Tuesday, September 23, 2008
COEXIST XI - Are We So Different?
Recently the Cleveland Plain Dealer featured an article by Margaret Bernstein that reported a traveling exhibit coming to our Museum of Natural history entitled - "Race: Are we so Different?" She states," The DNA strands twisting through the cells of any one individual, whether that person be black, white, Asian, or Latino, bear surprisingly similar patterns to all other humans, especially when compared with the genetic variance in other species." She goes on to report that all humans originated in Africa and that the varieties of skin color evolved as an adaptation to the sun's ultraviolet rays.
I don't know about you, but I don't find that all that surprising. It's even biblical. Whether you believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first two people on Earth or whether you believe they represent the first humans God created - we're pretty clear that it was over in the Middle East - North African region of the Earth.
I don't think that I've ever doubted that God created ALL people equal and in His image. So what happened? First the Native Americans were here. I won't go into the horrific way they were treated by our European ancestors, but the Plain Dealer article sites the example of federal lawmakers in the 1880's trying to make the American Indian culture disappear. There are photographs of Indian children in their traditional garb and long hair and four months later the same children dressed in school uniforms, sporting chopped off braids. That's just one example of the intolerance of other cultures.
We know that African people were brought here to be slaves. I 'm sure some slaves were treated well and maybe even revered their masters, but for the most part I would think it was a life one would want to escape from. So what did they do? They created their own culture. Songs, food, stories, which eventually were passed down through the generations. In the course of history slavery in America was not all that long ago - and so now we continue to have differing cultures. This is where racism, intolerance and bigotry come in.
I will never forget the year I was assigned to a new school building. The district was providing a lot of "multicultural" training for all the teachers. I was new to the staff , and in the course of one of our multicultural sessions I made some kind of comment about all the students being the same to me. There were several black teachers on the staff and they became infuriated with me for that statement. "No! They are not the same! You must recognize their differences and celebrate them!" (or something to that effect). A rather loud and uncomfortable discussion followed while I tried to slide under the table.
Later, the principal, who was a black woman, said to me something like - someday you'll understand. I felt foolish and humiliated. The principal never liked me after that day.
That experience stuck with me. What's wrong with us being equal but not the same? What's wrong with different cultures within one country? Nothing as long as tolerance and coexisting happen from both sides.