As globalization continues to run its course, and people of different cultures engage in closer interactions, we are beginning to discover human differences. We look different, speak different languages, and hold different beliefs. I think people are generally at ease with these differences. Afterall, it would be pretty boring if all human beings acted the same way.
What brings us discomfort, however, is our discovery of trends in these differences: people from this region generally look this way, people of this culture hold these beliefs. What makes us even more on edge is knowing that in the past, humans have oppressed each other based on these differences. My observation is that this has led to an unwillingness of many to admit objective differences, such as cultural differences, that exist between humans. This tendency is especially conspicuous in a diverse country like America regarding sensitive topics such as race or ethnicity: for example, after kids discover the sensitivity around race and ethnicity, they refuse to use these labels to describe others. For instance, if you were to ask a child to describe Mr. X, they will mention that he’s tall, wears glasses, has short hair, and has a great smile, but never that he is black, asian, mixed, white, even though society does often identify all of us by our race.
We feel uneasy to admit to the existence of human differences. So the question is, where does this discomfort come from?
I think the answer lies in our global history of oppression. We are not afraid of addressing any and all differences, since in the example above, kids are still willing to admit variance in height, presence of glasses, and hair length. What we avoid addressing are differences, like race and ethnicity, that have been used to discriminate. We don’t just somehow love pretending that we are all the same. It’s because many humans in the past have treated others horrendously and justified their actions by saying that the-others-are-different therefore-inferior-and-deserving-of-abuse. So over time, we associate human differences with human hierarchy. We know that human hierarchy is wrong, so we infer that the human differences that have shaped this hierarchy must be wrong too.
But the existence of human differences is not wrong. Objective diversity between identities of individual humans, like height, presence of glasses, hair length, race, and ethnicity, is present. So where did this contradiction come from? It came from a flaw in our thinking that human differences must imply human hierarchy. Wrongdoers in history have used differences in appearance or culture to justify their belief in their own superiority and exploitation of others. The observation of difference was factual, but their conclusion was wrong because their reasoning about human value was wrong. Yes, some individuals have fair skin while others have dark skin. But who are they to say that fair skin makes a better human being? Yes, some individuals have curly hair while others have straight hair. But what evidence do they have to say that straight hair is a superior standard of beauty? Yes, there exists different ethnic groups in the world. But who can justify that one ethnic group is superior to another?
The truth is, nobody can say someone is better than another based on a specific physical or cultural feature because our humanity isn’t reliant on these apparent variations. Just because you and I look different, speak different languages, or hold different cultural beliefs does not imply that you are better than me or I am better than you. We can admit to differences without justifying the belief in an hierarchy. We can easily admit to human differences in many identifiers such as height, the presence of glasses, or hair length, so what makes race or culture any different?
Our past—filled with prejudice and oppression—caused us to associate diversity with hierarchy. Today, we need to learn to detach them. We need to relearn how to describe objective differences between human beings without making a value judgement. We need to realize that, yes, people are different, but, no, that doesn’t make anyone better or worse than anyone else.
Instead of erasing human diversity, we should make the world safe for its existence.
Hope you enjoyed reading this! And please read through the entire piece before making any final judgements, since I do see room for misunderstanding if one only read the first half of this commentary. I recognize that this is might be a sensitive topic and some might disagree with my viewpoint, but I believe it is only in conversation and discourse that we make progress, so pushing past the discomfort and starting to share our perspective will be how we will learn. Comment for any questions or thoughts, I would love to talk!
Featured Image via the Community Arts Partnership