True Colors

This is a slightly more serious post from me this week.  For those of us who are even remotely aware of some recent headlines, it’s been a roller coaster couple of weeks—particularly with respect to issues and stories involving race, gender, and the politics of living in a diverse, multi-racial, multi-ethnic country such as the United States.

First there was the backlash to a new Cheerios commercial featuring a bi-racial family juxtaposed against the whole ugly Paula Deen debacle playing out in the media.

On Tuesday, Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis staged an almost 13-hour filabuster in efforts to block the passage of a new, more restrictive abortion bill in Texas.  Our week compounded with a slew of additional headlines about various SCOTUS rulings that included striking down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, as well as DOMA and Prop 8.  And yesterday, we saw the passage of a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate that now moves on to the House.

Phew.  Did I get it all?  My guess is that many of our government agencies are doing their best to get stuff done before the end of term and the July 4th holidays next week.

And somewhat lost in the jumble of this week’s headlines is George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin where Rachel Jeantel, the prosecution’s star witness who was on the phone with Martin just before he was murdered, seems to be more a target of the trial rather than the suspect, Zimmerman.

There’s a lot going on, and all of it is loosely and thematically related to issues of power and inequality based on socio-economic class—which in our country, also happens to be intricately tied to gender and skin color.  Honest dialogue on issues regarding race and gender is often repressed, ignored, or polarizing precisely because they are representative of something deeper that we don’t do a very good job of talking about openly in this country.  That’s because discussions about race and gender and the politics of race and gender are really about the dynamics of systemic racism, sexism, privilege, and power.

Most Americans are uncomfortable talking about privilege, power, and inequality because in my opinion, power is simply a zero-sum game.  When a previously marginalized group becomes empowered, this simultaneously means that the group currently in control has lost a bit of power.  And for anyone currently in control, of course they’d rather not give up any of that power or control.  That’s the simple honest truth that no one really likes or wants to admit.  “Growing the pie” in America doesn’t really work, as seen in the heightened concentration of power and wealth in seemingly less diverse and representative blocks.

Or maybe I’m a just old-school and I still believe in realpolitik when it comes to American domestic politics, which largely explains the dysfunction and gridlock in our government.  In the zero-sum world, your loss is my gain, and vice-versa, which leads to simplified and short-term thinking.

We don’t really like to admit that this perspective has led to a harsh American reality: that it’s getting harder and harder for each successive generation to achieve the “American dream,” whatever that dream might mean.  We also don’t like to admit that one person inherently has more worth than another because of socioeconomic class, which is intricately tied to gender and skin color.

Here’s an article from Michelle Norris’ Race Card Project on NPR that I saw earlier this week that puts my rambling thoughts into a tangible real world example.  A six-word submission from a woman in Louisiana: “Black babies cost less to adopt.”  This is where it gets real.  I know that the adoption market is a specialized market based on supply and demand.  But still, the fact that a Caucasian or Biracial baby costs almost twice as much as an African American baby seems… just wrong.  And the market for adopting babies is broken down into painful, but common-knowledge specifics, as shown in the screen grab from an adoption consulting group.

And while it’s a different market, another real world example related to the discussion is in the realm of Assisted Reproductive Technology.  Certain market dynamics are at play in the search for egg donors, and there are cases where eggs donated by an Asian female might fetch up to 2-3X more relative to other races because of short supply.  This also seems… wrong.

We don’t like to say it, but market economics don’t lie, even when it comes down to putting a price tag on human life.  And many of us don’t like to admit that we also do the same, quietly and subconsciously in our everyday lives through our own personal prejudices and stereotypes.

So where does it leave us?  America is more divided and polarized than ever.  And various polls (like The Atlantic/Aspen Institute American Values Survey released today) seem to indicate as much.  According to the survey that sampled over 2,000 Americans, more than 60 percent of Americans say we are more divided as a country now than we were 10 years ago, with even higher percentages saying America is at least as fragmented now as it was during the Great Depression, Vietnam, and Watergate.  According to the survey results, we’ve become the Divided States of America.

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Am I a patriotic American?  Yes.  Naïve as it may still sound, I still actually believe that the United States is a country of opportunity, and one that is still able to offer the greatest opportunity to the greatest number of people.  But I have concerns about my country and the increasingly polarizing extremes that I’m forced to navigate between.

And so I’ll leave you with this simple video.  (That Petronas—the national oil company in Malaysia—made this commercial is intriguing since Malaysia happens to be a country that has had a debilitating history of institutionalized ethnic discrimination.)  But even despite my own concerns about this commercial, I still appreciate the simplicity of the message, and hope for a future in a post-racial America where my children might actually have a conversation like the one between these two boys.

Happy Friday, Happy July 4th, and Happy 237th Birthday USA!

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