I struggled with this title-but it is about Race
Organizing objects into categories is fundamentally human. When we encounter a new object or something perceived as unfamiliar, we evaluate whether the object is valuable to us or poses a threat. Our previous experiences with similar objects may lead to some memory permanency and influence how we evaluate the object. For example, if I know a lion will attack me when I see a lion, I will more likely run.
The unfamiliar object may initiate a curiosity to learn more about it, before we form a decision, or completely disregard it. Scientist would argue it is an instinctual response to interpret and add meaning to an object (perception) and then decide (decision making) to “fight, flight, or freeze” (behavioral response). Collectively, these processes help us to survive.
This process of perception, organizing objects into categories, forming decisions and then acting on those decisions are basic psychological processes. These psychological processes do not act alone but rather driven by numerous social and cultural forces. For example, social forces influence the availability and allocation of resources. We use psychological processes to determine the value of those resources and the steps needed to obtain them.
Consider this story:
You live in a town that no longer has the resources it needs to keep everyone alive. No food, the land is barren, and the water polluted. You decide to leave this town and go search for food. You come across another town, the people may be similar to you but they are a little different, and these people are living well. They have access to gardens and fields that provide them with the food they need. Fresh water and other kinds of amenities that allow them to live well.
The social forces that drive a lack of food in your town will drive you to do what you need to do in order to keep yourself and the people in your town alive — in this case get food. What do you do? A natural response, you get some food.
Several things has to happen. First, either you can convince the people in this town to share the food or you will have to steal the food or use some form of violence to take it. If you believe there is not enough food to share then you will need to convince yourself that you and the survival of your people are worth more than the people in this town are. You also have to convince your people, particularly those that may feel uncomfortable about stealing, that they deserve the food more than others do. You have to convince them they have a “natural right” to the food.
You must create a “their town” versus “our town” group. You may begin to convince people in your town that the lives of people in the other town do not have the same value. You may begin to convince people that it is unfair that the people in “their town” have food when they are different from you. You must tell them that these people do not deserve the food. You must create resentment, fear, anger, and a strong hatred of the people in “their town” in order for you and your people to gain access to their land, the food, other resources, and survive.
Eventually you convince the people in your town, from the child to the elder, that you must survive and this survival must come at the expense of people in “their town.” The resentment, fear, anger and hatred will drive people in your town to murder, vandalize and destroy any remnants of the people from “their town.”
Now, there was also something unique about these people in “their town.” They valued the interconnectedness of all things, a belief that a life force exist in all living organisms, and everyone has purpose and value. In fact, they were willing to trade with you and offered to give you some of their goods for your people. However, you were driven by conquest, domination of their land, the people and all their resources.
You believe there is a natural order of things and the strongest must survive. While they valued the idea that we all can share the resources, you initiated a path of violence and domination. Dominate the people, dominate the land, and then make sure your people survived while the other people did not.
While some of the people from “their town” survived, they remained traumatized as well as some of your own.
Cultural and social forces intersect into one space; they support “our town” versus “their town” social and mental categories that begin to weave a history of dehumanization. More importantly, the development of categories, identities, and character traits assigned to those people who existed in “their town” became a part of everyone’s collective memory. So ingrained into memory that future generations rarely question it. Maintaining the order of “our town” and continuing to reap benefits from the resources of “their town” relies on a story being told repeatedly. This story requires us to retell the story of conquests and greatness, the “natural” order of things, the manifested and ordained destiny while reducing the value of those other lives.
This is how I choose to tell the story of race.
The truth is the construct of race has done no infinite good but rather infinite harm. Collectively, the construct of race, racial categories and identities not only traumatized indigenous people and their land more than two hundred years ago but also remains part of our collective trauma in the 21st century. The need to control resources is connected to survival, whether controlling resources comes at the expense of people living in South America, Africa, Southern Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and other places black and brown people occupy. We continue to be a part of the milieu of race.
We will visit America and see that black lives do not matter, see the police brutalize black and brown people in Brazil and beyond, watch nations turn their heads to the suffering of black people in Haiti, Africa, discontinue fighting for Standing Rock, Flint, Michigan, continuing to read about the disempowerment of Aborigines and Maori people and so on.
Our forward action relies on us wrestling with the construct of race and challenging it and its social institutions. We must recognize the construction of race led to our historical trauma. I loosely interpret the words of Washburn, The Study of Race, our history tells us the price of race and racism is frustration, hatred, and death. It will manifest in health disparities, cardiovascular health, hypertension, neurological damage, interpersonal violence, education inequities and the list goes on. For those people who are against racism, writers, activist, academics, practitioners, poets, musicians, and all of the in between let us fight for life.