Here is the thing. Groups are a man made artificial construct. It is a side effect of the dueling human desires to both be special, and one of a kind ‘I’ and also belong, be a part of a greater ‘we’. How one defines themselves is very fluid. It depends on settings and circumstances. It depends on the make up of the groups in question. What do I mean? Let’s take my freshman year of college as an example. While I completed my engineering degree at SUNY Tech/Utica I started at N.C.A.&T. in Greensboro, NC, a historically black college. I was excited for many reasons. It was college. My Uncles attended A&T and shared glorious tales of
debauchery college life. And then there is this. I wanted to belong. Here I was, a young man that grew up in suburban upstate NY who always felt like the odd man out. For once I wanted to ‘belong’ I thought. But, belong to what? Within this body I saw further segmentation that I had not witnessed before based on region or origin, team sport, family’s country of origin, fraternity affiliation, cool points (of which I had few), etc. And then just about every category then had subcategories. Those from NYC could then be broken down in to boroughs, then even neighborhoods within that borough for instance. While disappointed that my naivete had made me so optimistic as to think that this would be some panacea in which I could find a sense of belonging, I was fascinated by the human need to divide itself regardless of setting. In the grand scheme we all had so much in common to join us, but nearly the first instinct of many just days in to this new college experience was to divide.
The same can be said of greater society.
Owing to my parents love and hard work entirely my childhood was fantastic. It was filled with happy memories that far outweigh the acts of foolishness that they had trained me to endure with dignity. Understanding that amid all of these slights there is one truth. I am no different than anyone else. My desires are no different than anyone else. Despite all that has occurred my mind is not primarily focused on exacting some delusional revenge, or even to show someone else that I could be successful in life despite their prejudices. No. I could not care less what these individuals thought of me. In truth many of the slights hurled my way were prompted by my not caring what others thought of me. They think. I know. I do because I want what so many others want:
- A good education for myself and my children.
- A measure of success relative to my efforts.
- A happy and healthy family.
- My children to return safely home every day.
- Raise my children up to be productive members of society.
- Someone to share my life with.
- A place to call home.
- Peace of mind.
- Retire comfortably.
- So on and so forth…
Regardless of any barrier we put between us we are all so much more alike than we are different. But we all spend, no waste, so much time we will never get back obsessing over the relatively few differences between us all. Personal, regional, national, and international history makes moving forward seem impossible at times. But until we stop living in fear, acting out of paranoia, until we put away willful ignorance, and until we view the past as a lesson book not to be repeated instead of a score sheet so we are not defeated there will be no change. There I go being optimistic again. Naive? Perhaps. But as I look in to my children’s eyes I have no choice, but be optimistic.