Email to John Fountain
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20120517                Internet Graphic: Haplogroups                Morality                Humasn Rights (race)

To: (columnist in the Sun-Times)
From:, 6:05pm, May 17, 2012
Subject: Oh Dear! Sun-Times, 5.17.2012
Just a few thoughts here about racism and such. I have read your columns these nigh on years, usually with interest, nearly always with agreement or at least understanding sympathy, and occasionally gaining a significant new insight. Today, I feel I must respond, or at least get a few of my thoughts into digital format (I too write, so I save and reuse and build upon, so thank you for this opportunity to "get off my duff" and write it down).

Your column today reeks of pure racism, flat and simple. It invests pride in a group of VERY diverse people, culturally and genetically; slaves, slave owners, and slave traders (Africans) because of, at least, I gather from your column, shared adversity of those with a generally recognizable physical trait, skin color. Welcome to the very common world that sees human history through the lens of their race (or ancestors), to the idea of "shared racial history", the pure expression of racism that, among other things:
   • is a source of pride for some members (your "royal legacy" and the "pride of the Queen", pride recognized and celebrated by many, if not most "others", like whites, French (for the Queen, no not the French) etc* (footnotes at end)
   • BUT
   • pits one group against "others"
   • promotes the very thing it abjures, racism
   • is a source of fear and hatred for "others", a fear and hatred reflected by many "others" who
      ○ apply coined words to members with negative connotations like whitey, Jim Crow, nigger, kyke, mick, yank, slant-eye, and on ad infinituum**
      ○ enslave and brutalize members**
      ○ consider members below humans, so moral restrictions such as torture, do not apply****

You claim it would amount to "self-imposed amnesia" if you forgot the horrors (also many joys too, I assume) experienced by "Africans" (I note, skin color never appears in your article, which is something I like about your column). Oh no, John, please don't forget. But don't forget the horrors and joys of everyone's past, without exception, through both ancestry and culture. We all have many, many stories in our past, all to be remembered, or at least all we can, or at least all we choose to. But the stories are not OUR experience. Ours includes "knowledge" of our ancestors and their experiences, of course, but not the experiences themselves. Along some lines of everyone's ancestry is servitude, hate, and hated, and all the elements you claim are "reasons" to hold your African identity. That's OK, John, just recognize it for what it is, pure racism, which I think just leads to more racism. But your history also so much more that. It is also Plato, John Locke, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes (probably black), Zoroaster (Persian), and Buddha (probably dark brown), and my favorite, Lao Tzu (probably yellow), as well as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Travon Martin, the latter, of course, who are also part of my heritage, my knowledge base of hatred, love and everything else. So why pick out the bad, and claim your identity rests on shared persecution and mistreatment of a subset of your ancestors for a period or two of history. It is SO easy, it seems to me, to slip from there into "wrongs that must be set right" (your "dream of ..... " character rather than skin) and someone of another race will disagree with objective, procedure, or schedule and blame you, because of your race for obstructionism, and you can then rightly claim prejudice is still around and provides evidence of the wrong you are just trying to right     .....    ......    .......  and we're off ....... to the racism races.

Should I take similar pride in the adversity some of my ancestors shared?, and pay homage through guilt in owing to their efforts which to me have been a "blessing or a curse"? to use your metaphor. I too have plenty back there to choose from, e.g. oarsmens on a Greek Trimene, now there is a hellish life, or perhaps exiles from second destruction of the temple, long persecuted in far away lands, only in search of our god-given homeland. Now how many lives has THAT racist claim cost?

More thoughts: There is a modern tendency to restrict the term "racism" to only those things that cause negative consequences to a particular group and rename it "racial pride" when referring to positive attributes of racial identify, BUT, its all racism just the same; seeing things, anything, though a racial lens. It all comes from the same source, the pride, joy, hatred and envy. It is a fellow traveler with self-identity with some perceived group that is "different", no "special".

Related thought: Much of that seeing is based on real group differences. There is a strong movement in the social sciences to eliminate the concept of race from the human mind, well, at least calling it a scientifically discredited "myth" based on "erroneous biological conceptions" and is just a "sociopolitical, technological and commercial construct". I disagree. Races are real. Well at least as real as granite. We place distinctions upon nature based, ultimately, on arbitrary boundaries or definitions. We create distinctions through our ability to communicate, which in turn relies on our ability of abstraction, including the idea of perfection and evolution toward perfection as moral goods. Subclasses of humans can be distinguished in many ways, some genetic, some behavioral. "Your" African race is ancient and is part of us all.

You, having darker skin than I probably, almost (but not quite) certainly, have more SNP's less than about 50,000 years old associated with various regions of Africa than I do, but I and a typical chinese citizen would not differ by so much at least in that regard, but would differ, statistically significantly also, in the number of SNP's since about 15,000 years ago, etc., etc. These "SNP" groups, a taxonomic level of which are called "haplogroups" in genetic literature, seem to me to be VERY highly correlated with what we generally think of as "races". Let's not throw away a perfectly good term, "race", because it seems politically incorrect, I guess, and adopt another, haplogroup, because it sounds more "scientific" but essentially signifies the same thing. Races are real. Differences between races are real, physically (check out playing time in the NBA or top 20 college basketball or the Chicago marathon finals) and culturally (world ping-pong championships, tacos, and "bro"). We will continue to make distinctions, pursuing "improvement" in most cases, in sports, science, government programs, and social relationships.
Many will use these distinctions to vent their hatred, probably of themselves, really. Many will use them to pride themselves over others (or at least "up to" others). So scientists (I don't know where you stand on this one, John), instead of eliminating race, let's go the other way and turn human (racial) classification over to geneticists and anthropologists and politicians and their consultants and anyone else who observes and report a repeatable distinction among races or other identifiable subgroups of humans; then let's use what they find; learn about our different and similar histories. But how limited, with the world at our keyboard, let's, more importantly, learn about others' histories as well and how they differ and how they intermingle with each other and with ours. But in the process, let's not blame anyone in the past for wrongs done to our ancestors without recalling the wrongs our own ancestors did not only to others but also to some of our own other ancestors as well; nor let's not claim special significance to ourselves or others for those wrongs, or special privilege for the rights also done by our ancestors, perhaps by the same ones who did the wrongs. Races exist in the realm of human classification to be sure, but let's not dwell on how to get the most for ours, but learn from them how not to be as well as how to be. Pride comes from blessed to be alive, aware, not from what our ancestors did or suffered, because, well hell, our ancestors did and suffered just about everything, all of ours.

Another thought. Anything that distinguishes race is racism. Census forms, job applications,  (sometimes required, sometimes outlawed), job or jobless statistics, prison population statistics, picture ID's on license plates. We are immersed in a racially biased, aware, statistically measuring culture, but we don't have to go along. Whose your daddy? Doesn't matter. What you do with the knowledge of your racial past and everything else you have learned, does.  I thought your columns indicated you were not one to seek pride in someone else's accomplishments, your ancestors. I reserve judgement, always, always. In this case because you may be just telling others, and, perhaps more so, yourself, that you have racial pride and identify to fend off the critics you have, which are many according to your own columns, who claim you are not ..... well should I say, "black enough". Your strong racism coming out in today's paper does not fit with your tolerant views expressed almost always. I haven't found a way to have it both ways, to say I am special and I am not. I fear the pride and the prejudice spring from the same source.

Just some random thoughts of an old man. Keep up the good work, John. Your sometimes reader

* in defining a race, or whatever you want to call it, do European's count (a "cultural continent like Africa) or Euro-Asians (a landmass like Africa), how about the Germanic race or races, English, Saxon, or going the other way, how about descendants of the Indo-Europeans who migrated to India and Europe (a level of history where I am sure we share many, say, post 5000 BPE SNP's or single nucleotide polymorphisms, i.e. gene mutations or just genes); or even a couple of "migrations" further back and our genes are pretty indistinguishable, not to mention that we share some say 99.8% with chimps, 50% with pond scum (algae), and ........ how many with the Taliban? How many shared SNP's and how old do they have to be to make a race to call one's own? one to take pride in. to defend?, and so start the wars.

** I really only know a few, mostly restricted to my generation, because, likely, each generations invents new "code" words to express their hate, partly because hate is generally not a socially sanctioned thing, even toward slaves, so the "haters" invent new hate words as easily as the old ones are exposed and, more importantly, the light of conscience thrown upon them. So let's scoot over to another word, like, say, from "nigger" to "welfare-mom on the south-side", which is OK where I venture in supposedly race-tolerant suburbia, but it gets the race point across very well; slippery little devils, these hate words.

*** many of my ancestors suffered the degradation, humiliation, and brutality of forced servitude, including slavery, forced labor and even extended indentured servitude with all the horrors of human-on-human treatment that come with such classification of "others". Some masters were better than others.

**** just three examples from my past, the "barbarians" who invaded Roman Gaul, Puritans fleeing persecution in England, and more recently, my homosexual 2nd great grandfather (skin color is just one reason among many for excluding other humans from "humanity" thus denying them protection of morality reserved for humans; need I say more than "race", "sex", "politics", and "religion", for starters)