Society says I’m “white”. I have mostly European ancestors. But my skin is, by no means, white. I’m told the fact that I am “white” causes me to experience favor in many situations. According to http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0882775.html, The average “black man” made 75 cents for every dollar the average “white man” made in 2013.
Society says I am a “man”. I was born with a penis and testicles. As I reached puberty, I began growing hair on my face and on other parts of my body. But there are many attributes like strength, courage, and a lack of emotion tied with this social construct of “man” that would seem to not be dictated by the genitalia a person is born with. Still, I’m told that the fact that I am a “man” causes me to experience favor in many situations. According to http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0882775.html, The average “white woman” made 78 cents for every dollar the average “white man” made in 2013.
In looking for a cause for this imbalance, we may turn to history. Our country was founded by males of European dissent. From the start, people with skin of a similar tone and similarly shaped genitalia to me were in places of power. The Fifteenth Amendment made it illegal to deny a person’s right to vote as a result of his “race” or “color”. This amendment was ratified in 1870. Likewise, the Nineteenth Amendment was only approved by congress in 1919. This amendment made the act of denying a person’s right to vote as a result of her sex illegal. For as long as our country has existed, people of the social constructs that were also placed upon me have been in places of power. Many of these “white men” felt it was good for people who had these social constructs placed upon them to stay in power. That is, it was believed that women and people of African dissent would not be as well equipped to hold a position of authority over others. As evidenced by the earning gaps, there would seem to be many in power who still feel this way.
My question is as follows: Should I be made to feel guilty for a system that favors me? Sure it was and is “white men” who birthed and propitiate this unbalanced system. But I am not one of them. All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares. When I find myself in a place of authority, I try to treat each person without regard for his or her “race” or gender. This does not mean showing favor to someone because he or she has been historically discriminated against.
I understand that words only have the power we assign them. I understand that offense happens in the mind of the offended. The term “nigger” has historically been used by people of European dissent as means of creating distance between people of European and African dissent. The term was often used as a way of dehumanizing people of African dissent. But the word will only have that power as long as we let it. I’ve suggested the worst thing one can call a United States citizen of European dissent is “racist”. This term, like the term “nigger” would seem to imply a lesser value of the person. As we have developed as a society, a common value among most groups of people has become open-mindedness. In our society the bigot is often viewed as the lowest form of human, a drain on society, a plague on those of us who respect each other, a reason to continue the “race” conversation.
But again, these words only have the power we give them. In spite the fact that our ideas about groups of people have historically been fairly inaccurate, these labels hold an incredible weight. The power of these labels may be observed in the labels we use to identify people of different continental dissent. We call this “race” as if we are different species. One could see how the term “race” could inspire some to cling to the idea that people of a darker skin tone are less than human. We call each other “black” and “white”, never taking a moment to realize most of us have skin of varying shades of brown. These words mean what they mean because we have assigned meaning to them. Not one of us would seem to be confused when someone says something about a “white” or “black” person. And yet, to meet a person with truly white or black skin would seem incredibly rare.
Likewise, discrimination against women and people of African dissent will only continue as long as we recognize these social constructs as valuable to the way we view the world. Sure we are different. But I believe it is time we recognize these differences are not significant when it comes to a person’s value. I don’t suspect we will ever live in a color-blind world or a world absent of gender stereotypes. The goal should not be to ignore our differences, but rather to understand them. We should celebrate our differences, understanding that these differences make our world a truly great place.
I’m not sorry I was born with this skin and this genitalia. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty for the actions of people who look like me. I am going to try to love everyone I meet and hope that, one day, everyone will see the world the way I do.