I was only 15 years old as we piled into a caravan, heading back home after a contentious soccer game. Minutes later, shots rang out. The fight that ended the game was taken personally. We were taken out of the path of those bullets by the actions of the father in the car behind us, who pulled in between the two cars, forcing the driver to swerve as the passenger fired.
It wasn’t the only societal struggle in my youth. There was the girl who went into labor in my eighth grade science class, the father lost to drug violence, the midnight call from a friend about her stepfather’s abuse, the family bankrupted by substance abuse, the young friend deported, the friend I buried at 15, the friend who is now a stripper, the friend who accidentally shot himself and the friend who dropped out of school at 16 to become a father.
White isn’t the prototypical racial experience our society associates with those events. But if you take out the bit of Native American in me, I’m as white as they come. As my family traveled from Germany to America, we took on the phonetics of Anglo-American names. Siebold became Seaworth. Germans no longer, we were Americans.
I am not saying there is an absence of difference between American races. In the fifth grade, I was tasked with teaching math to the students who were falling behind, so that the teacher could focus on the students who weren’t. All of those classmates were African-Americans, students the teachers had given up on long before, none of whom failed that year.
Yet when President Barack Obama said his son would be of the same skin color as Trayvon Martin, he drove a wedge between Americans, in a manner that, were I more cynical, I would describe as politically motivated.
Race has become a self-fulfilling point of contention that only multiplies the wrongs it is meant to end. In dividing ourselves on the basis of race we are lost to the bickering of individuals, who believe they are most wronged, the most in need. That is the very foundation of racism: the idea that one race is due more Constitutional Rights than another. In our modernity, we’ve become a country of persons who accepted the labels of bigotry, who folded in and took on the asterisks of hate, as adjectives of self-division.
Webster’s Dictionary cites race as, “a family, tribe, people or nation belonging to the same stock, a category of humankind that shares certain distinctive physical traits.” We are a nation, more than two centuries old, long of a common land, with the common culture of a belief in equality and freedom. According to the Brookings Institution’s overview of the 2010 Census, 10 states now have an under-18 population in which “whites” are the minority population, and we will soon be – as early as 2019, by some estimates – a country of non-white majority. In other words, we will soon be a nation without a uniform set of physical traits.
Where then, is the demographic box that says, “I am forever an American. Not an Anglo-American, but an American. And that racial distinction isn’t changed by a president whose skin color is different than mine.”
I want a demographic box that says, “The blood within that young man was the same color as mine.” One that says, “I’m American, member to a race not confined to skin tones, but rather to the belief that we all are created equal under God, with the God-given rights of freedom and the pursuit of happiness.”