Op Ed

Takedown: American-Americans

Oh man oh man oh man. This week’s takedown is a trickster.

Here we go:

Get it? We are all one, Kumbaya. Picture from Facebook.

It’s tricky because on the surface, it is kind of sweet. We are all one big family. You, me, that guy down the street – we’re all the same. And the comments on the photo reflect a genuinely felt kindness and belief in fellow man:Comment

“Beautiful – it brings tears ti my eyes.”


“Unite us, don’t divide us. Bad & good people of EVERY race. Quit looking at race and look at the person.”


“Love it! Sends a great message, that we are all equal and come from the same source, when our flesh is gone we are the same exact beings. No labels!”

Love. Equality. United we stand.

I went through the comments and found something perhaps surprising (okay, not to me, but maybe to people who take this picture at its face value): the commenters were overwhelmingly white. There was one person who may have been Arabic, and one person who was black.

It is so easy for a white person to say, “We are all the same, stop bringing up race.” Because when you pretend that there is no such thing as race, you get to pretend like you weren’t born into privilege. You get to pretend like there aren’t any advantages based on your color, and instead, everything you have is based on merit alone. The fact that you can walk around in a swanky neighborhood without fear of being arrested, or shot. The fact that when you get into a good school or a cushy job, nobody assumes it’s because quotas forced people to let you in. The fact that when you lock yourself out of your house and have to climb in the window to get in, your neighbors don’t call the cops on you.

Young black men's experiences with discrimination. Complete survey results found at

If you pretend like race doesn’t exist, what you are saying is that these experiences – these awful things that have happened because of race – must be blamed on something else. They weren’t attacked because they were black, any white person in the same situation would also have been attacked! Which means that the person in question was obviously doing something wrong. They deserve the crappy things that happen to them. And as white people, we deserve the life free of those problems.

The idea behind “color blindness” is that each individual person has evolved to where race doesn’t matter to them. The people who are spreading this picture obviously feel this way, and it is a wonderful goal. We all want to live in a world wherein the only differences that matter are those that we choose. But there is a gigantic difference between saying, “I would like to live in a world like this,” and saying, “This is reflective of the world in which I live.”

When I was in high school, we played volleyball against a team from a school for the hearing impaired. We beat them, handily. It is tough to play a team sport when you are missing one of your senses; you can’t hear somebody behind you calling for the ball, the referee’s whistle is meaningless, even something as minor as the roar of the crowd that might get your adrenaline flowing is not a factor for you. Practice is less effective if a coach has to be within your line of sight to communicate with you; words of encouragement from the bench can’t bolster you if you aren’t looking in that direction.

I would love to live in a world in which this isn’t true. I would love for people with hearing difficulties to have no other difficulties stem from their auditory problems. It would be great if we could all be the same, one big happy family, everything equal for everybody.

But the world doesn’t work that way. Who does it serve if I pretend like that other team is on equal footing, if I make believe that every point scored on either side is fought for equally? Me. It serves me. When I say that a hearing impairment doesn’t affect anything else, what I am saying is, “I deserved to win that volleyball game on merit alone.” Not to mention, “They deserved to lose that game simply because they were worse volleyball players.” When I say that nobody had any advantages, and nobody had any disadvantages, I get to erase my privilege and ignore others’ disadvantages. I get to pretend that being born on third base actually means that I hit a triple, and the rest of those folks that have made it to third base after working for it should have no trouble running home, because why would they be any more tired than me?

We all want an America with equal opportunities and equal challenges for all. We all want to live in a country wherein race is no more significant than hair color or shoe size, where skin color might give a clue about heritage and culture but nothing more. But we don’t.

It isn’t “race-baiting” and “class-dividing” to talk about the very real challenges or advantages that people of different skin colors face. Until we are willing to talk frankly about the inequalities along race lines that continue to exist, we can do nothing to fix them; and we can make no progress toward becoming more like the picture that the crapdate spreaders profess to love. I want to learn French, run an Ironman, live in a spotless house; but if I pretend like all of those things are already true, they never will become true, because I can’t take the steps necessary to reach those goals.

Racial harmony is a beautiful thing. Racial equality is a worthy goal. The picture, by itself, is quite moving – what a wonderful world this would be, right? If we were all judged by the content of our character.

But we aren’t. The only people who benefit from pretending like we are are those that are already in a position of privilege, who get to pretend like they have no advantages. In other words, those white American-Americans who share this poster and propagate the incredibly harmful distortion that our work here is done. Our work here isn’t done. And it never will be unless we can all admit that, whether we like it or not, race matters. If we cannot admit that, we cannot change it, and the vision of America portrayed in the poster will never be realized.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

26 replies on “Takedown: American-Americans”

Continued and less relevant:

Thing the second: while markedly of minority descent, I grew up rather privileged, and not white. Yes, ‘black privilege’ exists. This also has had a huge influence on my outlook and experience of racism, but I also think oftentimes people focus on what is going on at a specific class level, and not the bigger picture. While I’m not saying that the needs of those individuals aren’t more important than mine, I think it’s very telling when I will be the only person who looks like me in my master’s program and that’s something that needs to be addressed and isn’t.

Thing the third: people of color can be racist too, even and especially with regards to one another. While statistically, this may be less of a problem for a population more often ground down by the media, economy, and society in general, it gets problematic and it is equally shocking and scary and painful as when someone (of a cultural majority) says something awful one day and realizes how awful it really was. I think what also needs to be taken into account is the class issue, and why it is that the ‘jack and jills’ of the racial/ethnic/color or whatever group don’t always consider themselves in touch of the other end of the spectrum, and why this is a problem.

Another great take-down Susan! I actually haven’t seen this before, but I don’t really go on Facebook; that might be why. I’ve been seeing ” Don’t stick your dick in crazy” A LOT lately, though. It has been bugging the hell out of me, I just want to scream with frustration. So, no sex for me? Thanks a lot.

I think the problem lies with people being unwilling to understand or incapable of seeing the duality of the situation. On one hand, we do want to work toward a world that is as inclusive and equal as possible, and in doing this, we need to look past race, gender, orientation, religion, and any other social divider to judge the individual on their personal merit. In that sense, we do need to be colorblind and not give in to stereotypes and assumptions about POC/other minority groups.

However, I think people take this to mean that if we pretend race doesn’t exist, it won’t, which is completely untrue. Not only do we need to take into account the issues and problems that still exist today, but we should also, like Silverwane said, understand that people may want their ethnic identities to be a major part of their lives, and we should be willing to accept and respect that. Instead of trying to create one “American” culture that everyone has to conform to, I think we should allow for a great amount of diversity in belief, practice, and even language. There is no way our lives wouldn’t be richer if we incorporated parts of various cultures more into our daily lives, and accepted the good about them. Our education would be much more inclusive and extensive, and we wouldn’t be asking or expecting people to give up their identity to become an American. We would only be broadening the definition of a “true American” to include those who identify as a hyphenated American with a strong cultural identity.

I think it’s especially easy for white people to think that everything is fine, that we’re post-racial, and that we all just need to love each other and stop talking about race, because we don’t have to think about it all the time. That’s why it’s so important to have culturally diverse education in schools, because the facts are that the United States is a place of many ethnicities, religions, and ideologies, and they are as much a part of this country as whatever we consider to be the “mainstream” cultural practices. There are so many people and groups that are underrepresented and still actively experiencing discrimination, and that’s something that is important to keep in mind and to make sure that people understand, even while espousing the idea that we need to look beyond the color of people’s skin or the shape of their eyes.

This hit home. I will admit (because I feel like Perse’s won’t rip my throat out for it) that there had and has been times that I thought ‘Couldn’t we maybe NOT be about race for a change’. It isn’t nice to realize how privileged you are as (rich) white girl and how ugly comments can get if people notice that about you.
Luckily I also know that the truth is uncomfortable but that doesn’t mean I should avoid and ignore it. Am I allowed as a white girl to say that I want to see more POC* on TV or will that make me sound like the ”colonist” who wants to humor the ”coloreds”? Are their topics I’m never allowed to say anything about because I’m not a POC? It’s such a thin line which sometimes makes me think the previous mentioned thought.

So of course it needs to be about race. As at the same time it really shouldn’t need to be about race, because we’re looking at character and culture first.  But that’s of the future.

*I only recently learned that POC = person of colour and WOC = woman/women of colour. Like a little child, I like to use my newfound knowledge.

I have felt the same way in the past – but damnit, this picture made it incredibly clear to me how wrong that is.  Not even the picture, but the text.  Yes.  It’s the people that are talking about race that are ruining America.

When I first started to examine my white privilege, one of the things that really hit home was, I have the privilege to choose to say “Let’s not talk about race anymore!” For someone who IS a POC, they don’t simply have the choice to ignore race, because it plays a constant role in their lives!

And you hit on one of the key issues, that race is, itself, a construct. I feel like one of the fears well-meaning people who say “Let’s not talk about race” experience is that if we keep talking about race, we’ll only reinforce systems that view POC negatively through race.

But I saw a study a while ago that talked about raising children and why it is important to talk openly and honestly about race. Here’s a link to an article that talks about it in case you’re curious, and here’s some of the key quotes that stick out to me:

Bigler’s experiment seems to show how children will use whatever you give them to create divisions—seeming to confirm that race becomes an issue only if we make it an issue. So why does Bigler think it’s important to talk to children about race as early as the age of 3?

Her reasoning is that kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism; they’re going to form these preferences on their own. Children naturally try to categorize everything, and the attribute they rely on is that which is the most clearly visible.

We might imagine we’re creating color-blind environments for children, but differences in skin color or hair or weight are like differences in gender—they’re plainly visible. Even if no teacher or parent mentions race, kids will use skin color on their own, the same way they use T-shirt colors. Bigler contends that children extend their shared appearances much further—believing that those who look similar to them enjoy the same things they do. Anything a child doesn’t like thus belongs to those who look the least similar to him. The spontaneous tendency to assume your group shares characteristics—such as niceness, or smarts—is called essentialism.

I think since we additionally live in a culture that DOES emphasize differences with race and skin color, and it DOES build negative connotations for POC, it is important to have open, honest discussions about race and racism.

And then, of course, there’s the whole aspect of legitimizing the experiences of POC who are discriminated against because of race, and if we don’t talk about how race plays into something, we could miss the systemic problems and the institutionalization of racism and how it affects people in their everyday lives.

*Not that I think you think any of this is unimportant; I think I thought of these because I’ve had similar experiences/feelings, and these were some thoughts that played a role in my shifting opinion/perspective! :)

YES!  In the education system we need to NOT ignore race.  Instead of saying “We’re all the same!” it is important to recognize and celebrate our differences.  Many prominent early childhood experts encourage discussions of race in the classroom.  I once saw the best lesson that I have really wanted to replicate in my own classroom where each student finds their own color by mixing paints.  Through this the children discover all the shades between White and Black.

Anyway, I have seen so many teachers shoot down students when they mention race instead of using it as a teaching point.  Kids naturally notice peoples differences, it’s kind of ridiculous to think that we can pretend they don’t exist.

Absolutely. I’m white and I grew up in a majority black area, so almost all of my classmates were black with a couple other white and mixed children. If our teacher had told us we were all the same, we would have thought they were stupid. CLEARLY we weren’t. Our skin was different, our hair was different, sometimes our families were different, and all of us knew it. But by and large we found those differences interesting and they didn’t get in the way of making friends.

Many parents jokingly say they wish they had received a manual with their baby, or that kids don’t come with manuals.  I am one of them, most especially after reading this comment and the article you linked.  I wish there was a manual not only on how to raise my kids, but how to raise them to be right-minded, good citizens of the world.  I can’t draw on the experiences from my childhood, because I was institutionalized just like the lady in the video above details.  While I continue to struggle with understanding my affluent white privilege and how it has and does shape me, I also struggle with teaching my children better than I was taught.  I always try to reinforce with them that the way someone else looks doesn’t matter, that a persons character is the most important thing.  When my kids are curious about someone that looks different, in any way, I encourage them asks questions to gain knowledge and understanding, but to never think that physical differences make any person better or worse than them.  But, while I try to say the right words to them, I also worry that unintentional actions or thoughts of mine, that are born of a lifetime of ingrained white privilege, are being passed on to them too. I don’t know.  But I do know that I want better for my children that I had growing up.

It is a very complex issue and one that I, and I think a lot of people, have some very complex feelings about. There are times when I think that bringing race into a discussion does hamper intelligent analysis not because race has nothing to do with it, but because it just devolves into endless roundabout arguments about “Racist!” “No, YOU’RE racist!” type arguing. It seems like it’s almost impossible to have a real conversation about racial overtones and societal patterns without someone getting their hackles up.

At the end of the day, race exists and pretending it doesn’t will not solve problems. Turning it into something we don’t talk about will keep us from actually working through the many lingering issues our society has with race.

 It seems like it’s almost impossible to have a real conversation about racial overtones and societal patterns without someone getting their hackles up.

Completely agree. How can you handle such a hot topic if no-one can touch it without  getting personal, losing all knowledge and frankly being a jerk.


I am always suspicious of people who respond to a person from a racial minority complaining about feeling discrimination by saying shit like “Why do you have to bring up race??”

It’s like, as a feminist woman, having to listen to a man respond to my discussions of my lived experiences of being a woman with, “Why do you always have to make it about sexism?”

Yes, we DO want the world to be a place where none of this matters. But we live in a world in which it does matter. If we’re going to argue that race shouldn’t matter with regards to how we treat people, we should argue it to racists. NOT people of a racial minority.

But I also think there’s another thing going on: that goddamned “melting pot” BS. I feel like that American-Americans idea is also complicit in ideas of assimilation; you live in the US, so you’re an American. So you should act like an American. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot of pride in your heritage as a different group. You have to come hang out with us with the exact same moniker! Oh, what’s that, you think of yourself as a Hispanic-American? Stop bringing race into this, jeez.

It’s very eliminationist. Did anyone ask POC if they wanted to think of themselves this way? Sure, we do want a world in which there isn’t racial discrimination, but why does that have to erase ethnic identities in this manner by flying the “We’re all just the same!” banner?

Until college, I didn’t realize how multidimensional and sticky this all gets, especially as a woman of color of caribbean/west indian descent. As in both my parents immigrated to this country in their late teens, and one set of grandparents and I communicate solely through stock phrases and simple English because they never quite grasped it, and I never quite learned Kreyol.

So. Thing the first: While I consider myself eventually of african descent, I don’t identify with the whole of african-american culture and when I mention it, it raises people’s hackles and they look at me like I’m dumb and out of touch with my roots. (I have ‘natural hair’. Believe you me, my roots and I are best friends because I have to argue with them every damn day.) It always bothers me when I have to check ‘Black’ on a form, because my skin is not black. I have yet to meet a person that is well and truly black, just like I have yet to meet a person who is well and truly white. I also dislike checking ‘african american’, because I don’t feel like it’s my cultural identity – my experience has been defined first by the fact that my parents are immigrants (which extends to how I was raised, what we eat, how we communicate, how I’m expected to behave, and what church I was raised in), and secondly by the fact that my skin is a certain color and my hair a certain texture.

At the end of the day, it’s frustrating that I have to come up with my own identity and very few seem to recognize or acknowledge it.


I taught at a school with a high percentage of kids from Haiti.  That was the first time it even occurred to me that black is not the same as African American, or that “African American,” while trying to be PC, is exclusive.  I won’t use the term African American anymore, even though I’m sure people think that I am being a jerk – but I can’t tell if somebody is from Africa by looking at them.

Truth. And wouldn’t Egyptians, Libyans, caucasian South Africans, and so on and so forth, technically, be African American? This label stuff is so confusing. Maybe we should start using acronyms (like those personality tests) instead or something. Or nothing.

Yes, absolutely! I know the term is problematic…but that’s why I usually use “black” as opposed to “African-American,” cause it’s not like all folks with darker skin are from Africa. Nor are all folks from Africa who came to the US of darker skin. The word “black” seemed like the best alternative. I’m definitely open to other words, though; I would much rather refer to people with the words that they want applied to them, rather than insist they should go by this word or that.

Thank you for sharing your experiences, and I’m so sorry you have to deal with this erasure of your identity. If I ever use language that makes you feel erased, please feel free to call me on it.

Did anyone ask POC if they wanted to think of themselves this way?

There was an interesting post on Sociological Images on this this week, based on the US census: when the census switched to postal forms, people got to define their racial/ethnic/cultural identity for themselves instead of someone else (usually white) deciding for them – resulting in, among other things, a 110% increase in Native Americans counted from 1980 to 2000

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