March 10, 2010

Racism and Geography

I once knew a woman from Houston who said, "I wasn't prejudiced before I moved to Atlanta, but these black people around here are something else!" It was an ugly, insensitive comment, exponentially overgeneralized, and she didn't realize she'd said far more about herself (and the paths she had trod) than she'd said about Houston or "Atlanta".

Not far from downtown Atlanta (proper), I spent three years in grad school at night with other school teachers, all intelligent, working professionals at Clark Atlanta U - an HBCU where, humorously, I was offered a UNCF scholarship, which I declined. The perspectives on culture and race that my black colleagues shared in that environment were far more open, informed and well-nuanced than any discussions on race I'd ever had previously. And that tells you something about me. Nevertheless, it was a privilege and honor to graduate there in Education. It certainly was one.

I had forgotten my Houston friend's comment by then, so I can only wonder what my CAU friends would have said about her comment. But I'm sure it would have been interesting. Unlike many who argue about 'black and white', they took the care to discuss shades of grey. But now I'm the one oversimplifying. Ah, well. Short post.

There is always room for some generalization in describing our own past experiences. The sin of prejudice happens when we pre-judge people we've not met because something about them reminds us of others we've known - and yet not known. The sin of racism is when someone thusly prejudges an entire ethnicity. In other words, racism is overgeneralizing broadly misapplied.

Of course racism should always be condemned when it crops up, but generalizations aren't always racism. Ask any Kenyan if they're just like Ugandans. Call a Guatemalan a "Mexican". Tell Canadians they may as well be Americans. You'll find out. When self-referential generalities are held reverentially, they're often called "heritage". The application & attitude is what matters.

Generally, then, groups of people often do differ distinctly from region to region. On today's shrinking planet, ironically, my "prejudiced" friend and I could mingle in two different worlds just a few miles apart. But in the (much larger) ancient world, ethnic geography was, primitively, a bit more consistent. And don't forget, the perceptions of one person who travels across regions may say more about that person and their interactions (or their lack thereof) with a regional ethnic group, than it says about anything really.

All of this leads into a point I need to make about Luke and "the Ioudaioi".

But that's for next time...

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