Sunday, December 20, 2015

Meandering musings about color.

I had occasion to discuss race a couple of times today, and in a weird way it started with some tropical fish:

These are my wife's GloFish. Basically, they started out as ordinary tetras, but a laboratory in Singapore genetically modified them so as to be fluorescent. Originally, this was an attempt to use the fluorescent fish in the determination of water quality, but many varieties have now been created, the sale of which helps to fund the serious scientific endeavors which are the primary focus of the fish's designers.

Naturally, the fish are rather nondescript, but with the addition of some jellyfish DNA, they shine in natural light in vivid colors. And as I was stocking the tank last night, I was reminded of an earlier conversation in which someone remarked that it was "cruel" to make these fish.

As this was from one of my acquaintances possessed of a cargo cult understanding of science, I had expected some kind of comment about them being GMOs, but the bit about cruelty was an unexpected point of view. After all, these fish are otherwise perfectly normal tetras. They're born with bright colors, which could make them easy prey in the wild; but they're also born in tanks, and bread for aquarium life. Predators aren't an issue. These fish lead a pampered existence.

Nevertheless, my friend seemed to think that simply being a particular color is somehow "cruel" to an animal who not only knows no other existence, but doesn't have the cognitive ability to care. I tried -- and failed -- to wrap my head around the concept.

My immediate response was, "Simply being of any particular color is not a disadvantage to anyone. However, being surrounded by assholes who think that color is a disadvantage is a real, serious problem."

As I said it I realized I wasn't just talking about fish.


I had occasion to use that same phrase, verbatim, later in the day. Another friend was commenting on the changing demographics of America... In a few decades, given existing trends, "whites" will become a minority.  After noting that race is a "collectivist social construct", quoth he: "Quite a legacy, that 'white' thing. And OH how they loathe minorities, and whine like babies over becoming one themselves."

It's an interesting comment, which stimulated a nerve of mine. And not the one he intended, though that's not his fault. It makes me wonder... when we're talking about "White People" are we talking about Dagos, Wops, Krauts, Frogs, Crackers, Honkies, Arkies, Okies, Peckerwoods, Rednecks, Boches, Paddies, Goombahs, Ofay, Kikes, Greasers, Bog-Trotters, Guidos, Moose-herders, Yids, Gringos, Bubbas, Limeys or Polacks?

The plain fact of the matter is that well into the 20th century you could be as marginalized for being any of a couple of dozen ethnicities, ALL of which are now retroactively lumped together as "European" or "White People", often by people who would bristle at the phrase "they all look alike to me" if it were applied to themselves. Europeans are no strangers to minority status simply because they're European. In this light, there is exposed a vein of hypocrisy in the use of the phase "White People" as it is now commonly applied in discussions of race and culture.

As my friend notes, these distinctions are artificial. They're xenophobic, and as assimilation occurs, they disappear, which is quite probably why you may not be familiar with all of them. Much of the "sting" of these epithets disappeared over a space of no more than 50 years. If we were to do things right instead of waste breath on propagating more race and class envy, then the rest would disappear as quickly. And we would have a very bright and colorful society that looks a great deal like this one:

Note that I do not deny that racism and bigotry occurs. What I do state, and will vigorously repeat until it sinks in, is that the color of the individual is not the problem. The problem lies in the bigotry that surrounds them. In  other words,
"Simply being of any particular color is not a disadvantage to anyone. However, being surrounded by assholes who think that color is a disadvantage is a real, serious problem."
Frankly, it doesn't matter who makes the distinctions that fuel a bigotry, and who is the target. It doesn't matter if it comes from people of another group who push you down by means of force, or from members of your own group who hold you back by means of lowered expectations. Each of these is as wrong as the other.

There is no such thing as "good" bigotry, and I will not engage in schadenfreude when the tables are turned. If we perpetuate the stupidity of racism, bigotry, and class envy, by the time a population shifts, it is not the bigots who will receive comeuppance... it is their children, who will have done nothing to deserve it. And it will be administered by the children of today's minorities, who will not themselves have been slighted. Thus, an oppressive majority is always at fault, no matter the "reason" for their oppressive behavior, without any exception whatsoever for race, color, creed, or any other excuse.

It's a silly merry-go-round. Time to get off. We might as well argue over belly stars.

Once again, Doctor Seuss demonstrates his genius.

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