Monday, August 29, 2016

More on Gray Matter Matters

While I've shared my thoughts on this serious matter in my previous blog post, "Gray Matter Matters!", it's worth pointing out that the black versus white crisis in our country was recently provoked by the tragic death of Freddie Gray. For the purpose of my blog, he couldn't have had a more appropriate surname.*

Although preceded by Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and others, Freddie Gray's death at the hand of the police sparked national outrage and widespread violence.

Image result for black and white
Why is everything so "black and white"
nowadays? Sheesh...
His name symbolically reminds us Gray was not a "Black," nor was the tragedy that he died as a "Black" at the hand of "Whites." It's that he was human by virtue of his gray matter, his human spirit that was snuffed out prematurely by human beings who are also only human, no more, no less. If there was excessive force and the police were guilty, the court must decide that. But let's not make this into a national White versus Black battle, when it was all about Gray. We can mourn Gray because he was human, and can hold police responsible because they're human, if there were indeed responsible. And if they were acquitted, then we can still try to brainstorm ways to improve the lot of minorities in underpriviledged neighborhoods and prevalent attitudes vis-a-vis law enforcement. But let's do it without the rhetoric.

The polarization of Americans into Blacks and Whites is artificial and divisive, and, as I argued in my previous post, semantically inaccurate. Yes, prejudices sadly exist, but let's not help the bigots by agreeing to the artifical divisions that racial bias created. Let's re-educate the American people and remove the disgraceful and false disparities that divide us into "Black," "White," "Brown" or "Blue."

Speaking of Blue, it’s ironic that this black and white controversy has engulfed the country specifically with regards to law enforcement, because growing up, we always referred to police as the “black and white” due to their iconic dual-painted vehicles. Besides for the obvious benefit of making police cars easily identifiable, it seems to me that the symbolism in black and white is that the law is color blind. You either broke the law or you didn’t. There ought not to be any gray area or nuanced shades of sketchiness when it comes to the law. Hence the black and white. The polarity and clarity of black and white applies to the law and its enforcement, not to people. The same law applies to a shoplifter of deeper shades of pigment or of lighter shades. A rapist must be prosecuted and penalized because of his crime, irrespective of his skin’s hue. And a police officer who shoots a civilian of a different pigmentation, whether armed or unarmed, must be investigated thoroughly and objectively and not presumed to be racist or unduly brutal until proven guilty. Let’s diffuse racial tensions by reminding everyone that people cannot be all black or all white. We’re all brown. So while the law ought to be black and white, humans are nuanced and complex, and should never be lumped together by skin hue or ethnicity.

Perhaps the lesson here is, life is not so “black and white.” Let’s work together to stop racial prejudice, but not by vague or amorphous platitudes like “institutional bigotry” that threaten to create a new type of reverse bias, but by dealing with each individual case objectively and without equally-objectionable “guilty-till-proven-innocent” prejudice.

Please don’t judge me by my lack of pigment and lump me together with “white” slave owners of two centuries ago, or with “white” slum lords of fifty years ago. My ancestors never owned slaves, at least not for thousands of years. To the contrary, my ancestors were themselves enslaved, robbed, expropriated, murdered, treated like second-class citizens, even until quite recently. In fact, my great grandparents were murdered by Ukranian hordes in a rabidly anti-Semitic pogrom in 1919. But I do not blame all Europeans for it. So please don’t blame me because of my lighter skin. That’s racism.

(In fact, I reject the very notion of black and white. When asked my race on legal forms, I never check off "white." Instead, I either decline or write "Jewish." That's the only part of my ethnicity that matters, because it pertains deeply to my gray matter. Personally I wouldn't even concede to being of European descent. Who cares which continent my grandparents emigrated from? If anything, I'm of ancient Middle-Eastern descent, but why does that matter?)

On the same token, it's fair to assume that the ancestors of the majority of Americans never owned slaves. For all we know, the ancestors of the slain police officer may have well been an abolitionist or Union soldier who risked his life to end slavery! Let's stop prejudging decent and peace-loving human beings of lesser pigment because of the nefarious deeds of a select few plantation owners or robber barons who happen to share the same complexion. That's racism.

Let's stop calling people African Americans. Why does it matter where their ancestors hailed from? They've never been to Africa, just as most Irish Americans have never been to Ireland. These indivuals are just as American as you and me, and perhaps even more so, because many of their ancestors contributed vitally to the growth and economy of the colonies and later country at expense off their own freedom. So if you'd like to right the wrongs of the last and honor the descendents of slaves, let's call them exceptional Americans.

But the most important thing is to stop the color labeling of white, black or brown, or even the continental labeling of African American, Asian American, etc.

The world has a lot to learn from the Jewish People. There are no “white Jews” or “black Jews” or “brown Jews.” We are all just plain Jews.

Mayor David Dinkins of New York City visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe shortly after the Crown Heights race riots of '91 and said that he was hoping that people of good will "on both sides" would bring peace to both peoples. The Rebbe responded that there are not "two sides" and "two peoples," but that we are all one people on one side.

That is what true leadership sounds like.

* Please don't interpret my play on words as minimizing the enormity of the tragedy. Semantics happens to be my pasttime. By the way, speaking of last names, it's also worth pointing out that another young victim's name was Michael Brown ( which hits close to home, as I am Michael Green). Perhaps the message here is the same: Michael was not "black" (nor are the police "white" or "blue"). Rather, he was Brown, as we all are. So why should degree of brown-ness matter? Shall we start classifying people by the degree of how brown they are? Sounds absurd, doesn't it? Yes it is, as absurd as calling people "black" or "white."
Go Brown! And Gray! (And Green! 😉)

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