Monday, January 16, 2012

The Color of My Skin

I grew up in a small town in upstate New York and attended undergraduate college in another small town in New York State during the civil rights movements of the 1960's. I did not know any Black people when I was a child because I think there were only about 100 Blacks living in my hometown at the time. When I moved away to college I made my first Black friends, who were mainly from New York City or from out of state, attending college on a special program to assist disadvantaged Blacks from the inner cities of the Midwest.  I recall seeing demonstrations in larger cities and in cities of the South in support of Civil Rights for Black people, which were a part of the nightly news almost daily.

I must admit, being from that small town in upstate New York, that I was very far removed from the savage realities of what Blacks had been and were going through. I really didn't understand why some Whites viewed Black people differently, merely on the basis of their skin color. My Black friends were no different from my White or Asian friends, except for the color of their skin. Actually I would not consider any of my friends as being "white". They came in a variety of shades from light skinned to darker shades. Tanning was not popular then, so the different skin tones were genetic, depending upon what the nationality of the person was. At that time I didn't pay attention to what "race" a person was. I was familiar with Nat King Cole, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson and Sammie Davis Jr. I didn't understand what all the fuss was about, but I could see the suffering of those who were not so fortunate to be a famous celebrity.

I must admit that not everyone I knew felt as I did when I was growing up, but even though they did not feel as I did, they were not as demonstrative about their feelings as the hardcore racists I was used to seeing on the TV news. I was naive enough to believe that the United States was the only country who discriminated against its own citizens, Black people. A number of years after grad school I had a chance to visit Vietnam for a month. I was not involved in the war, so everything I knew about the country was from friends who had served there, from Vietnamese friends who came to the US as refugees and once again from seeing news footage of the war. I remember standing in a field, under a star filled sky late one night, in complete silence, knowing that many Vietnamese and Americans had been killed in that very field. I could never put in words how I felt.

I thought that here in Vietnam, my first trip to Asia, I would not find any of the discrimination on the basis of skin color, that I had found in the US. After all everybody was Vietnamese or Vietnamese-Chinese or of indigenous decent. There weren't any Black people. I was wrong. I discovered that the same discrimination existed there, as well as all of the other parts of Asia. I noticed that some people were darker than others. I learned that people who had darker skin, were farmers or worked outside at low paying jobs as manual laborers. They were looked down upon by the more affluent.These affluent or supposedly higher classed people had lighter skin and took great pains to keep their skin lighter.

I am retired and now live in Malaysia, where I see a variety of skin colors. I still see people being looked down upon because of their dark skin. I see women driving with large floppy hats  and full length gloves, so their skin doesn't tan. The stores are filled with whitening products to bleach the skin of Asian women, so they can look more Caucasian and more affluent. The idiotic side of this is the number of Caucasian women I see baking themselves in the sun, so they can get darker tanned skin. It makes absolutely no sense to me.

 Now that I am much older and am still being educated by life I can see that much has changed in the US and other parts of the world. Things have gotten better in the US for people of different races, but there still needs to be a lot of work done to make sure that we don't become complacent. There are still racists and bigots in this country and all over the world, who would love nothing better than to erase all of the gains that minorities or people who are different have made.   Fortunately in countries like South Africa, Black people have gained the rights to which they are truly entitled to. Civil rights include more than rights of people of different skin colors. Civil rights include the rights of women, children, handicapped, all religions, gays, all races, the young, the old and any member of the human race who may be different in some way.

I guess that I have come to the conclusion that bigotry and racism has been part of the human race since the beginning of time and probably will exist until the end of time. Evolution has not been able to eliminate discrimination. Today we see religious movements that are trying to force bigoted and discriminatory beliefs on entire populations. We see groups trying to deny basic human rights to wide segments of the population. We see groups trying to blame the present word economic situation on other members of the population, just like the Nazis did.  But I haven't given up on the idea of equality yet. Maybe those who promote equality, human rights and fairness, in actuality are those members of the human race who still are evolving as humans, while those who want to go backwards Only time will tell. To this end I often think what would happen at the end of the world when we meet our maker, he turns out to be a Black, female, lesbian Jew!

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Ablog about liberal politics andsocial issues