My recent post (which followed up this post) drew a comment that defended Tony Hoagland's poem, "The Change," and this is the response I found myself writing in the small hours of this morning. I hope you can dig it. I know that you can. To wit.
After a 130 thousand years of all human beings living in the south of Africa, some few were pressured by food shortage to head north into Europe. Far from the equatorial sun, the palest of them survived best because only their skin let in enough ultraviolet to make Vitamin D. After a long time of not much, they found that their land held the largest deposits of iron on the planet. This iron made them very powerful. It made for plows, swords, armor, and later, guns. That happened in the past 10 thousand years.
Only a few hundred years ago, the pale ones “discovered” the continent they had left ages ago. In Europe they were used to fighting each other for land, metal, money, and workers, and here they found these goods undefended by swords, guns, or horsemen. The people they found had very different markers of culture, such that each seemed uncultured to the other. The pale ones wanted to steal the land, metal, money, and workers and not much was stopping them beyond morality. They got past the morality by using their own pale skin as a marker for quality, which they backed up by lamenting the absence of salad forks on the African continent, and then they stole everything they wanted. They treated the human beings there as animals. The palies did not have the gall to drag the humans back to Europe and treat them like animals right in the towns where they had preached equality to the rich and powerful. They only did it in places without a history of preaching equality because they had no history other than the extermination of the people who had lived their until recently. There, or rather, here, in America, they set up an institution that now disgusts anyone who learns of it. Its cruelties were unthinkable.
It was only abolished about 150 years ago. The only thing that we have lost in losing the idea of pale skin as a marker for superiority is a childish delusion not worthy of humanity. Physically, biologically, there is no such thing as race. Scott and Bob differ as much in their DNA as do Bob and Darnell. A hundred years ago, in New York, Italian and Irish immigrants fought each other on street corners and disowned Vincenzo for falling in love with Meghan. Cartoonists drew the Irish as if their race was as far removed from white America as an albino baboon, all large-browed, stub-nosed, and stupid. But economics changed and populations changed and the fact that these two groups were both largely Catholic and immigrated in the same era soon made them allies and eventually no racial difference was seen between these two “peoples.” When race difference disappears it disappears so completely that we forget that it was ever there, and therefore we also forget that race difference disappears.