America, do something about your ethnic strife or please shut up about intervening in other dysfunctional countries forever.

I’ve been meaning to write about how sad I am about the current state of mere coexistence in this country for a while now but have been putting it off, mostly because I’ve been busy with work, but also because sadness isn’t very inspiring. It’s not like anger. I can rant all day, ask anyone. Ranting is good because it might spur the change you want to see.  Our country’s fissures, though, seem every day further removed from the possibility of healing.

Charleston AME

Coexisting because you have no other choice isn’t much of an aspiration.

It was clearly evident after Freddie Gray died on April 12, 2015. My previous post was a reaction to the ensuing Facebook shit show, with one (predominantly white) segment “standing with the police,” trolling about black-on-black violence, and even posting the absolutely horrific sentiment that Gray deserved to be killed for his previous record. On the other side, the (predominantly black and/or grad student) segment likened the police presence to slavery and called for people of color to “fight back.” It was absolutely disheartening to see so many people completely talking past one another. I bet many of them went to town on Facebook’s unfollow option, which only increased the shrillness and vitriol because then there wasn’t even the one sane moderate humbly critiquing your hateful posts, only the thirty members of the choir you’re preaching to showering you with likes and hell yeahs.

For the record, I find it almost impossible to imagine that Gray died from any other way than excessive force by the police. Whether or not the officers’ actions were motivated by race is another matter. It’s a matter that might affect the legal details of the case but happens to be irrelevant to the bigger picture that we Americans are still ridiculously motivated by race.

I don’t mean just whites. I mean all of us. We cling to racial identity as if it actually means something, we insist on ascribing characteristics to races in a way that would’ve made Louis Aggasiz blush. Aggasiz, using that sophisticated measuring-the-volume-of-sand-in-skulls method in the years leading up to the Civil War, only argued that blacks are stupid. In 2015 I witnessed Facebookers call blacks stupid, lazy, dishonest, violent, and (in the case of Freddie Gray) deserving death for breaking society’s rules.

What a mistake it is to assume that these are the ramblings of fringe white supremacists intent on safeguarding their privilege, though. There are so many people who truly believe those things, and they live in fear. These are people honestly can’t imagine why black families are worried about their sons encountering police because it’s so far removed from their own experiences of cops directing traffic or giving them a friendly wave at the doughnut shop. They don’t consider how humiliating it is to constantly see pedestrians cross to the other side of the street, let alone have chubby security guards subtly trail you through the Walgreens. They aren’t even bad people, only people who don’t know.

On the other hand, there are also people who genuinely consider today’s cops to be analogous to plantation overseers. Because of that they too live in fear and calling for violence to end violence seems to be the only option left. They call whites greedy, dishonest, violent, and deserving death for gaming the system to their perpetual advantage. It hasn’t occurred to them that white people don’t think of themselves as descendants of slaveholders because to them honoring the experience of the enslaved is still very salient. They can’t imagine what it’s like barely being to make ends meet for your family yet being told to “check your privilege.” Again, though, they aren’t bad people.

So we need to talk. Better yet, we need to think. At this point I can’t imagine it getting better unless we consciously stop using race as a category of difference. It’s a shameful historical relic that never did serve any purpose other than demarcating us vs. them, and if you’re sure you’re the good guy it’s difficult to see that the other guy might be good too. To quote the poet Kai Zen: “The truth is, there is no race but the human race. But we want there to be race, otherwise how would we know who wins?”

Asian doctor writing in medical record

If you’re concerned about what rejecting race categorization as dumb and offensive might look like, ask the Orientals, the members of the yellow race, how it worked out for them.

Case in point: Last night nine congregants at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopalian church in Charleston were killed by a gunman who allegedly screamed “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country!” as he reloaded five times. Three times as many people died in Charleston compared to the Boston Marathon, but we’re in so deep that even this very fucking blatant act of terrorism is somehow controversial. Somehow, the same War on Terror zealots who went apeshit over the Tsarneav brothers can’t muster the outrage to say one word about this shooter. Somehow, “rednecks” and their “white supremacist culture” need to be dragged into the fray. This is what I mean by our current state of mere coexistence. We coexist, barely, because we have to, but the dysfunction is submerged only just below the surface.

This is the first part of a series of three posts!