I have a dream…

I was walking through campus the other day and saw a pack of hipster folk standing around, talking. As I walked by, I made note of their tight pants, disheveled yet perfectly placed hair, neat-o sneakers and messenger bags.

I was walking through campus the other day and saw a pack of hipster folk standing around, talking. As I walked by, I made note of their tight pants, disheveled yet perfectly placed hair, neat-o sneakers and messenger bags. But what I also noticed was a lack of ethnic diversity in their group. It was just a bunch of white kids.

In our modern American culture, white people are provided the opportunity to be whatever they want to be, whether it is a jock, a goth, a prep, a punk, a hipster, a hippie, etc. But people of different ethnic backgrounds, often referred to in this country as “minorities,” cannot really be defined by anything other than their race or national origin in the eyes of those around them.

Take for example a story I heard from a fellow student. This student was recalling how in one of his classes the only African-American student in the whole class would fall asleep, every day, in the third row, right in front of the professor. “C’mon!” the fellow student said to his friends, “How do you fall asleep like that right in front of the professor?”

That is where our culture has (or has not) progressed to, and it’s sad. That sleepy student wasn’t just a guy. He was “the black guy.” He wasn’t anything but his race to the storyteller. You may see a white girl sleeping in class and she becomes the “hippie girl,” but you see a Persian girl sleeping in another class, dressed the same as the other girl, and she is “the Middle Eastern girl.” Her skin supercedes her values, dress and personality.

The only major ethnic group that doesn’t suffer this automatic categorization is the generic “Asian” ethnicity. Every once in a while you’ll see the Asian emo kid or the Asian hipster. He’s still Asian, but he’s allowed to be part of these new subcultures, because overall, Asian kids are gaining ground in white culture. This may be because Asians are the closest to white people in skin color. Perhaps this is why it would appear they are more easily able to transcend their race and find themselves in another social category.

Take a look around you sometime. Do you see some preppy guys standing around in the Park Blocks or do you see some Middle Eastern guys standing around? Is this racism? Or is this just a lack of white personal identity, which fogs the perception of everyone around us?

White people are the majority in this country and have become part of the background. They blend in with their surroundings. They’re everywhere. And with a smear of European national origins, a centralized and identifiable culture is hard to find, other than the culture of consumption of course. So we white people have to find some way to identify ourselves. Along those same lines we have to categorize those we see around us in addition.

We, as a culture, frown upon those who infringe upon these invisible boundaries of culture and taste, too. Are these categories helpful or detrimental to our growth as a community, a country and as people? Barack Obama’s African-American status has fallen under scrutiny as of late. Some claim that although his father was West African, he was not of African-American slave heritage, which demotes Mr. Obama to the status of “African, African-American.” Surely his level of American “blackness” shouldn’t be under scrutiny.

All people want to be treated equally, but they also demand to be respected for their differences. Where does the quality line get drawn and who defines that line? Treating an African-American man exactly the same as you would treat a white man can be considered ignorant. In washing away his differences and treating him as you would a fellow white person, you ignore his heritage and his unique struggle, one that white people cannot comprehend.

Therefore, wouldn’t it make more sense to classify everyone under our preconceived social groupings? Rather than treating all Latinos the same, shouldn’t we be making case-by-case judgments? Many of us have already taken that step with white people. Why not take it even further?

Treat all skaters the same. Treat all Rastafarians the same. Treat all emo kids the same regardless of their race. Or is that ignorant, too? Maybe that should be a personal judgment for you and your community to decide.

Race is not something people are going to ignore. But maybe we can remove some of the emphasis if we simply decide to categorize people within the smaller social groups they are active in. It may seem like a step in the wrong direction, but when you relate to someone as a “liberal” rather than just a “black guy,” you’re probably moving forward.