Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dean Obeidallah and Race

My family and I were watching Axis of Evil last night. I first heard of it in my World of Islam class sophomore year, when a classmate used a Dean Obeidallah clip for a presentation. Now, my family has Netflix which means I was finally able to watch the entire show. Of course, there was a lot of laughter in the Gerry household. In addition, there were some deep thoughts, particularly when Dean Obeidallah mentioned what it means to be white. He said that white isn't necessarily a color but a status. He meant that in the sense of, when white people do bad things, no one blames it on every white person they see. Whereas, if one Arab or Middle Eastern person does something for example, they must all be responsible.

It was definitely a moment for me. I have tried to explain the concept of white privilege and found I could not put it as well as Mr. Obeidallah has. The truth is, white has so little to do with the shade of one's skin. If it did, Jews would not have had to suffer as much as they did and, for a long time, were not even considered white in the eyes of the U.S. Italians and Irish weren't even white for a time (now, you know something's up when they don't think the Irish are white and I've known my share of blonde Italians, northern and southern). Rather, white is more of a concept. It's about who's considered worthy of fair treatment in the eyes of the law, of business, and of society. It's about who's considered cultured, civilized, and contributing. That's something people don't really understand.

No, people should not use their race or past treatment to justify criminal actions. No, people should not use it to hamper their own development because they're afraid of "acting white" or "abandoning their roots." At the same time, there is a real difference in treatment. My black and Latin friends are more likely to get followed (by security in the mall and cops on the road) than I am. Even acts such as speaking Spanish result in being treated differently (friends and I will get asked about citizenship and ethnic origin because we chose to practice our Spanish that day). Jewish friends of mine have gotten accusations about money habits and their role in the death of Christ. Muslim girlfriends of mine have stories of getting harassed or asked ridiculous questions because of how they choose to cover and friends and family get "randomly selected" by airport security just because they look Middle Eastern. Now, Muslims can be white, people from Central and South America can be white, Jews mostly are white, and black people can have white ancestry. But none of this matters because having white skin is not even enough to be considered white.

Yes, things have come a long way. They're still not perfect. We need to keep going as a society, to keep improving ourselves and the lives of others around us. If we truly believe as the Declaration states, that "all men were created equal", we need to start treating each other like it. Instead of fighting over who gets to be white and who doesn't (regardless of who actually has fair skin or not), we should eradicate that idea and start seeing people. Otherwise, we will continue to give our enemies the fuel to destroy us.

1 comment:

  1. There's a book you should take a look at that'll expand on this subject. "How Jews Became White Folks, and What that Says about Race in the US."