Monday, August 3, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

A very interesting part of The Economist's special report last week on the Arab world outlined its diversity -- when you refer to "the Arab world," you are in fact referencing disparate cultures that hold very little common attributes:
Being “an Arab” is as slippery a notion as being “a European”. These are loose identities, put on and taken off according to taste and circumstance. Many a black Christian African living in the south of Sudan, a country that happens to be a member of the Arab League, would be astonished to be told he was an Arab. So, despite being Muslim, would an Iraqi Kurd (though a Lebanese or Palestinian Christian would not be).
The truly striking line comes at the end of this quote:
Also in stark contrast to Europe, the Arab world has seen little formal integration. [...] The United Arab Republic (UAR), which Egypt and Syria formed in 1958, lasted only three years. Other regional acronyms have come and sometimes acrimoniously gone. [...] As for the Arab League, it does little more than organise bad-tempered summits, fend off Western criticism of human-rights abuses by its members and denounce Israel. Al-Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular television channel, does an infinitely better job of providing the disparate Arabs with a sense of unity.

When I was in college, I had always been struck by how BET was always on in the Black Student Lounge. No one ever seemed to be watching it, and I wondered why it was always on. Surely ESPN, MTV, any other cable show would sometimes win out among the 18-22 crowd? (The Price is Right was a big daytime favorite in most other lounges on weekday afternoons...)

My moment of clarity finally arrived when I realized that the TV wasn't a palliative, it was normative: my fellow students weren't watching because they wanted to see its content -- it was because they were forming a collective identity, a shared narrative. How else could someone from suburban Atlanta find common ground with someone from Chicago's South Side?

The television created an instant, recognizable community that they could belong to -- which was far easier than acknowledging that they shared very little in common experience.

Of course, we would never admit to getting racial instructions from television. It's become a punchline when it comes to advertising, or a scapegoat for the behavior of disturbed children. But our larger social cliques are not reinforced, but instructed by television.

How much longer will we reward cognitive laziness and repeated the same tired racial arguments that have no palpable resolution, since the original problems are based on imaginary boundaries?

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