Racism, Diversity and Cultural Appropriation


Social divisions are more prevalent now more then ever. The United States, once a melting pot, is breaking down into individual groups that are becoming more and more antagonistic to each other. While many will say this is driven by racism I contend it is based on the loss of diversity in the original meaning of the concept. The United States is the most heterogeneous society in the world, a mixture of cultures and languages unknown in the rest of the world. After the Second World War the US began to address the problems of racism, not all at once and not with a massive single movement, but a beginning. There is no need to rehash the civil rights movement other then to say had society not come together as a single force, the movement would have failed. One thing that helped us come together was the way the neighborhoods developed in the 50s and 60s. Unlike the intercity neighborhoods of the past, that were Jewish, Italian, Irish or black, the new neighborhoods were diverse. The neighborhood I grew up in was a mix of Italian, Irish, and black. The neighborhood my children grow up in was less easily defined. In this neighborhood while there were some families whose parents could be defined by ethnicity or race most were a mix. Apart from the two Ukrainian families, that came over as refugees, as did my mother-in-law from Germany, most had mixed ancestries and we knew them as Americans.
This is what was meant as diversity. We accept everyone’s background and culture and meld it into a single culture. How many of us who are not Italian eat pasta, not Polish eat Kielbasa, not Mexican eat taco’s? Even those most American of meals, the Hamburger and the Hot Dog come to us from Germany. Because of economic expansion even those last bastions of homogeneity such as the south and mid-west have broken down. Why then have we lost all the progress we made in the past decades and are back to an us versus them mentality, or are we.
The popular view is that the US is breaking down into racial and political subsets that are building barriers and preparing to do war with the others. This is a popular view in most news and information outlets. If you believe the popular viewpoints then all white American males are racist misogynistic Neanderthals, filled with hate and armed to the teeth. On the other side all African-American males are rapist and/or murdering drug dealers, and if not, then they are victims of police brutality because all police are racist who arbitrarily pull over all blacks and given the chance, shot them. No where do we read about a society that is civil and populated by people who practice common courtesies and act with common sense. This of course is explained through the old adage “Dog bites man is not news; man, bites dog, is news.” In this day and age of a 24/7 news cycle and instant reporting any story that fits the current narrative is splashed across any outlet available, regardless of truth and with no time to verify. Does this mean racism does not exist, of course not. Racism exist in this country and almost everywhere else, but to what extent does it impact the majority of citizens.
Today we celebrate the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King who once said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This is in fact where we were headed, we were moving forward into a colorblind society and we continued to absorb other cultures and grow as a nation, then it stopped and now we are moving backwards. To once again quote Dr. King: “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
The vast majority of Americans today have continued to move forward. In the 50 years since the seminal year of 1968 much has changed in race relations and social interactions. Racial equality is both legally mandated and generally accepted. So how did we get the white supremist movement. We did not just get it, it was always there. The Klan, the neo-Nazi’s and the other groups calming white supremacy are not new nor are they a large part of white society. Their size and power has been grossly distorted by a news media anxious to build up subscribers and viewers in a shrinking market. The election of Donald Trump on a populist platform accelerated the use of racial division in the news and as a political weapon even though it was driven by false and fallacious reporting. Even before Trumps election there were groups that needed to exacerbate the racial divide. On college campuses we have seen calls for black only dorms, classes and black only areas, which I s the absolute opposite of what we need for racial equality. This is the worst thing if you truly need to have a vibrant and diverse campus.
The main reason any society needs diversity is to grow. To grow all sections of society must join together and function as one. Accept from each those things that help the community grow and reject those that are not in line with the societies norms and values. What do I mean by rejecting some aspects of a culture? Let’s start with female genital mutilation and move onto Sharia law, or any practice that rejects equality. Diversity does not mean separation it means inclusion.
Lastly, we need to get over the concept of cultural appropriation. What that means is one cultural taking over another and claiming it as its own. It does not mean wearing a sombrero to a collage Cinco de mayo beer bash. When I wear Kurdish clothes to a Newroz celebration it is not cultural appropriation it is cultural appreciation. Wearing an Hawaiian shirt to a luau or a shamrock pin to a St. Patrick’s Day parade is OK.
Let’s honor Dr. King today and every day and move forward as a single people with a diverse culture.

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