Saturday, May 16, 2015

Judging a book by its colour

Posted By on Sat, May 16, 2015 at 6:37 AM

click image Western District Protest Over the Death of Freddie Gray - J.M. GIORDANO / BALTIMORE CITY PAPER / APRIL 22, 2015
  • J.M. Giordano / Baltimore City Paper / April 22, 2015
  • Western District Protest Over the Death of Freddie Gray

When I was considering moving to America from England, the prospect of friendly people, good weather, amazing food, mega malls and mega landscapes was something to be excited about. America was the land of intrigue, hope and possibility. There were, in fact, only three things that concerned me about living in America: guns, health care, and race relations.

Guns were alien to me, I knew nothing other than a nationalized health care system, and mercifully I had very little awareness of any meaningful racial tension growing up. I do remember my uncle sharing stories of some “fans” hurling racist abuse at black players from the terraces in the ’60s and ’70s, but those stories seemed quite inconceivable to me. The schools I attended and the people I hung out with did include minority representation, it just wasn’t that big of a deal for anyone.

I don’t mean to suggest that I was “color blind,” but I do remember there being more tension between the English and the Irish than there was between white families and the Indian family down the street.

Being a pasty white Englishman, one could argue, and successfully, I’m sure, that I’m among the least qualified to discuss the topic of race. But high-profile tragedies involving, but not limited to, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, and a multitude of other questionable and/or outright disturbing, violent acts against people of color demand that everyone in America today confront the issue.

The general sentiment I have now, after living stateside for 15 years, is not one of despondency or confusion, but of immense sadness. Attempting to address any one of the profoundly complex issues that contribute to today’s racial conflict is incredibly daunting – especially when, as with me, the topic is largely uncommon to you. Still, I recognize that the ghost of an intense history of slavery still haunts a modern America, as do the more recent injustices of segregation in the 21st century.

But at its very core, it seems to me that the race-related troubles we’re wrestling with speak to a profound fragility in the human condition. Whether the problem stems from a cultural disassociation or a perceived societal disparity between sections of our community — as explored in multiple surveys analyzed by The Atlantic — or perhaps the feeling of being oppressed by the very people employed to serve and protect you, I see the conflict on our streets originating from one depressing reality: “You look different from me, therefore I have a problem with you.”

I would have taken umbrage with that idea back in England in the 1970s, '80s or '90s. In America, in 2015, it’s absolutely incorrigible.

Have we not evolved beyond allowing how someone looks to be a Pavlovian trigger to how we perceive other human beings? Are we not more educated, more enlightened, more empathetic, just better than that? We should be.

America cannot be the nation it aspires to be until we truly are.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.

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