Cultural Identity Crisis

This article probably won’t go where you may be thinking but I think you may relate to some of what I’m going to discuss, so bear with me if you will.  I live in Houston, Texas.  I’m surrounded by a mix of cultures on a daily basis.  One that happens to be pretty high on my radar is the “latino” community, or the “hispanic” community.  What exactly do those terms mean?  “Hispanic Community”, “Latino Community”…  does anyone that uses these terms realize the blatantly superficial nature of what those concepts subsume?  “Black Community” “Jewish Community” “Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Tri-Sexual, Pan-Sexual, Tran-sexual Community” all are extremely superficial concepts that seek to categorize people by attributes which by and large only serve to promote racism and bigotry.

Consider that the challenges of life are not unique amongst these groups.  We all need the same basic things.  Food, Clothing, Shelter.  We all face similar challenges with respect to relationships.  Who amongst us hasn’t had an problem experience with a spouse, or had the need to discipline their children, or had a boss that made their life miserable etc.  Are we to believe that the way that one man or woman deals with their problems is inherently unique based on the most superficial attribute we can give to them?  You will make certain decisions because you are part of the “Hispanic Community”, or “Gay Community”.  Someone who is part of the “Black Community” will make decisions another way.  Folks, do you not see that this is the most basic form of racism just wrapped up in a palatable manner for the purposes of political and economic manipulation?

When I was growing up, I had a very superficial view of racism and how it was presented.  My understanding was that a racist views another group of people inferior simply because they are from a different ethnicity.  As a kid, this was probably a good enough understanding.  But as an adult, with a vote, who needs to be a responsible and productive member of society and a responsible provider and teacher for my children, this understanding is not adequate and if never investigated, allows for the manipulation of good people.

My broader understanding of racism started when I began to study the philosophy of Objectivism.  Ayn Rand, the founder of Objectivism, wrote that “Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.”  When we stop to think about that statement, can you see how businesses that refer to market segments by race are perpetuating racism?  The term “Hispanic Community” as a consumer, or a voting block or any unit presupposes that the constituents “intellectual and charaterological traits” are determined by their ethnicity.  Simply put, a “community” is a group of people, when you add “hispanic” to it, you are now making the concept of “Community” specifically boiled down to a single race of people.  The concept presupposes race!

Rand also stated that “Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination.”  When we start to look at the landscape of politically correct terminology, while keeping in mind this more accurate scope of the concept, are you starting to see how the community is being subdivided along race lines?  From a commercial standpoint, how would a hispanic household make their purchasing decisions?  Are hispanics going to spend money in a certain way simply because they are hispanic?  Are they going to form their values differently simply because they are hispanic?  Of course not.  They make their choices and values by the same process every other race of man does.  Does this mean we all come to the same values?  No.  Does this mean that you can use race to generalize how an ethnicity will arrive at their choices?  Emphatically NO!  The same goes with the realm of politics.  Are blacks predetermined to want handouts and social services?  Of course not.  So why are we using race as a distinction of importance in business and in politics?

The question I have is this, “Is there any merit to using race labels, and if so what function do we garner that could not be achieved by using concepts devoid of a racial element?”  Its my opinion that the “Soft Racism” that these labels promote is being used to divide the country without the majority even knowing what is occurring.  The use of these terms in marketing and politics seeks to convey a “correctness” and acceptance, and more specifically, an intangible value or advantage in learning or exploiting the “uniqueness” of these different groups of people.

I came across a blog today with the subtitle “Mexican, It’s a lifestyle”.  The author works for a hispanic focused marketing firm. The suggestion of the site is that the insights on it are somehow unique to the experiences of being “Mexican” or “Hispanic”.  When you read over the posts, as a non-hispanic, you immediately comprehend that the things the author discusses and writes about are in no way unique to the Hispanics.  More and more today it is being suggested that we need to retain our heritage, or our culture.  We are taught to identify with that which differentiates us, as opposed to focusing on the things we have in common.  What do you think will be the logical consequence of celebrating and continuing to promote differences?  What do you think will happen to the fabric of a country that was founded on the common denominators of liberty and justice for all?  I’m not suggesting to shed all vestiges of one’s heritage, what I’m saying is that the focus should not be on the differences and for the sake of productive achievement we should not wear our “culture” or “heritage” on our sleeve or use it to set ourselves apart.  To that extent Rand stated that “Like every other form of collectivism, racism is a quest for the unearned. It is a quest for automatic knowledge—for an automatic evaluation of men’s characters that bypasses the responsibility of exercising rational or moral judgment—and, above all, a quest for an automatic self-esteem (or pseudo-self-esteem).”  Is it possible that those who most loudly attribute themselves to a “community” based on racial origins are in fact the racists themselves, seeking an identity worthy of esteem, seeking to raise their own self esteem based on an association of such a superficial nature rather than pride in their own productive achievement?  Do you think that the group La Raza is indicative of this?

I think Rand truly captured the absurdity of today’s “communities” when she wrote “Today, racism is regarded as a crime if practiced by a majority—but as an inalienable right if practiced by a minority. The notion that one’s culture is superior to all others solely because it represents the traditions of one’s ancestors, is regarded as chauvinism if claimed by a majority—but as “ethnic” pride if claimed by a minority. Resistance to change and progress is regarded as reactionary if demonstrated by a majority—but retrogression to a Balkan village, to an Indian tepee or to the jungle is hailed if demonstrated by a minority.”

Thanks for taking the time to read and contemplate the nature of racism today.  Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.