There is a meme deep in the psyche of human beings that alerts us to ‘different’ people. Anthropologists note that this keen discrimination-ability may have played an important survival role in our far-distance heritage, alerting one tribe of people to a ‘foreign’ tribe member, who could possibly seek to harm the clan. We Americans should have lost that meme with the melting pot of people we encounter day after day in our lives. We can, however, easily distinguish a Swede from an Eskimo. Most can separate a person of northern European ancestry from one of Mediterranean ancestry. Some can distinguish a Latino from a Hispanic. The Greeks and Turks see sharp differences in each others as do Poles and Russians but I cannot.
Yet, most Americans chunk people together and paint with broad strokes. Blacks, for example, encompass a large pool of people, many of whom have quite distinct characteristics. Interestingly, on the 2010 census, the ‘race’ box to check [if non-white] offered: __ BLACK, AF. AMERICAN or NEGRO. Have you ever seen a person with black skin outside of the burn unit of a level one trauma center?
Rather, the most non-reflective skin tones are shades of brown, from the melanin type eumelanin. Eumelanin, interestingly, exhibits incomplete dominance, which we learned in high school biology is the type that the early botanist, Gregor Mendel fiddled with in his monastic garden. The Punnett squares told the story of incomplete dominance when a white and red flower produced 4 pink offspring.
The term ‘black people’ ought not be an indicator of skin color, but a socially based racial classification which, in it’s most extreme case, is the one-drop rule. Yet the U.S. Census Bureau maintains this social classification of our citizens. Our American slave heritage apparently remains strong in our collective memories. Thus, it remains virulent, pun intended.
Last evening my wife and I attended a celebration titled, ‘Dr. Martin Luther King Shabbat, ‘ offered at Temple Shomer Emunim, during their Friday Shabbat service. It was easy for me to distinguish the visiting ‘black’ choir from the temple’s choir, yet it was an interesting blend of cultures as I watched and listened to each group honor the memory of Dr. King. Each culture has had a history of intolerance with both cultures on someone’s ethnic cleansing list. Both are on the KKK’s target.
Both groups sang songs of hope and freedom- freedom from prejudice, of course, here in the Land of the Free. Most inspiring was the final song sung by both choirs assembled at the front of the worship space. They and we joined together to sing all of the verses of, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ As you recall, the verses end in ‘some day.’ Yes, some day but when will that day come? When? When those ancient memes that alerted our distant ancestors fade out of our memories. Yet, they are still virulent.