Who am I?
On some days I am not sure which better defines me my race or my ethnicity, in some ways I have always known this, but it wasn’t as dramatically apparent as it is now. If you were to ask me what I am you could receive four answers:
I am White
One of the ways I define myself is as a White male. I do not know when I first defined myself as White I lived in a very rural area with a very low level of diversity. There was no real reason to define myself as White to differentiate myself from a different group. I believe that the first time I probably defined myself as White was when I first learned about slavery and I must admit it was not a positive experience. Even though my ancestors had never owned slaves (in American history) I was ashamed for what my race had done to others and both fascinated and disgusted about the advances it had made and the great and terrible destruction it had reaped on the others. Nowadays I generally define myself as White as a joke. Such as, "I can’t dance I’m a white boy." However I also realize that although I don’t define myself as white or only do so in jest I am still judged and a member of that category which is in someways an advantage and disadvantage. It is an advantage in that my ancestors tried very hard to be white and to instill white culture into their children. As a result of this we have lost much of our culture but white culture is still one of the best ways to get a job. Employers look for specific desirable behavior and as bad as that sounds that is "white" behavior and is a lingering artifact of a bygone era. It is a disadvantage in that I am subject to affirmative action, while I believe that affirmative action is creating better racial equality for races that have been brutalized and subjugated in the past, I do not understand why I should be punished. As I mentioned earlier my ancestors never had slaves (most whites didn’t but that is beside the point for the moment) my ancestors came to this country and became farmers and soldiers working from rags to riches in their own way to give their children a better life why should we get passed over for a job because of what a rich white guy did hundreds of years ago? But also there is another factor that should be considered the negative stereotypical images that are usually rather mild or about issues that do not typically concern me to be surrounded by negative images and to be defined in that way on sight would haunt me I thankfully have never had to deal with this issue. That is one of the odd factors about race while it is generally easy to identify someone as a member of a race there are other factors. People can be accused or not being White enough if they wear clothing, portray behaviors, or speak in slangs that are generally associated with a different races. Such as wearing the baggy clothes and listening to rap which is closely associated with black culture. Non-white cultures face the same issue and can face ridicule, insults, and violence for what they wear or what they listen to. If race is skin color how can it be clothing, or music or slang? Race is a construct and while I may be identified and identify as white till the end of my days I do not believe in it and look forward to the day that races are no longer used to define people and culture can be enjoyed by all.
Part of the reason I enjoy the concept of being identified as being "white", I must admit, is the conceit that "we" conquered the world. Now as I mentioned before I do not support the concept of subjugation and genocide but the idea of the race that you are a part of exploring the world and then conquering it, while I am not a violent man, give the impression of superiority and strength.
This however is a fallacy is that as pointed out by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. He points out how Europe as opposed to nearly every other continent has most of its most fertile lands running latitudinal as opposed to longitudinal. Now you may be wondering, why is this important? Simply because as longitude changes so does climate, this all has to do with the curve of the earth. The closer you are to the equator the more sunlight that area receives and that changes the climate. The variation in climate may cause great difficulty in the colonization of new areas. For example if I were the leader of a tribe that lived in an area like New York whose primary crop was apples and I decided to travel south down to an area the equivalent of Georgia my people and I would face major difficulty. Our primary crop would not grow here it would be far too warm so we would have to grow a new crop but it takes many generations to domesticate plants. So my people would have to be hunters and gatherers hunting and gathering plants and animals new to them which also may cause difficulty. Aside from these trials my people and I may have to worry about the consequence of diseases in certain climates certain diseases thrive. In the jungles of Africa and South America malaria is a great threat, in the forests of North America and Eurasia diseases are not a threat at all. My people may have to face new diseases due to my entering them into a new climate. If however I had a tribe in Europe if I took them the same distance east or west they would encounter the same climate and largely the same animals, plants and diseases. This lead to a rapid exchange of people, goods, and food across Europe. Which in turn lead to a rapidly advancing society and technology level which caused the creation of cities. Cities were the secret key to success for the Europeans conquering Europe. The crowded disgusting waste-filled cities were a breeding ground for disease and when those Spanish reached the Americas swimming with disease the Americans who believed in bathing and cleanliness were wiped out. It is believed that nearly 99% of the Native American population was wiped out by disease alone. The Europeans had given them a finishing blow accidentally within possibly minutes of their first contact without even knowing it. So it becomes quite obvious that this small subconscious pride that I had for my "race" that small undercurrent of belief that, that race is somehow superior is complete bologna. The only reason that white people as opposed to any other race were the most capable of conquering the others is the luck of the draw when it came to continents, and the fact that the design for European countries were at one point extremely filthy and disgusting which gave Europeans a form of biological warfare that they were unaware they possessed. That is not the glamourous picture that textbooks originally wished to express.
I am the product of my Ancestors
I you asked me what I am this first might my knee jerk answer that I am half Greek, a quarter Polish, part, Austrian, Hungarian, Swiss, and German and possibly Native American. The second would be a White guy who can’t dance or jump. The third way would be an American. Now these answers are put up there in this particular order for a reason I often define myself in that order.
This answer at the beginning of the course is what I perceived as my ancestry and as I now look at it... I was wrong. These genetic heritages named from countries most of which still exist to this day although are in fact closer to ethnic ancestries which catalogs my ancestors homelands and cultures more than my genetic makeup simply because my genetic ancestry and the reasons I look the way I do date back tens of thousands of years before that when my first ancestors traveled across the plains of the Sahara from Africa I am still quite proud of my newly redefined ethnic ancestry because I am exceedingly proud of my family history and my family itself, we are a rather tight knit bunch. Since I was very young I have been proud of one particular part of my ancestry above the others and that was the Greek part. How gratifying and fascinating it is to be Greek, to be a descendent of a society who created the pillars of the civilization we have today, and whom we still celebrate to this day with films, books, and television. While the other students in my class were speaking of their Irish and Italian heritage I proudly spoke of my Greek which my family celebrated with food and religious ceremonies (of the Greek orthodox church) and even just with how proudly I bore my last name.
However another part of my ancestry was for a long time carried with shame. Mentioned quickly and largely ignored, this was the Polish part of my ancestry. It was not that I was ashamed of my ancestors, quite the opposite in fact, I was proud of my grandfather Edward Zarzecki a marine who fought in the Korean war, a good, handsome, hardworking and at times eccentric man. It was the jokes, you’ve probably heard them, the manned space mission to the sun, the screen door on the submarine etc. etc. These hurt me because I knew they were not true! I knew I was not stupid and that my mother was not stupid either, however there are no movies made about Polish heroes. It took a beautiful and brilliant Polish foreign exchange student named Kasha and learning about propaganda in World War II to learn the truth and to truly appreciate and celebrate all of my "ancestry".
I am an American
I am proud to be an American, and I do believe for all its problems America is the greatest country on Earth. Now you are probably wondering if I believe all this (which I do) why isn’t American in first place. Well that is for one reason because as I am in America now. While in America being American becomes something of an afterthought because everyone is an American. However when I traveled abroad things changed dramatically my first two answers were completely stripped away I defined myself as an American. It wasn’t until later that I truly understood how much of an American I am. I don’t know if others believe this but I often see that if you are immersed in a culture you often don’t realize that it’s there and palpable. Many Americans "can’t see the forest for the trees" so to speak and are afraid that new cultures are going to over take our own because ours isn’t "strong" enough. They don’t realize that Thanksgiving is unique (largely) to the U.S., that we learn more about the history of our country than most other countries do, that we are the only successful bi-partisan presidential style democracy in the world, and even little things like food and the pledge of allegiance. American is a fully functioning rich culture that I am a member of which shapes my life and who I am I just simply don’t realize it all the time.
I am Human
I have learned much about my genetic ancestry and have learned a great deal. Humanity in spite of our vast differences in appearance which has caused to much war and suffering, humans are 99.9 percent alike and that is even between races. I also learned that the distinctiveness between humans is simply the result of natural selection. Humans do not often believe that they are affected by nature, we believe that our advanced technology and superior wisdom, but this is simply not the case. In the Southern hemisphere humans are exposed to high levels of solar radiation which can lead to cancer which will lead to death so humans with darker pigmentation survived to pass on their genetics. In the Northern hemisphere however humans faced a different issue with a lower amount of sunlight available humans with a darker skin tone suffer from the lack of vitamin D because their skin would screen out too much sunlight.
There are other factors as well diseases can greatly influence what genes are passed on Diseases such as Cholera, Malaria, and the Bubonic Plague are highly infectious diseases with high mortality rates genetic mutations within the populace which make them more resistance to disease and then make them far more likely to pass on their genetic traits to their offspring. Another factor is that much of the Earth was colonized by small familial tribes that were largely separated from one another due to deserts frozen wastes, glaciers, and Oceans. This led to population groups having a large number of common repeated traits causing some groups to look very similar and other groups very different.
Conclusion and My View on the Future of Race
These are the ethnic and racial classifications that I am defined as and that define me. From least important to most important. I have learned much about race and the politics and false beliefs behind it. Linnaeus was wrong we are one race, one species, Homo Sapiens. We should celebrate our tremendous diversity a testament to the trials our ancestors went through as they traveled across this planet on foot and on raft, and in remembrance to the distant lands that were once their home which they held sacred.
I hope one day race will no longer exist but that the subcultures that have grown within these artificially constructed classifications can be explored and celebrated by all people. Over the years each has left their mark some marks I hope may some day be erased and others I hope grow stronger and richer with my understanding. As time passes these things may change and I along with them I am only this man once and for only a short while but I hope what is passed on is a wiser and greater things. I personally believe that race will not be an issue Race is a social construction originally created around a biased view based on the color of one skin that over time adopted or were inflicted by others cultural and linguistic characteristics. The simple fact is that race while still based around a prejudiced view of skin color it is in many ways now more of a culture than a genetic trait. Some races even developed holidays to celebrate their heritage (Kwanzaa). The difference between races and cultures are how they are treated. Races are often much like a cross to bear while culture is celebrated in festivals of food and music. As soon as race is treated as culture it can be understood and celebrated by everyone and will no longer have a negative impact on our culture and way of life leading to a stronger nation and better understanding of our fellow men and women.