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The Daily Tar Heel

Testing diversity by nixing race

Three years ago, the NAACP buried the N-word. The word isn’t as forgotten as Middle English, but it did seem to alleviate some racial tension. Yet I don’t think we should focus our efforts on a genocide of racial epithets.

What I think this country is ready for is not giving attention to racial rhetoric as we seem to do, ripping people for the slightest racial faux pas, but rather a scenario without the concept of race (represented as skin color as it often is) altogether.

Yes, this subject is touchy. Yes, I’m a hodgepodge of eight European groups. But dialogue goes two ways. You can always flood the newspaper with letters.

America has taken a special focus on Glenn Beck-esque waterworks rhetoric and little things, like single words and technical terminology (i.e., “illegal immigrant”). But why are we spending time on this? Does this make progress on racial issues? Is it what we’re down to focusing on in race relations?

It’s tough to concretely say where we are on race relations. But something is wrong when the NAACP says it serves all races, yet it, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson use skin color as a litmus test for whether to rush to cases like those of Crystal Mangum — accuser in the Duke lacrosse case — and, as Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition did, offer full tuition regardless of whether the accusations were false.

So, after the recent survey on the state of diversity on campus, and thinking along the lines of the scientific method, I propose a control experiment: For a period of a year or two, race doesn’t exist. What if we focused our efforts on inequalities and poverty truly regardless of race? What if we saw identifying the color of our skin just as relevant and silly to do on a survey/application as identifying our hair color?

Could we acknowledge heritage? Sure. Our backgrounds shape us, though they’re not as different as you might think. My Irish great-grandmother was an indentured servant. Irish, Italians and others were treated like scum for generations in America. All races have had struggles, some more recently than others. Skin color and heritage aren’t the same.

And it is not easy to engage in race relations when your own race is constantly told it’s the problem, that you’re holding back minorities. There is a shame put on whites like I can only imagine post-World War II German generations must feel.

Finally, it’s difficult to understand why we still need affirmative action and immigration leniency when families of all races — from Latin America to Africa to the Middle East to Asia — can immigrate legally, start with nothing, work their asses off and be able to send their kids to college.

Looking back, the only time I’ve felt like I’ve been in a truly interactive, (racially) diverse setting on campus is with my club football team. Short of having a penguin play fullback, we’ve had every continent represented over the past couple years. No one cares or tries to applaud the diversity. No one is trying to discuss our racial dynamic or representation. The team just is. We coexist.

And I wonder if we pulled back and quit focusing so much on skin color, diversity and racial equality, we could at least see how far we’ve come and better identify exactly where we need to go.

Sam Perkins is a second year marine science graduate student from Charlotte, NC. E-mail him at ssperkin@email.unc.edu

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