga: Doesn’t everyone belong in the arms of the sacred?
- Ariel: (speaking to no one in particular) Don’t they? DON’T THEY?! Well, no actually. It depends on what blood flows through their veins.
- Lanie: (reacting to my sarcastic comment) That’s rude.
- Ariel: (laughing)
- Lanie: It is rude; everyone has the same blood.
- Ariel: (laughing louder, mostly astounded by her wisdom)
- Lanie: THEY DO!
Even though I was being totally facetious, I realized that my daughter hasn’t grown up with the same hate-programming that I did and I like that. Maybe we’re making progress. I love love and hate hate as much as the next guy, but I want to have intelligent dialog about these issues, like the conversation with my daughter.
There’s a ridiculous video circulating on social media claiming, “Racism Destroyed in One Minute.” It depicts Jane Elliott saying that there is only one race, the human race. This is garbage. Not only is it blatantly false, but it does nothing to destroy racism. She makes a number of other false claims and misattributions in the video. Lies and pandering will not destroy racism. There is one human species, but many races. Claiming otherwise is like claiming that there is only one breed of horse, or only one strain of rice. I have siblings who love horses. They pay a lot of attention to horse breeds because they know that it matters–a lot. A Thoroughbred behaves and moves much differently than a Clydesdale does, and both of them much differently than an Arabian or a Morgan. The list goes on an on. I love to cook. I am very particular about the strain of rice I use for certain recipes.
Insisting that race does not exist or does not matter is as foolish as it is oppressive. I have previously written about my appreciation for different cultures in Culture Shock and A Planet Called New York. New York has been called “the melting pot” and it surely is. I love it, but I also love the richness of the world’s distinct cultures. I would no more wish to absorb the glorious diversity of the world’s races into one than I would wish to mix the world’s ethnic cuisine into one mystery stew. I do not want to dilute my morning coffee with milk any more than I want to smear mayonnaise over the subtlety of fine sushi. Some people like to mix them; that’s their preference and that’s fine for them. All of these flavors have their place on my palette, but I appreciate the distinctiveness of the ingredients.
This brings me to appreciation; I believe that this is the solution to racism. We need to actively expose ourselves to other people and to other cultures, to ideas that challenge our own. You can’t appreciate something or someone that you have not experienced. You can approach new experiences with an open mind and a positive expectation, but sincere appreciation results from direct contact, which is often difficult and sometimes messy. For example, you can’t sincerely appreciate the power of books unless you’ve read a few. You can’t appreciate the beauty of mathematics unless you’ve struggled with it and felt your mind grow in consequence. To all of those sharing Jane Elliott’s video, none of these things can be accomplished in one minute.
My personal journey with racism began as a child, before I can remember, and continues to this day. I was taught that God favored certain races and cursed others. This was one of the major themes in the Old Testament. Brigham Young upped the ante. He taught that the penalty under the Law of God for whites mixing their “blood” with blacks was “death on the spot.” Imagine a young boy raised in a remote town, never had direct contact with a black man in his life, moved to a city, and then one day as he was holding the door for a group of parents walking into his school, a black man reached out to shake the boy’s hand to thank him for holding the door. The boy froze. He was terrified. He had to make a decision and he had to make it fast. Would he snub this man and possibly preserve his soul or would he reach out and touch this man, risking some kind of everlasting spiritual contamination? The thought may seem absurd. It is absurd! It is disgustingly absurd. Nevertheless, that happened to me. I decided that I would rather risk eternal contamination than to snub this man, so I shook his hand.
Since those days, I’ve had a lot of exposure to people of many races. From that exposure I have developed an appreciation for other races. I abhor racism, not races. It’s time to reevaluate our beliefs. Brother Brigham, the Hebrews called; they want their mythology back; science is calling and it’s telling us that we are all brothers and sisters. Perhaps we should listen. If we can believe that the Bible is the word of God– that it is the revelation of his mind and will–why can’t we believe that scientists also have the capacity to reveal the word of God? Argue with DNA. It doesn’t care. It’s a more powerful revelation than the words of a few ancient Hebrews who depended upon their imaginary god to give them power over their military enemies. Eventually the truth will rise and the lies, the hatred, and the bigotry will fall. Perhaps mixing blood is not as deadly to our souls as oozing hatred. As Jesus said, “It’s not what goes into a person from the outside that can defile; rather it’s what comes out of the person that defiles.”
Author of JACK
Photo of Lady Gaga, Getty Images taken from here.