America Isn’t a Colorblind Meritocracy. Why Are So Many of Us Still Pretending it Is?

What will it take for the United States to overcome entrenched issues pertaining to race and socioeconomic status? According to poet and educator Clint Smith, the U.S. needs to be honest with itself about cultural myths (meritocracy, equal treatment by authorities, etc.) that don't actually exist.

Clint Smith: I think in this country we have an issue with being honest with ourselves. We have an issue with being honest about who we are, what has transpired in the course of our history to marginalize groups of people. And I think what often happens is that we get a diluted or myopic or a very one-dimensional perspective on what is taking place over the course of our nation’s history. I remember receiving the news when Tamir Rice was killed, the 12-year-old boy in Cleveland who was shot for, in part, playing with a toy gun. The police killed him within two seconds of pulling up in the car. And it immediately brought me back to a moment in my own childhood when I was playing with the water guns and my father came and told me that I couldn’t do that. That that was unacceptable. And I didn’t really understand. I was frustrated. I was embarrassed that my father would do that in front of my friends. I knew that he was the strict dad. I called him after Tamir Rice had been killed and I had a conversation and I told him I understand now. I understand now in a way that I didn’t understand before. And thank you even when I was kicking and screaming and saying that you were mean and strict and wouldn’t let me, you know, have fun or be a kid. I recognized that these were hard decisions for you to make.

So many people in black community, you know, black men in particular grew up having the talk and getting the talk, so to speak, from their parents. But I remember having conversations with some of my white friends and realizing that there was no notion of ever having to have a conversation about how to interact with police about who you are in the context of the larger criminal justice system. We can’t move forward, I think, and have an honest conversation about race in this country unless we’re grounding these conversations in an understanding of how each of, us among our differences, navigate the world and understand, you know, potentially see the same thing, but understand it differently. We have this sort of rugged individualism, this meritocracy, you know, that we are told we exist in when that’s not really the case. And that, you know, we have a lot of different people who are starting from very different places in life as a result of their class, as a result of their gender, as a result of their race. And we have a difficult time as Americans, I think, contextualizing that and understanding the sort of socio-historical realities that have shaped our contemporary existence. And so I think it’s hard for us to be honest about where we are if we’re not honest about where we’ve come from.

 

What will it take for the United States to overcome entrenched issues pertaining to race and socioeconomic status? According to Clint Smith, a National Poetry Slam champion and doctoral candidate at Harvard, the U.S. needs to be honest with itself about cultural myths (meritocracy, equal treatment by authorities, etc.) that don't actually exist. The killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice had a profound impact on Smith and further opened his eyes to the different social experiences and challenges faced by African-Americans. If the goal is to achieve a truer form of equality and egalitarianism, half the country needs to stop blindly pretending those differences aren't there.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less