The racial prejudice and bigotry that have overrun America–temporarily, we may hope–spring from a very common misconception. It is the idea that somehow you had a hand in producing yourself, and making yourself the superior creature that you see in the mirror every day. Nut the unpleasant reality is that we can only affect peripheral areas of life such as the amount of education we attain, or the clothes we wear, or what kind of work appeals to us.
This error is usually an unquestioned assumption that somehow you are magic and special. The people who enjoy, even demand, their white privilege in every aspect of their lives have never questioned this oblivious satisfaction, which is upended in the single sentence with which I will begin my next paragraph.
You did not make yourself. You and I came into this world as the result of actions by two entirely different people for whom the begetting of a child may have been the last thing on their minds. If I had made myself I would look more like my mother, who had black hair and blue eyes; I would certainly have appreciated the chance to tweak my DNA code so that I got what she got when she inherited her genes.
But the fact is that each and every one of us is created in one white-hot instant when the cosmic slot machine spits out our individual genetic code, and nothing we know of will ever alter it. No one is ever given the chance to decide on what they will look like, or the amount of intelligence they will have, or their character. The scientific community admits that they do not know why some people are homosexual and others are not, citing the inexplicable reality that in some cases of identical twins, one is gay and the other is straight. This despite the fact that their DNA is, of course, identical.
It follows inevitably then, that no one is given the chance to choose a color of skin. No one gets to decide whether they will be straight or gay. You can’t even choose an eye color unless you buy contact lenses, and being right- or left-handed is totally out of the area in which one can make decisions.
It should be clear by now that punishing people for being who they are is ridiculous. When we contemplate that people were once actually persecuted for being left-handed it becomes clear why everyone needs an open mind about others’ personal quirks and habits.
But while we are rolling along enjoying our privileges, we can often fall into the equal and opposite error: that those who are labeled inferior are somehow undeserving. Thousands of years of lies heaped upon the people of Africa have produced the unquestioned cultural assumption of the Western Hemisphere that white people are naturally masters, and colored people are best suited for the servant class. And I can tell you that when the realization broke over me that I am not the Fairy Queen of all women, I had to let go of my assumptions in double quick time. I could do it myself or be more forcefully disabused of that foolish notion by people who did not hold with such ideas.
What I learned from all this, a process that may be called growing up and getting over yourself, is how many people do not bother to acquire maturity, but only get older. You can age and grow up, or just age, and wonder one weekend why all the other girls in the night club seen so immature. As you notice that the men are crowding around the girls who meet only the minimum age requirement for coming in the door, you can sit there uncomprehending or you can start figuring it out. But either way, everybody got here by the same route. You were not consulted. We didn’t get to submit a package of height, weight, intelligence and appearance to some committee that would congratulate us on a plan well made. We were catapulted into this world on other people’s passion, and now that we are here it behooves all of us to get over ourselves now, today, if we haven’t had the common sense to do it already.