Originally printed in The Daily Targum, February 24, 1994
Black History Month is a bad idea.
In fact, the whole concept of 'black' is simply a bad idea, just as 'white,' 'Christian,' or 'male' are similarly damaging concepts. In fact, the whole concept of race is stupid. Religion is inane. Gender is idiotic. And celebrating these distinctions that separate us is the biggest crime of all, a crime against humanity that manifests itself in the rioting streets of Los Angeles, in a hate speech at Kean College, in the genocide in Bosnia, and in the retaliatory murder of an Orthodox Jew in New York City.
There is a lot of talk about discrimination, a bunch of gabble that is spit out at you by the media, the Church, your parents, your friends, and even (occasionally) Targum columnists. But all this talk is absolutely meaningless. It's nothing. It's nothing because none of it looks to the root of the problem. This drivel we serve you about discrimination is useless, because it simply tells us that it exists, and condemns its existence.
But we never seem to explain why it exists in the first place, and it is only when we answer this question can we begin to eliminate discrimination.
Being an individual is scary. Being different from the crowd is difficult. Few can do it. But in order for us to truly combat discrimination, the only possible answer is to realize the arbitrary means with which we have created it, and accept that those means are ridiculous.
Essentially, in order to solve problems of race, race must be eliminated. In order to solve problems of religions, gender, sexual orientation, and all the rest of the arbitrary categories we place ourselves in, those categories must be eliminated as such.
I identify myself as a white Jewish male. How did I arrive at these identities? My skin color may cast me as 'white,' but I do not necessarily belong in 'white culture,' whatever that is. I am considered Jewish because my parents were Jewish, but that fact has little to do with my personal faith and beliefs. I am considered 'male,' and although my sex is indeed biologically male (last time I checked), that fact has no bearing on my behavior as an American male--I gain no great pleasure from watching a football game, guzzling a six-pack, and drooling at the Cowboys' cheerleaders. My labels do not necessarily signify my actions.
Similarly, a young black man in America is stereotypical expected to listen to rap, carry a gun, and deal drugs, but many young black men may eschew mainstream America's image of 'black culture,' and listen to classical music, carry a briefcase, and deal in the stock exchange. This violates what America thinks the young black man should be, and thus the stereotypes persist, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of blacks do not fit the stereotype.
The only way to escape this kind of senseless and arbitrary labeling is to step outside the labels. The words 'young black man' have come to signify a scary image, thanks to the media, our 'friends,' and our parents. The only way for me, personally, to escape falling into these stereotypes is to ignore the signifier, and ignore the labels.
The only way to eliminate discrimination is on a personal level: you must choose for yourself to view other people as humans, and not as white Jewish males. You must radically reorder your thought processes so that you deconstruct the artificial categories our society has created. You must, essentially, think of everyone as an individual, and refuse to categorize anyone, including yourself.
Of course, this will never happen. Most people will be incapable of releasing their preconceived notions of identity. Most will be too afraid to let go of their attachments to arbitrary labels like 'white,' or 'black,' or any of the other labels that might have been attached to them. In order ignore labels for other people, you must first ignore labels for yourself, and this means giving up part of your identity, perhaps even part of your culture.
In no way do I mean that minorities should give up their respective cultures and conform to the majority's 'norm.' On the contrary, I believe that the only way to truly solve the problem of racism is to give up any notion of a 'norm,' to surrender any idealistic fantasy about blending your culture with mainstream culture, because once you set up a dichotomy between your culture and another culture, it's already too late.
Black History Month is a bad idea because it reinforces the ludicrous idea that there is a unified concept of 'black,' and that this 'blackness' is empirically different from the rest of culture. Affirmative Action programs are damaging because 'different' people get different treatment, thus reinforcing the stereotypes of the inadequacies of those different people. Calling myself 'white' is idiotic, because it creates the impression that I am white in opposition to some other color or culture, and I personally don't want to be considered to be in opposition to any kind of 'otherness.'
Race, religion, and other similar concepts are sometimes strengthening on an individual level, but on a societal level, they are cruelly divisive. We worry about advancing the cause of our particular group at the price of forgetting that we advance it in opposition to other groups. When we realize that the paradigms within which we live were arbitrarily created, does it really make any sense to reinforce them? It is harmful to say, 'I am different from you on the basis of my race, my religion, and my gender.' Instead, we should say, 'I am the same as you on the basis of my membership in the community, our state, our country, and our world.'
To paraphrase Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., do not judge people
by the color of their skin, their religion, their gender, or any other
arbitrary means of judgment. Judge individuals on their character; the
service or disservice that individual does to society during their stay
on this earth. Think of yourself not as an individual within a protective
group, but an individual within a world that desperately needs some protecting.