“Calm Down, Ladies-and-gentlemen; It’s Not a Race or Anything.”

Posted on April 14, 2010


Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Today on the way to class I’m stopped by two people I’ve never met before—a tall black boy and a short black girl.

“Answer me this,” says the black boy—”and be honest,” says the black girl.

The black boy then inquires as to “Which one of us is blacker?”

I hesitate, breathe in deep. Why does it matter matter? So the pot and kettle can stop calling each other black is my only guess. But why bother a stranger?

I look at the boy, then at the girl. There is only a difference of a few shades between them but I think I can discern that the boy is a little, only slightly, darker.

“You’re a little bit darker,” I tell him, and the girl rejoices.

“I told you!” she declares. I smile and politely chuckle and continue marching onward toward my destination. I can still hear them amid the cacophony of raucous students chattering and texting and slacking. “I told you,” she says again, and I hear her say “and I don’t even know him! Even that guy thinks so,” and again I wonder, Why Does It Even Matter?

Such a seemingly petty and trite argument seems to me to be analogous to how ethnic conflict between barely-distinguishable members of the Balkan Peninsula goes down. A few shades of black apart, and suddenly there are no shades of gray to be found anywhere between them. Sure, in this particular case the individuals involved were likely lovingly poking fun at each others’ differences, but it doesn’t change the fact that those simple differences in flesh tone here in the U.S.A. would elsewhere in less privileged places equate to the difference between being on top and being in a body bag.

The fact that discourse on race is seen as something we can take lightly here in America as opposed to in other parts of the world sh0ws how far as a society we have come since the end of the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. This epiphany to me is moving, especially since I am often so quick to vocalize my opinions about what is wrong with this country in contrast to many other places on earth; in many ways,  people today are polarized in this country more than ever, but at least what has us at each others throats in the rat race of life is a division of culture and ideas rather than through ethnic segregation. At least in the No Man’s Land of public debate people are more concerned—at last— about how a person thinks opposed to how a person looks.

My mind wanders to the genocide in Srebrenica and then to the genocide in Sudan and before I can articulate these thoughts any further they are silenced by early 20th-century European history, on which I have a test to take.