What do you call yourself? How do you see yourself? Do you say, "I'm just a white guy"? "I'm just a black woman"?
A problem with our everyday speech is that too often we must describe other people, and in doing so, we usually add racial descriptors.
If you are white, how often have you heard your white friends or family specifically mention that someone is black when telling a story where that detail is irrelevant? Here are some examples:
"The black cashier at the store helped carry the groceries for the old lady." What race is the old lady? Is she black? Is it implied that she is white? Why does it matter to the story?
"The cashier at the store helped carry the groceries for the old black lady." How is this version of the story different?
"The cashier at the store helped carry the groceries for the old lady." No racial modifiers here. Isn't this version just as accurate as the others? Why do we rely on racial descriptors when telling stories? Particularly when they involve non-white people.
Who would say, "I'm just a white guy"?
The truth is: no one.
Why? Because we white guys are all pretty different. We have different hobbies. We like different foods. We work in different environments. We listen to different music.
Who would say, "I'm just a black guy"?
Why? Again, because we're all different.
Let me tell you a story:
A person walks into a restaurant. They sit and order the lunch special. The chef accidentally forgets to add the special sauce, and the customer is furious. The customer proceeds to begin a shouting match with the server who finally tells the chef about the mistake. The chef apologizes to the customer, offers a free meal, but the customer is adamant that they will not return.
Now what if we add racial modifiers? Use your imagination:
A ______ person walks into a restaurant. They sit and order the lunch special. The _______ chef accidentally forgets to add the special sauce, and the _______ customer is furious. The _______ customer proceeds to begin a shouting match with the _______ server who finally tells the _______ chef about the mistake. The _______ chef apologizes to the _______ customer, offers a free meal, but the _______ customer is adamant that they will not return.
The racial adjectives and descriptors don't add anything to the story other than to reinforce an antiquated notion that all members of a race are the same. They aren't. Are you "just a ______ guy or gal"?
It's not simply a black and white issue. African, Asian, Australian, European, North American, South American, we're all different, even peoples from the same continent. Germans can tell themselves apart from Italians. Japanese can distinguish themselves from Chinese. Mostly. Because human history includes many examples of cultural and genetic bleed across borders including trade, war, and exploration. People cans still tell themselves apart, but differences are primarily cultural and genetic (visually, phenotypically). These differences still do not fully describe a person. They do not distinguish a person from the culture. And phenotype doesn't make a person mutually inclusive or exclusive from a culture.
We perceive people from other cultures as inherently different from ourselves. The differences are cultural, not racial. Food is just one example of a cultural difference that could be (and is) racially stereotyped. Americans are born and raised eating American food. Chinese are born and raised eating Chinese food. Africans are born and raised eating African food. Who doesn’t love their native or childhood foods? But when you try food from another place, it can be appetizing too. Americans eat Chinese food all the time. Does food make us different?
The visual genetic differences are relics from our culturally isolated past. Because of globalization, visual differences and cultural differences are no longer mutually inclusive. This is most apparent in America where so many different types of people share their cultural heritage. What would you call an American man with Asian heritage who loves to hunt and eat bratwurst? Is he just an Asian guy? He is an American. And moreover he’s an interesting person. When we resort to purely visual labeling, we lose out on the nuances that really define a person. What are their interests, their goals, their passions, their struggles, their vices, their morals? Individual answers to these questions are more defining of a person than their skin color.
When you ignore the cultural influences such as food, clothing, and language, the basic differences fade away. Our morals are fairly similar—the major religions share very similar moral codes. Our vices are nearly universal—smoking, drinking, sex, and so on. Our struggles keep us fighting and working for a better life for ourselves and our children. Our passions and faith keep us going when the burden is too much to bear. Our goals keep us focused on what is most important. Our interests make us interesting. In the end, we are not all that different.
To combat racism, one of the biggest things we can do is to skip the racial descriptors. Just call them a guy, or gal, or person. Because we are all part of the human race.
The author is just a white guy.
Written by Nathaniel Pantalone, VP of Marketing for OWB LLC
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