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2008 02 11
Culture & Multiculture 12: Indiscrimination

I’ve never bought the Toronto Star. Not even since the Star’s website started crashing each and all my browsers like nothing else on the World Wide Web. Anywhere. Fortunately, there’s heaping Toronto Star stacks piling up daily at York University. Like leaves off trees. Or, lacking trees, grains of desert sands. Drifting, blowing, piling all over campus. Free as wind.

That’s how I wound up reading Joey Slinger’s column this past Thursday. Titled “School issue is not black and white”. Just about an hour after posting on that very subject right here.

Now, I’ve read Joey before. Seeing as the Star’s always free at York -– not just this past Thursday. And, having read Joey before, I knew how funny he tries to be. To which I can totally relate. Since I too am funny despite almost nobody realizing it. However hard I try.

Except Joey totally let me down this past Thursday. Not only wasn’t he funny –- to which failing I completely relate. He gave up even trying.

He’d intended trying being funny. Intended trying real hard, originally. “[B]een working on a column,” he boasted, “.. about the need for Me-centric schools.” Thought it would have been “.. quite humorous.”

Who knows? Might have turned out adequate for chuckling. Might have turned out his best performance. If only he hadn’t given up on it. If only Joey hadn’t thrown in his funny towel and tried getting all serious, instead.

Shouldn’t have. Big mistake. Terrible misunderstanding. Not to cridicule too much -– but there’s more to being serious than not being funny.

Joey seriously tried persuading his Toronto audience that we’re not against race-based schooling. Despite how categorically against faith-based schooling we are. Despite the way we reject anyone –- such as the once legitimate public figure of John Tory –- daring to suggest or insinuate what a great idea faith-based schooling is. Regardless. Doesn’t matter how against faith-based schooling we are. Far as Joey’s concerned, we’re not against race-based schooling.

How come? Too simple –- on Joey’s view. Because race-based schooling is nothing like faith-based schooling. Since diversity of faith is elective whereas diversity of race is physically indelible. As Joey put it,
.. you can be born to a Jewish mother and a Jewish father and choose to be, say, Anglican. You cannot be born to a black mother and a black father and choose not to be black.
Our overwhelming repudiating faith-based schooling can have no bearing on race-based schooling. Not where Joey’s concerned.

But there really is more to being serious than not being funny. Like not being absurd, for instance.

With the arguable exception of identical twins, we are all physically diverse. Whether individually or collectively -– our physical diversity is endless. Infinitely too vast to enumerate.

How, then, can we determine when physical diversity makes us different –- and when it does not? We can’t. We do not determine difference on basis of physical diversity itself. Clearly not. Rightly or wrongly, we determine our differences by sorting some fraction of our diversity from the rest. We discriminate our differences only by distinguishing some diversity as particularly significant. Doesn’t matter if diversity be physical or otherwise. What matters in discriminating difference is which aspects of our diversity seem particularly significant. What selective elements of diversity mean to us. Difference is in the cultural meaning we assign to diversity –- never in diversity itself.

That’s why Joey’s view is so absurd. Rather than asking how meaningful -– and why –- aspects of diversity are, Joey chose to ask -– and answer -– just how entirely physical diversity is. As if physical diversity were just finite. As if we could ever discriminate or resolve our differences just physically. As if humans, like billiard balls, were caused in all actions –- and our reasons for acting outward ought get utterly dismissed from both minds and hands. It is this very (ideological) view sourcing discrimination -– and eventual segregation -– in the first place. Even though we ought rather speak of false-discrimination. For while we must discriminate allies from opponents, friends from enemies and whom we agree from whom we do not -– we certainly must not discriminate too shallowly and superficially. Like, concluding who people are by their physical pigmentation.

Definitely there’s more to being serious than not being funny. Also not absurd, ludicrous or preposterous. For instances. Better seriously help Joey out some. Better ask how and why pigmentation diversity has become so particularly significant to us.

Except it hasn’t. Not to all of us. Absolutely not world-wide. One would not likely encounter false-discriminating by pigmentation on pilgrimage to Islam’s holy places. One would be far more likely, on the other hand, to encounter false-discrimination and even potentially forcible segregation when it comes to gender and faith differences. And while this example might seem outlandish, it goes so far only to show how differently diversity gets culturally constructed world-wide.

Strangely, it is North-America that’s outlandish. Where false-discriminating by pigmentation keeps going on and on to this day and age. I’ll never forget how boneless my jaw dropped when first arriving in Toronto from a couple other continents. When two seemingly sane and healthy young boys ceased whatever they’d been doing and turned on each other.

“You white bastard,” said one.

“You black bastard,” replied the other.

While I was left to decades wondering what sort of bizarre place this was -– where anything that superficial could conceivably matter.

It’s a tough question. How has skin pigmentation persisted meaning anything significant to this day and age in North America? Perhaps, at least in part, because we keep mistaking the material fact of pigmentative diversity for the cultural meanings from which we construct the significance of that diversity. Perhaps, like Joey, we’re all knee-jerks when it comes to skin pigmentation in North America.

One way or another, North-American culture has founded itself on and extended itself from certain principled ideals inherited from European Enlightenment. Not that North-American culture hasn’t inherited native and other ideals as well. But, should there be cultural foundation, if anywhere –- it’s in Enlightenment principles. American liberty, democracy and pursuit of happiness. The American dream. Canadian tolerance. Especially Toronto multiculture. And, unifying all: the expectation that arriving in North America is by the most heartfelt choice. Not only in coming to lands more promising. But also in escaping from the places where ideology yet fundamentally rules. Whether guised as god-given truths –- or as viable ideals regardless how false, absurd or damaging.

Culturally, that’s what makes us most North-American. Arriving here by such heartfelt choice. And that’s how the most intractable cultural differences emerge. Differences which can’t help being intractable due to the contradictions they entail to culture and discourse. Since not all arrived by choice. Some were already here by thousands of years’ priority. While others were brought in chains.

That’s what persists our least tractable cultural differences in North-America. And, if so, resolving North-American cultural contradictions must never be sought in separation or segregation. Not unless and until we get forced to conclude there’s no resolving our cultural contradictions. Only then, if and when we become societies too distinct for tolerance, can segregating make any sense. Since forcible separation does beat shooting. But, otherwise -– our focus has to remain on how superficial our differences in North-America are. And it remains entirely premature, especially in Toronto Canada, to conclude we can’t resolve the differences we’ve constructed culturally –- together.

[Peter Fruchter teaches in the Division of Humanities at York University.]

[Black swan " title="image">image by idmaer saxon and used via Creative Commons license.]
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 02/11 at 03:33 PM

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