The Mish Mash Essay: The Question of Unity

We love the idea of unity. We love the idea of utopia. But in practice it never works. It is human to be segregated. It is human to fight, to murder, to inflict pain. In fact, we will create groups within our groups, factions within our factions. We are always seeking ways to distinguish ourselves from others.

A remember a woman standing up during a legislative information session and stating that the reason she did not want gay marriage was that she wanted hers to be special.

At first I thought it was a ridiculous and ignorant thing to say, but it made perfect sense. We want what we have to be special above others. This is why comparing ourselves to others is so dangerous. It’s never healthy. We are looking for see how we rate, if we are below, the same, or above. Our emotional outcomes are never good either. We either berate ourselves for not measuring up, pissed off because we are the same, or feeling good because we perceive we are better.

People will naturally gravitate toward those that are like themselves. That is why we have tribes, cultures, religious groups, and so on. In fact, we often say the most segregated day is on Sunday, because that is when people go to houses of worship that predominate their race or culture. Is it a bad thing? I don’t know. Are they worshipping the same gods? Who’s to say? I am non-religious. I don’t have a clue.

I do know that it should not be a surprise that we are so polarized today. We have been building these constructs since we had a thinking brain. We began assessing, categorizing, labeling, identifying, and concluding. That is how we created the story of the universe, of living things, of us. It is how we manufactured our concept of God, and all the religions that ensued.

We have constructed the world from our minds, and since we as a species are not monolithic, it would stand to reason that our constructions would not be the same, that worldwide, there are as many concepts as there are peoples.

So whatever we see in this sociopolitical climate now is just exposing what has always been there. The Native Americans and the Anglo Saxons were never going to live together in harmony. We were too different. Neither group within itself was monolithic either. They had their own conflicts, battles, wars. They murdered, raped and kidnapped each other.

Of course there is a difference between integration and co-existence. You can co-exist in the same town, and still be segregated. In my city of Baltimore, neighborhoods are pretty concrete in terms of racial and ethnic demographics. Roland Park is predominantly white. Cedonia is predominantly black. There are some neighborhoods that are fairly integrated, and that comes with converging interests – academia, the arts. Is this a bad thing? So long as each neighborhood is sustainable, I don’t think many people would object. But when there is gross inequality – food deserts, lack of good schools and transportation, economic disparity, attention to neighborhoods by city government – then people become up in arms.

School busing failed. Schools don’t want to be integrated, rather, communities don’t want integrated schools. The only places where I have seen it work is in private schools, and this is according to class. Money trumps everything else. If you are a wealthy black family, you are sending your children to private school. Period. How they are treated in that school is a different matter. But the reason why the children are in that private school is because their parents have money, and money is the great equalizer.

There are black kids who have never experienced a bad police interaction. Except for one, I have been very lucky. Is it because I am light skinned, I speak well? Now that I have dreadlocks down to my ass, a goatee, some would think I would have problems. But I don’t. I have friends who are cops, I get along great with the officers at my university, and overall I have excellent interactions with the people in blue.

Because I am of a collective group, I do empathize for what my people go through, and the issue must be front and center. And none of that All Lives Matter bullshit.

Being socially segregated does not mean that people hate each other as well. These segregations, though many of them historical, there are still many that occur because that is where people want to be. If you attend a party, and it is a bunch of people that you normally would not associate, you are either going to stay and be uncomfortable, or leave. Sure, we all love to have new experiences, but we choose those. We choose to travel to other countries, and we have those expectations. We may agree to go to a place with a friend who is introducing is to some new people, and so you prepare accordingly. But if we want to relax and unwind, we want to do it in places that are comfortable for us. That is natural.

I recently attended a gala that was extremely boring to me. It was a very mainstream crowd. I like a more grunge, punk, hip-hop, roots – a mash mish sort of crowd. I can let myself go in that kind of crowd. With the mainstream crowd, I have to be much more measured and cautious about what I say and do. It is a lot more about social etiquette, and any faux pas can earn you some odd looks. Nuance is the key, from how you hold your drink to how you excuse yourself. I do the best I can, presenting a dialed down version of myself. But I cannot wait to get out of there, and either be to myself, or to go somewhere where I can let loose.

And remember, I grew up in a middle class household, so I was being groomed for that kind of mainstream lifestyle. It just never took.

I remember going to the young middle class house parties, and trying so hard to fit, but feeling totally out of place. It wasn’t until I first went to college, and got into the alternative rock scene that I felt I could be me.

All of that to say that people will gravitate toward their comfort zones. And why not? Why not be comfortable? Who wants to constantly be thrown into uncomfortable social situations? That’s not fair, and that’s not living. We should live lives of as much comfort as we can, because we are here for a short time, and dead for a long time.

 

Ron Kipling Williams