Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Race Matters....Damn Right it Does

Race has always fascinated me. As a product of an interracial marriage I can tell you that race is a major factor in human relations. Its the first thing we notice about someone who we see, aside from gender. In the U.S., the melting pot of the world, more specifically in the Big Apple, arguably the most diverse city on Earth, race relations here get tested in ways akin to a giant social experiment.

In Queens where I grew up I grew up around people from all over the world. I interacted with whites, blacks, and all different kinds of Latinos and Asians. Since the U.S. isn't a country based on race, and instead based on an ideology, becoming "Americanized" is easier for many immigrants here. I've noticed that many second generation Asians Americanize pretty quickly. You'll see many people of different races hanging out with one another in New York. Many "ethnic" neighborhoods are mixed among different immigration populations. I believe becoming Americanized is a key ingredient for immigrants and American born citizens alike to finding a unifying commonality between the diverse backgrounds that their ancestors inhabited.

American culture is the glue that holds us all together. Otherwise, when we see some immigrants who never adopt American cultural values, they are often found living in a cultural bubble and usually do not interact with members outside their race or ethnicity. I've seen this first hand many times in New York City. Some immigrants live in ethnic enclaves and live as if they are still at home in their country. They watch TV in their native language, listen to music in their native language, read books and newspapers in their native language, eat traditional foods and never speak English except when they have to. Well the U.S. constitution doesn't force anyone to adopt American values and replace them with their old ways of doing things. It has to do a lot with the age of an immigrant when they come to the U.S. There is an age somewhere around 15-17 where if an immigrant comes here before that age they will have enough time growing up in the U.S. that its culture will rub off on them enough for them to become Americanized maybe even fully. After about 17ish a person is already almost an adult and solidified in their ways and might never become fully Americanized. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule.

As far as being "Americanized" goes there is an interesting point I observed. Traditionally in the U.S. there were two cultures: White America and Black America. Each with their respective traditions and ways. There is not doubt that white and black America have distinctions in their culture. So when immigrants come here they have two choices of how they can become Americanized. Depending on their environment, I've noticed many immigrants becoming African Americanized and adopt aspects of black culture in America. Adopting black slang or Ebonics, hip hop as their favorite music of choice, and traditionally black ways of walking and dressing. I was speaking with a Puerto Rican friend who I used to work with a few months back about how all the second generation Indian Americans are now all "acting black" and how we are annoyed by that. I remember him asking me why, if you could imitate any subculture in America, would you choose to imitate the one that is at the bottom of the list in terms of socioeconomic status. I agreed with him.

On issues regarding black and white, the two traditional groups in America (besides Native Americans who never had a significant place in American culture) many cultural and economic problems occur. I've always been fascinated talking and thinking about white and black people in America. The history of slavery and racial discrimination come to mind. Class and economics, and crime come to mind. For example, in New York City, which is almost evenly sliced into quarters in terms of the racial makeup of its people, black people at about 25% of its population are responsible for about 65% of the known homicide perpetrators as well as victims. So fully two-thirds of murders are committed by and against black people. This over representation, which is reflected in most other cities with black populations, is the root cause of negative stereotypes of black people and in particular black men.

As long as you have statistics like this being reported of the evening news and in the newspapers black men will continue to be seen as violent criminals. Blacks are also usually the most poverty stricken and jobless groups in every city and state where they live (although sometimes Latinos give them strong competition). I was talking with a friend recently about the lack of blacks and Latinos in the fields of science. Name me one famous black scientist, or Latino one for that matter. I dare you. They exist but we don't have one famous non-white scientist that is a household name in the U.S. Is it do to white racism? A white washing of history that we learn? No doubt we learn history mostly from the white man's perspective in American schools. Still statistical evidence shows that only about "4 percent of minority high school graduates have taken the math and science courses necessary to start working toward an engineering degree (NY Times). So minorities, I'm not sure if this includes the "model minorities" the Asians, are underrepresented in science and math. That's not really news to anyone. I respect black intellectuals like Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson (although I don't always agree with them) for their passion of knowledge and analytical skills at race relations in America. We need more minority men like this. These men are real role models. They aren't perfect, but they are examples of making the right choices in life and doing something positive for a world with so much negativity.

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