Let’s Talk about Differences

I’m going to take this to a topic I haven’t gone before, one that’s clearly sensitive in the present climate of our country – racial divides. The rationale stems from a sour experience I encountered last night, and a desire to open a constructive dialogue. For context, I am a white male – pretty much as white as they come. [Specifically, I am 99.5% European; I was genotyped by 23andme. Check out their website at 23andme(dot)com for more info.] My mother’s ancestors are descended from Italy (specifically, Sicily) and arrived to the U.S. in ~ the early 1900’s. My father’s ancestors hail from Ireland and came over at some point during/after the Irish potato famine. By my looks, you wouldn’t guess that I’m any part Sicilian, as my complexion is fairly light. Anywho, I’m a white male.

To make a vast understatement, my demographic has privilege in our U.S. society. One would have to be delusional to think otherwise. Is it correct? Of course not. Do I want to perpetuate this inequality, not only of race, but of class, sex, sexual orientation, and religious belief [to name some more prevalent matters at hand]? Of course not. As a graduate student in the field of genetics, I refuse to believe that humans are better than any other species on the planet, let alone that certain subgroups within Homo sapiens are better than others. [In fact, humans are pretty terrible and basically parasitic to our planet. Read ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ for greater perspective relevant to the manner in which humans (specifically Homo sapiens) drastically altered our planet and its biodiversity after the initial migrations out of Africa. I digress…] So it stands to reason that I would be upset if someone knocks on my door, first engages in friendly conversation, and then accuses me of racism at conversation’s end.

To be clear, I am not looking for sympathy. And I am loathe to generalize or categorize any subgroup within our society based upon the actions of one individual, who likely has been pre-conditioned through past experiences of inequality to draw assumptions of those from alternative demographics. The sharing of this experience is not meant to vilify one individual or victimize another. It is meant to paint a portrait of the current mistrust between demographics in our country, not only those between ‘white’ and ‘latino’ and ‘black’ and ‘asian’, but also those between ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘gay’ and ‘straight’, ‘muslim’ and ‘christian’. It is the sharing of this experience that I hope will open a constructive dialogue for those of various and differing identities within our society, to grow together in our differences, to embrace one another and to learn from one another.

Last night, I heard a knock on my door at approximately 8pm. I opened to greet a courteous, well-spoken, and well-dressed young man about my age, holding a pamphlet and appearing ready to make a sales pitch. I thought it interesting that he quickly identified our skin color differences, saying that he was surprised to encounter a ‘tall white guy’ in a predominantly Indian and Korean neighborhood. [His assertion of neighborhood demographics also was not quite accurate, indicating that he was not from the area and leaving me perplexed. And of course skin color does impact everyone’s day-to-day lives, but is it necessary to point out as the first talking point in a friendly encounter?] He first engaged me in conversation for a few minutes, a strategy common for salesmen and completely within line. I had no intention to purchase anything, as I am a graduate student with $10,000 debt to my name, but there’s no sense in being rude before a salesman makes his pitch. He asked some amicable and non-invasive questions (i.e. ‘Do you play sports?’ ‘What’s your favorite team?’ etc.) I engaged in return; we exchanged handshakes, smiles, a few fist bumps, and then he gave his pitch.

He was selling magazine subscriptions, not for personal use, but to be given to sick children in hospitals. My first thought: door-to-door magazine sales are notorious for scamming. Secondly, the fact that I wouldn’t even receive the magazine struck me as odd, and the heartbreak story that they would go to sick children also raised red flags. He had on top of his pamphlet some sort of badge of identification, but with no manner for me to determine whether this was legitimate. I then stated that this was a lot of information to process, and that I couldn’t be certain because sometimes these things “aren’t legitimate”. He could’ve been white, blue, green or purple, and I would not have purchased a magazine subscription. Yet unfortunately, he then implied that my doubts stemmed from racism and abruptly asked that I close my door.

To be clear, this very well may have been a scam, based on the thousands of other searchable incidents of door-to-door magazine sales scams. Perhaps he wanted to try to get a rise out of me after I called his bluff. Yet it still hurt, and left me pondering. What if he was a genuine salesman, and truly perceived this scenario as an act of racism? It’s not necessarily the notion of being called ‘racist’ that stings. Most frightening is the concept that I may somehow add further fuel to a combustible racial fissure. I won’t claim that I know how to solve any of the complex social issues within our country, which are deeply rooted in a history of oppression and inequality dating back to the founding of this nation. To be open, sincere, unbiased, and kind to others are the only manners that I currently know how to contribute in a meaningful way to our society, and I feel we all can use such tools to help heal and strengthen our nation from within, in spite of its current social and political climate. Of course this is easy for me to say, as a member of a demographic that has never experienced any legitimate disadvantages stemming from skin color or biological sex. Even still, I don’t want to perpetuate this current system, and want to do my part to fix it. I’m a white male, and this is my perspective. How can I help?

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