Race is like the Easter bunny: fake.
In other words, race is a social construction. We made it up.
Easter is real. Bunnies are real. But the Easter bunny is fake.
Different skin tones are real. Different abilities are real. Skin tone based abilities are fake.
The definition of race is the idea that people are better or worse at certain activities due to their skin tones. Back in the 1990's, geneticists proved that the genes for skin tones (i.e., melanin production) are not connected to genes associated with other traits like intellectual or athletic ability. In other words, race is fake.
Why does the myth of the Easter bunny persist? Because, even though the Easter bunny is fake, the eggs are very real.
Why does the myth of race persist? Because, even though race itself is fake, racism is very real.
Every year, we boil the eggs. We dye the eggs. We hide the eggs. And we top it off by telling innocent, gullible children that the Easter bunny did it. It's really no mystery why the Easter bunny shows up every spring.
Every day, we stereotype others by race. We’re boiling the eggs.
Every day, we inflate the history of some people and deflate the history of other people, all based on race. We’re dying the eggs.
Every day, we watch one news source and isolate ourselves by race and act as if we know the full story behind current events. We’re hiding the eggs.
Every day, we don’t take the racial implicit bias test and proclaim we aren’t racist. We’re telling kids the Easter bunny did it.
I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been on both sides of some kind of stereotyping, if not racial, then gender, or sexual orientation or income, or ability. We have all been underestimated or overestimated, at least once, by someone else who didn’t know us well enough to give us the right amount of credit for our real abilities.
I have been racially stereotyped many, many times in my life. People have assumed I was too black to afford groceries, too black to get a husband, too black to be educated, too black to own a business, too black to get a job, too black to have a high standardized test score, too black to work in STEM, too black to walk down the street, too black to drive a car, too black to talk to white people, too black to travel, too black to live in America, etc. The list goes on and on. And that’s just me. Other people I know, read about, and heard about, have experienced many of the same events. Some have experienced many more that I haven’t listed or haven’t experienced. I’m still alive. I haven’t been stereotyped as too black to live at all. Yet. We say the names of the women and men who have experienced the ultimate stereotyping.
We’re boiling mad because we, as a society, keep on boiling the eggs.
In school, I learned that black people have almost no positive history and white people have almost no negative history. I had to find out about the positive history of Africans and African Americans through intensive research. I also had to learn about the negative history of Europeans and European Americans outside school.
I never learned why people have different skin tones in school, even though it is part of basic scientific knowledge. We have different skin tones because of evolution. Different people ended up at varying distances from the equator. People near the sunny part of the planet ended up evolving darker skin tones as protection from the bright light. People farther away from the sunny areas evolved lighter skin tones to allow more light into their bodies. That’s it. Skin tones are about sun block. There isn’t any other reason. But, we never learned that in our grade school. It wasn’t taught because, we, as a society, don’t teach it in school.
I never learned the real reason why black people in the US have so many different skin tones in school, even though it’s common knowledge to professional historians. African people were kidnapped, illegally transported across international borders, and treated like they were European American people’s property. People can never really BE other people’s property, but people can act like its a real thing. And the results of those actions are very real.
The Easter bunny is still fake, but the eggs are still very real.
Actually BEING a slave is fake, being treated like a slave is very real.
Even before the American slave trade was outlawed, but especially afterwards, euro-American men raped afro-American women to produce more people that they could treat like property. When women with dark brown skin tones had babies from being raped by men with light cream skin tones, the children had skin tones with shades between dark and light. The more these women and their daughters were raped, the lighter the skin tones of the overall African American population. The reason why there is any statistical difference in skin tones between African Americans and Africans is the history of multigenerational rape. it can’t be primarily due to African men and European American women because miscegenation was illegal until the 1970's and black men were still being lynched for just looking at at white women deep into the civil rights movement of the 1960's.
Kidnap, rape and lynching are at the center of the unspoken history of race in America. We are dying, because we, as a society, keep on dying the eggs.
It seems like every day someone is killed at the hands of police. That’s because there are more than 365 people killed by police, every year. On average, someone IS killed every day by police. And while some people don’t believe it could possibly be that many, no one is counting those people who are almost killed. I counted up the number of encounters with police in my life and how many of them were problematic on some level. 50%. In fifty percent of my interactions with police, the police were sketchy. That number includes whether I called them for help, they profiled me, or there was a legitimate reason for us to meet. Fifty percent is pretty high for a one-bad-apple theory.
The most problematic encounter I had occurred on an afternoon in 1995. I saw the flashing lights and pulled over to the side of the road. I checked my purse for my driver’s license and insurance card. I noticed that my insurance card was expired. Since my insurance was paid automatically, I started looking for the new card. I dug deep in my purse. I looked under my seat. I popped the glove box. I searched everywhere in the car and I couldn’t find it. It was probably on my kitchen counter at home, doing me no good. Panic set in. What could I do?
Then, I realized that it had taken me quite a few minutes to search and the police officer hadn’t come to my car window. I thought it was a lucky break for me, more time to look. So, I frantically looked in all the same places with the same empty results. Giving up, I just put my head and hands down on the steering wheel. I was going to get a ticket that I didn’t want.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the police man get out of his car and start walking towards me. I was out of time. In preparation for having to admit I didn’t have my new card, I rolled down the window. I waited. And waited. And waited. I started to wonder why he wasn’t coming. I looked in the side view mirror and saw him leaning up against the side of my trunk. I thought he was trying to avoid traffic. I waited some more.
Finally, I decided he might hurry up if I said something. “Oh, Officer,” I told him. “I’m so sorry. I can’t find my new insurance card,” and I stuck my head out the window so he could hear me.
He stood up straight, walked up to my driver’s side window, put his gun back in its holster and said, “you are so lucky that I didn’t blow your head off.”
Frantic, I asked why.
He said that he thought I was looking for a gun. He told me that he had decided I hadn’t found it when he saw me put my head on the steering wheel. But he changed his mind when I opened the window. He almost pulled the trigger when he saw my head, but he decided to wait an instant to see what I had to say when he heard my voice. Needless to say he was as relieved as I was that he hadn’t shot me, but he wasn’t done being problematic with me.
He leaned down into the window and asked, as if we were old friends, where I was going in such a hurry. I said I was going to my boyfriend’s house. (My, then, boyfriend and I have since been married almost 20 years, so it was definitely a serious relationship for me.) He told me not to go out with my boyfriend, that I should be going out with him instead. I smiled nervously, since I didn’t know what to say to something that was wrong on so many levels. He told me that he wasn’t going to give me a ticket for speeding, because he knew I couldn’t afford it. He was going to give me a ticket for expired insurance because he had a plan for us. He said I was to choose the court option so he would get out of traffic duty by having to testify against me and I was to bring my new insurance card so the judge would dismiss my case in less than five minutes. He concluded with the piece de resistance, he told me that we would go to lunch afterwards.
Unprofessional doesn’t begin to cover his behavior towards me.
My experience has never been on the news. So, I know that for every person killed by police, there are countless others who had very bad treatment, but were just glad to have escaped with their lives. If I, a woman, have had fifty percent problematic encounters, many men must have a higher percentage. Most of the white people I know don’t have any experiences like that. Most of the black people I know have at least one. Most of the white people I know don’t know any black person better than they know me and they didn’t know me well enough to know this happened to me. Most white people think things like this don’t happen very often. Most white people don’t have many black people as friends. In fact, most white people don’t have any black friends that they listen to on a regular basis about their black experiences. Most black people don’t bring their whole selves to work because they know it won’t turn out well.
We’re hiding, because we, as a society, keep on hiding the eggs.
We used to have to wonder if someone was a racist. Now, we have the implicit bias test. We can know for sure. I took the racial implicit bias test. I’m actually rare in this country, because I don’t have any racial bias. From birth, we are all exposed to the media in which positive white images and negative black images are prevalent. However, I spent some time outside the US and was able to see that race is constructed differently in other countries. I took a graduate course on the social construction of race. I examined my thoughts, my language, my media choices, and my actions. I took the time and effort to turn myself into someone who could pass that racial implicit bias test.
I also took the gender implicit bias test. I’m not afraid to call myself a feminist, I’m totally on board with pay equity and I am happy to see exactly fifty percent women in every career.
I failed the gender implicit bias test. Apparently, I am much more comfortable associating female with home and male with career. I did not realize that about myself until I took the test. I had been walking through the world with a deep gender bias and acting on it, without having any idea of the less than heroic part I was playing in the struggle for gender equality. I looked back on an encounter I had at my children’s school. I went into the band hall to look for the band director. I saw a woman at a desk by the door and a man in the center of the room holding an instrument. I breezed past the woman and asked the man if he were the band director. He shook his head no and nodded toward the woman. Not happy enough in my exhibition of bias already, I asked her if she were the HEAD band director. When she said yes and mentioned her assistants, I took her to be kind of snippy, at the time. Now, I realize that I treated her as if she couldn’t possibly be a female band director, in the same way that a woman once treated me as if I couldn’t possibly be a black Ph.D. candidate.
I am so tired of people telling me they aren’t racist when they haven’t taken the racial implicit bias test. And they like to top it off with a they-aren’t-racist-either voucher for someone who’s done something problematic, when they haven’t seen that person’s test results. Trust me, no one gets called out for racist tooth brushing. If many people are speaking out, the problem is lack of understanding why it’s wrong, not whether it’s wrong. Let he who has passed the racial implicit bias test be the judge. Literally. People who haven’t passed all the implicit bias tests shouldn’t be judges. I’m telling the the truth and nothing but the truth.
We are telling the truth, because we, as a society, are telling children the Easter bunny did it.
The Easter bunny didn’t create this race problem. We, as a society, did. We, as individuals, can check out stereotypes at the door, learn our real African and American history, reach for the whole story behind current events by listening to our diverse friend set and brace ourselves for the truth, every day.