Baltimore Riots Remind Us We Are Not a Multicultural Nation

05/01/2015 11:18 am ET | Updated May 01, 2016

"We have never even begun to understand a people until we have found something that we do not understand. So long as we find the character easy to read, we are reading into it our own character." -- G.K. Chesterton, What I Saw in America

I grew up in a white middle-class neighborhood right in the center of California. That doesn't mean much for this story, only to show, that the fact I made that distinction already starts this article off with my first point: Racism is not just about skin color, but that it has also evolved into a category about social and economic status. What is more important about my childhood is that I was adopted out of a dangerous situation, where both my biological parents were drug dealers, users, and my mother was a prostitute. It's how we survived. It's how we could afford to eat breakfast and stay off the streets. They both are white.

Why do I bring that factor up?

To challenge the lazy stereotype caricatures that both the media and a large majority of American culture has blindly accepted, more explicitly, that the black community has the largest unemployed demographic, or has the most criminal arrests or behavior. Statistics are not truth. That is a lousy lopsided argument. Especially, since we know statistics can be used to fit any agenda. My adopted family was made up of a Hispanic father (from Mexico; who experienced racism in the '40s), three African-American siblings and a Dutch mother. We had to deal with the myopic hatred of the Aryan skinheads who lived just down the street and made threats. But, why? For what reasons? Because of the tint of someone's skin? Because of the geographic history of one people group? Or because of some religious idea that God cursed those with darker skin? How preposterous is it that we now live in age where we have come to value human worth and existence based upon an outside (socially constructed) quality?!

Multiculturalism has become the clarion call for a sort of postmodern neoliberalism fantasy. More to the point, neoliberalism endorses the individual at the convenient expense of the whole. A simple example would be, when one particular group gets scapegoated as the sole reason for why society is in danger or some illusion of comfort is forcibly removed from our daily lives. It would be when the media expend all of its economic resources (or in truth, our economic resources) to tell us that ISIS is the reason why we shouldn't feel safe or free. But, if we have to blame an outside entity for relinquishing our sense of safety or freedom, were we ever free in the first place? And if we were free, then doesn't that assume that to feel safe, the government must do something on our behalf? Which then justifies the government's reactionary knee-jerk, fear-based ideological presence in our lives. This puts the government in the position of power whereby we all have to adhere to whatever "safety-driven" policies emerge (i.e. Weapons of Mass Destruction and etc.).

This is the exact same issue that is occurring in the unfair scapegoating of the black community, which has happened over the last two years -- no, the last 600 years. However, the challenge for the black community to rise up and respond to these unfounded heinous attacks from the police, like in the recent Baltimore riots is not good enough. It's not good enough that "Black Lives Matter", or that every event that occurs or could be read as an attack on the black community be documented. The documentation is just a repeat of the event; we need change, not repetition.

This is not to devalue the events, but to endorse progress. In this case, progress might mean, we need to question the role of government (as represented to us by the police) -- how their violence just maintains the status quo: like encouraging untrue stereotypes, demanding we as citizens just listen to them, or that without them we would just live in abject chaos. Which deep down, we know, is a lie. Self-policing is an option we have yet to truly explore as a society. An option we should take more and more seriously as we are being exposed to the underbelly of what power does when it corrupts and is abused at the hands of fellow humans.

America has never really been a multicultural nation. It has hints of it. But, truly, multiculturalism has come to mean that we should respect someone else's differences from afar, as if to make them holy or different or sacred -- without ever really engaging them. This is essentially what the police are doing, rather than dealing with the black community, they defend their use of violence, which mediates for them, rather than ever getting to know those they are accusing. The riots remind us, much like the first civil rights, that racial identity is still at the center of American identity. In fact, to have a racial identity in America is to be stereotyped, marginalized and over-policed. Obviously, this isn't the case in every single situation, and we need to be mindful of this. However, this is not to make racial groups holy or sacred, exactly the opposite, to show that the police and the government are not and should not be treated as holy or sacred.

All that happens when we leave the black community to fend for themselves is defend the philosophy of the neoliberal project, that corporately, "they" are on their own. This is why, for example, Black Lives Matter can not stand alone; racial aggravation, from the police or elsewhere, must be met with the full force of us those who will demand equality when the law is blind to its very transgressions against it. America, as a nation, is part of the problem, it represents itself to be united, when in reality, it is not. America is an idea, not a nation. The idea is far from being realized. We have a long way to go. But we have to believe and fight for a better idea. Equality is possible.

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