Flavin's Corner 
1-14-00 

The Color of Life 

     Comments by Vice President Al Gore's campaign manager, Donna Brazile, 
made last week regarding blacks and Republicans, set off a firestorm of criticism 
and produced charges that Brazile had made racist remarks.  The fact Brazile is 
an African-American (read: black) woman apparently didn't factor into any 
equation which would allow a member of a group the right of self-criticism. 
Many people today are troubled and confused about the basic issues of 'race' and seem either helpless to repeat the mistakes of the past or determined to invent new mistakes in our modern "politically correct" world.  I suspect that behind the majority of these social blunders is an awareness that the color of life is neither black, brown, white, yellow, or red.  However, as any motorist racing past a posted speed-limit knows, being aware of something doesn't necessarily provoke the desired response. 

     Our consensual distinctions of "color" is based on the shared dynamics of the 
human eye and brain and their ability to distinguish various reflections of light 
and assign "color" to these reflections.  "Light," as the degrees (or wavelengths) 
of the visible spectrum of electromagnetic energy, bounces off of a specific 
object, passes through the eye, and based upon the reflectivity of the object, the 
brain matches a perception of "color" to a particular wavelength of "light."  It's 
illusory, of course, as brains of non-humans perceive color differently than we 
do.  I'm reminded that my mother preferred black and white television to color, 
saying "...It looks more realistic."  Indeed, the world may well consist of subtle 
shades of gray.  "Color," as such, could be regarded as a modern, agreed upon 
development.  But, even though "color" itself is "all in our heads," objects do 
possess different degrees of reflectivity and we may as well continue to use the 
accepted terms of color distinction, as gray1, gray2, ...through gray136d, could 
be a drag when ordering socks online.

     Inasmuch as separating "colors" is a function of communicative convenience, 
many biologists today are arguing that "race," as applied to humans, is a term 
arising from socio-cultural vocabularies and is not scientific.  It simply doesn't 
exist in humans. Skin color (as determined by varying amounts of melanin) and 
physical characteristics (usually facial--nose, lips, eyelids) are the primary criteria 
used to separate one group of humans from others by non-scientists.  Such 
differences are, of course, readily apparent and distinguishable, but are not 
genetically significant enough to qualify splitting humans into sub-species or 
"races."  Though we still can't say for sure exactly how many hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of years it takes for an adaptive group of humans to change skin color and physical characteristics, we can say with surety that the process exists and may not take as long as we suspect.  When someone plays the "race card," it's a game of words and has nothing to do with science. 

     This Monday, January 17, 2000, will mark the 15th annual observance of the 
federal holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday.  The 
holiday's mission statement was expanded on August 23, 1994 by President 
Clinton to focus on community service, interracial cooperation, and youth 
anti-violence initiatives.  Science allows superficial adaptive differences, balks at 
the application of the term "race" as applied to various groupings of humans, 
anthropologists suggest we substitute ethnicity for "race," however the majority 
of us (including the government) still express the differences between people by 
citing "color" and "race."  While it's erstwhile to emulate Dr. King's program of 
non-violence and tolerance, it would be dishonest to further the falsehood that 
the problems of certain minority groups persist because of the "color" of their 
skins.  It simply isn't so. 

     A decade ago, on the southside of Chicago, I was engaged in a bit of 
anthropological research (read: getting into trouble) and began to discuss issues 
of "race" with a young African-American fellow.  I was told that "...It ain't been 
about the color of someone's skin for years.  If a white guy comes into a black 
neighborhood and has problems, it ain't gonna be because of the color of his skin.  It's about the money...  It's about the green..."  I remain astounded at that insight!  Sure, there's still plenty of bigots in this world of ours (i.e., Atlanta Braves pitcher, John Loy Rocker), but the bulk of complaints from various minority groups (as well as some in the majority) concern money and who has it, who doesn't, how to get more, and how to make sure some groups don't get any.  I hold that charges of racism, sexism, and other particulars of bigotry are only partially correct, and pale when judged against greed.  It's about the money... 

     The comments by Donna Brazile, from an interview with Bloomberg.com, which elicited cries of "foul" from critics, are: "[After mentioning Clinton and Gore's work to improve the lives of African-Americans and Hispanics.] On the other hand, the Republicans bring out Colin Powell and J. C. Watts because they have no program, no policy.  They play that game because they have no other game.  They have no love and no joy.  They'd rather take pictures with black children than feed them."  In an effort to put Brazile's comments in context (and show support for Gore), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) agreed that the Republicans do not have a program to assist minorities, saying they have not "been the voice of the voiceless, the dispossessed, or the minority."  Kennedy added that the "individual references" of Powell and Watts were unfortunate. So, in the terms of transient politics, Brazile's comments were crude, but accurate.  It's about the money! 

     Much of what passes today as racism (excluding, of course, the vituperations of such hate-groups as The Klan, neo-Nazis, etc.) appears symptomatic of the 
psychological weakness of avarice.  In this cabaret of existence we enjoy, we're 
told: "Money makes the world go round!"  As American capitalism is the driving 
force in the global economy and our dollars are green, if I were to pick a color 
which could best express life, ...it would be green.  Oh, before modern currency 
the color of life was probably different, but that was then and this is now.  It's about the money and Brazile's comments about the Republicans simply reinforce what everyone already knows.  What's truly unfortunate is that most of those in a position to vote in the coming elections love green, have green, want more green, and will vote for candidates (read: Republicans) who stand a chance of fulfilling their greed.  I wonder if public schools still classify ketchup as a vegetable? 

trying to remember the dream, 
Rick 

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