America – Let us be One People ——
and Eliminate the Scourge of Statistical Divisiveness
When I was a small boy living in Colorado in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s I recall hearing statements of condemnation, expressions of prejudice and derogatory comments directed toward peoples of different races, different nationalities and different religious denominations on a regular basis. I heard such prejudice spoken mostly by my father, but I also I saw it in written material and I heard it from people outside the home. As I witnessed it, such behavior was common, accepted, — smirked at sometimes — but was not widely condemned. Despite the propensity of a child to absorb the prejudices of their parents, I fortunately escaped that tendency and did not grow up with any perceptible prejudice toward Catholics, Jews, Negros, Japanese or Mexicans. Interestingly, I did absorb a bias against Ford automobiles, which my father also condemned. It took me some time to overcome this imbedded, irrational, knee-jerk impulse to reject Fords.
Since that time, the people of this country individually and collectively, through law, experience, education, and serious strife in the 60’s, have become enlightened and our nation has made great strides toward overcoming prejudice with respect to race, nationality and religious affiliation. As Dennis Prager noted in his book Still the Best Hope, “Indeed, America has so exorcised racism that — for nearly all Americans—electing the country’s first black president was a triumph, but having a black president was no big deal.” That is not to say that prejudice does not still exist in the hearts and minds of many individuals and in the lamentable actions of some, it certainly does. But overall our national character and our basic principles in this area have improved greatly since I was a boy.
in my judgment, this improvement in our national character made great strides forward in the two or three decades after 1965, however, progress seems to have retrogressed over the last 25 years and especially so in the last few years. Now spurious and bogus charges of racism or prejudice and discussion countering those charges abound and serve only to divide us as a people and entrench animosity. Why has this occurred? What are the forces that perpetuate racism and prejudice? I believe that the lack of progress toward erasing racism and prejudice is in large part due to three major practices which tend to foster racism and prejudice. These practices, ostensibly designed or intended to combat prejudice actually serve to inflame emotions and perpetuate racial and religious divisions. These practices are:
- The collection and publication of a numerical breakdown in terms of racial, religious or ethnic terms, of almost every action our general population engages in, e.g., employment, education, political affiliation, voting preference, church attendance, etc. This information, widely publicized and promoted in the media and sometimes sensationalized is used as rationale for some condition or behavior. The proliferation divides and stereotypes our population, and certainly does not unite us.
- Widely and readily publicized commentary by political opportunists and by racial activists on almost any adverse event or condition arising in our country that can in some way be construed as race related (or even if no rational basis for that assertion exists), keeping these self serving people in the news and continuing to divide the people.
- Ludicrous “enforcement” of “politically correct” wording.
Most everyone is familiar with practices 2 and 3. However, the first is one you may not have considered as being harmful. I regard the collection and publication of race, religious, gender, economic status based statistics as a destructive and malevolent activity that perpetuates prejudice and division.
Statistical Racism in the form of Ethnic, Nationality, Gender and Religious Breakdown
The United States is a melting pot of peoples from all over the world. We began as and continue to be a nation of immigrants seeking opportunity and individual freedom. Although the process of the amalgamation of the peoples that comprise our nation today was not without strife, injustice and prejudice, the fact is that we did come together quite well. We have a very diverse populace that for the most part are accepting of one another. One dramatic, visual portrayal of America’s global representation is in the makeup of our Olympic teams. The Olympic participants from most countries have a common heritage and understandably they look alike. Our representatives represent heritages that span the globe and include every race – but they are all Americans. My grandson, who attended a somewhat ethnically diverse school, conceived a tee shirt design for our country. On the back of this t-shirt you put your heritage – such as 10% Korean, 20% Irish, 30% German, 20% Vietnamese, 10% Mexican, 10% Greek and on the front goes- 100% AMERICAN. We are comprised of millions and millions of people of mixed nationality and it does not matter one bit. Certainly there are lots of people who have only a Chinese heritage, or Ethiopian Heritage, or Mexican Heritage or Anglo-Saxon heritage but in every case the front of the shirt would say 100% AMERICAN.
Chuck and I worked on some of the same projects. We were fierce competitors on the tennis court as we both tried to achieve the number two ranking in Class A singles in our company. We were a good double play combination in softball. On Sunday I went to a Lutheran Church and he went to a Baptist church, we both attended a prayer group together at noon on Tuesday’s at work. He was a fellow civil engineer and I missed him when he moved back East. To me, he was Chuck and to him, I was Larry. But to the news media of today, to the purveyors of statistics, to the pollsters and to the election reporters and to those trying to stir up animosity, I am a White, He is an African American — I am a right wing evangelical Christian, He is an African American —– I am a conservative and Chuck — He is an African American. He is lumped with the 95% of the African Americans who voted for Obama and the Democrats and with a great number of other statistical identifiers. I am lumped with rich whites who do not care about the poor.
A long time ago, about 30 years ago, this thought came to me: — “The way we will be able to tell that we no longer have racism is when we stop discussing and identifying and measuring everything in terms of race.” About the same time, my wife passed on some advice that she had heard, and I have practiced it ever since – When you are telling about or describing someone who is of a race, nationality or religion that is different than yours (and may typically be characterized by that attribute), then, when identifying them to someone else do so in terms of characteristics and attributes other than their race, nationality or religion – do not use color, ethnicity or religion. If that was done all the time, and it is now done to a much greater extent than in my youth, it would illustrate our enlightenment.
In examining this subject there is one other aspect of great importance and that is valuing diversity. Valuing differences, the unique characteristics and aptitudes of different races and nationalities is not prejudice or racism. I believe it is fine to recognize, celebrate, and use special skills, talents and attributes and to recognize the heritage from which that attribute is associated. There is a distinct difference between valuing and recognizing diversity and being a racist.
The ideal is clear. We should interact, work and live with each other without regard to skin color, national origin, economic status or religion. That ideal is diminished through the collection, dissemination, and inflammatory use of such information on the basis of race, religion, gender or nationality. Having the populace barraged with statistics on crime rates, marriage rates, income levels, voting preference and many other things in terms of race, nationality, gender, etc., serves to make people think of other people in those terms rather than as individuals. Further it is not uncommon, when as an individual, a person from a given race, religion, gender or nationality voices an opinion that is different than that of the “statistical norm” or stereotype, their position is not valued as that of an individual but as a deviation from the norm of their “people” and they are cast as a “token” representative of the “group” with point of view they are expressing and a “traitor” to their group. This obsession with the collection, classification and dissection of political, economic or other trends according to race, religion, gender or nationality is a government / societal intrusion that is destructive to the common good. The entire process tends to stereotype people and leads to bias, prejudice and racism.
Clearly, In America we want to foster and perpetuate individuality and freedom of thought and expression. To do this we must discontinue lumping people together by race, religion, gender, economic status and stereotyping the “expected” response – in essence advertising and promoting how different groupings of people are “expected” to respond. News organizations and pollsters (and all other social welfare, health organizations, and other government entities that collect information and categorize it by race, religion, gender, economic status) should cease and desist in the collection and publication of these data. The initial reason and justification for such data collection may have been intended for helpful, “social engineering”, purposes. However, now it is clearly evident that this incessant stereotyping is divisive and is aiding and abetting societal unrest.
Thanks for Reading – Larry Von Thun