Thursday, January 21, 2016

Like and Unlike Alike

I don't think I want a world that ignores my Blackness, my masculinity, my height, my weight, my family, my hometown, my language, or anything else that makes me, me. I want a world that acknowledges those qualities, embraces them, challenges me to constantly critique and improve them, and allows me the freedom to pursue my dreams precisely because I am all of those things and more. I want a world that understands the following: It is often the acknowledgement & celebration of our differences that enables & enhances our humanity.
Wade G. Morgan. "Differences, Equality, & The Oscars: A Reflection on Stacey Dash's Comments"
If we understand while while the acknowledgement and celebration of differences often, but not exclusively, enable and enhances the humanity of persons, then we can imaging a world that challenges people to constantly critique and improve their individual qualities, and allows people the freedom to pursue their dreams, but neither acknowledges nor embraces those qualities. Then we are left with a question, namely, would the freedom to pursue dreams, or the critique or improvement of the self be notably different if the rationale behind them were different? If they were precisely because of the shared humanity that we all have, and nothing else, would anyone be able to perceive the difference?

The question is an important one because it drives at the heart of what it means to be equal. In unequal societies, where factors such as sex, ethnicity, language, sexuality or what have you mean that some people have the freedom to improve themselves and pursue their dreams at the direct expense of others, are the remaining differences between individuals in the dominant group embraced and celebrated? Or are they often ignored - seen perhaps as important to the individual and those close to them, but without significance in the greater scheme of things?

If, during the long stretch of American history when the superiority of White Americans was taken for granted and encoded into law, White people acknowledged and celebrated their differing heights, weights, family backgrounds, et cetera, then it makes perfect sense to continue that tradition into today. And you could wonder, if this had been the status quo in the relatively recent past, why there is such a push to alter it today. Perhaps some suspicion would be justified.

But if they didn't care, if a White person from New Jersey were not seen as being any different than a White person from South Carolina, then perhaps we should ask why it should be considered important that the individual traits that make us, us be taken into account. For much (and in the minds of some people, all) of American history, to not be a member of the White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant class of American meant constantly being told, in innumerable ways, "You're different, and that's bad." Given this, it is understandable that we would want the current ethos to be one of "You're different, and that's good." But if others have not needed to hear this down through the years, why should we desire it now?

Mr. Morgan asks a probing question when he wonders: "Rather than assume that differences disable cohesion, what if we assumed that differences enable cohesion?" But there is another question that goes unasked: "What if we assumed that similarities enable cohesion?" Note that this is not the same as assuming that differences disable cohesion. There is no particular reason to suspect that just because either similarities or differences enable cohesion, than the other must, by definition, disable the same. It is entirely possible that both work, and perhaps equally well. And if Americans of the past used their similarities to enable cohesion, why would we assume that they taught their descendants in the present to do things any differently? Or that we will teach them to do so?

There would a distinct irony were it to turn out that the primary obstacle to cohesion was the very language of cohesion. But it would not be unprecedented. Irony has rarely been in short supply.

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