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The color of skin: what you see with your eyes has long been culturally predetermined by what is between your ears!
By Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Faculty in Humanities, Austin College
Jun 8, 2018
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When I was doing historical research in western equatorial Africa (Gabon), I asked a Gabonese friend at a reception if he would identify a Gabonese politician whom I knew by name only. He pointed to the other side of the hall and said; “He is the white man among the three talking near the corner.” As I walked toward the threesome, I saw no white man, but I did note that one was less black than the other two. Then I had one of those “aha” moments: an epiphany based on logic. If “white”-majority USA, labels anyone with some black heritage as “black”, why wouldn’t an African from a black-majority country call someone with some white heritage “white”?

That “aha” experience has helped me stop and think in many more situations. How we perceive the color of skin has always influenced how we approach and how we react to human rights, sports events, immigration, health care, gun safety, criminal justice, religion, gender issues, foreign policy, Judeophobia, Islamophobia, and much more. Color is only one factor in what determines what is “between our ears;” but what we are taught consciously and unconsciously preconditions our brains to see what our culture conditions us to see.

Recently, in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, I was asked if I thought “all lives matter.” I was quick to say yes, and then reminded my questioner who was born after the civil rights legislation of the 1960s, that videos are available of marches in the 1960s where lines of black men are carrying signs saying in large letters: “I AM A MAN.” Many were middle aged and were still being called “boys” in our culture. I never saw one of those civil rights videos where even one white man was marching next to the black men with a sign: “SO AM I.”

Recent studies affirm that history and genetics show that there is no “pure” group of humans. Dictionary definitions of race and racism are confusing and result from what is “between the ears” of the authors and editors.

Can our multi-cultural society in the USA improve what we are conditioned to perceive? Improving the curriculum in K-12 education is only one step in a long process that is interconnected with so many other steps. Horace Mann, who was in our US legislature (1848-53) noted that “Education…beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man—the balance-wheel of the social machinery.”

Henry H. Bucher, Jr., Ph.D.

Associate Professor Emeritus of Humanities