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Too big for just one box

December 17, 2014
I have always hated those questions at the beginning of every standardized test and the end of every job application that attempt to blunt the individuality of a person and confine them to a single, explainable and, often, non-efficient category.

You know the questions I'm talking about, right? The ones that ask which gender, race and ethnicity you most closely align yourself with.

As a kid, I was frustrated a lot of the time because there was never the right answer available to me, and it wasn't until I reached college that they began to allow you to identify as more than one race. So, what did I do? Well, I did what any kid would do. I improvised.

Yep, after I got over the indignation I felt at being left out, I decided to just mix it up a bit. In the fourth grade, I was white, fifth grade I was a Pacific Islander and, by the sixth grade, I had transformed — at least on paper — into Latino (non-Hispanic).

I did that each year until graduation.

The best part is, my friends caught on to what I was doing and began supporting me by either not marking that passage or playing along with me and choosing to become an "other."

I still don't know why our states think it a necessity to track a student's race when creating tests that are there to challenge a child's ability to obtain and retain information. I may never know the answer to that and, if I hear it, probably won't like it anyway.

However, to me, it points to a larger problem. Enter Ferguson, Mo.

Bear with me; I'm headed somewhere with this.

In my opinion, large-scale corporate news media had a field day with the tragic incident and blew this story up so large that there was no way people could refrain from taking a side.

My opinion is that there's nothing happening in Missouri that isn't also taking place in Washington, D.C., Chicago, L.A., New York and smaller cities like Louisville.

But that's a column for another day.

What I want to focus on in this instance is the polarization of our society — in the direct aftermath through to the indictment process — because it speaks volumes.

Nearly every person I have spoken to has had an opinion about what happened in Missouri. Some are well thought out positions; however, more often they are not.

The Ferguson incident seems to have hit a visceral chord not only in local communities, but those abroad as well. Even our government is not immune.

What has stuck in my mind the most is that people have begun speaking in infinitives — "ALL those black people," "Well, ALL of you white people" — subjugating their fellow Americans to intense scrutiny and often unearned hostility.

Our nation has stepped back 20 years, to a stereotypical historical opposition, and we have begun to refer to each other as either this or that. And, for everyone who doesn't fit those molds, there is that ever obscure "other" box. See what I did there? As if there is no room for ambiguity, we'll just shuffle it aside.

Everyone has become a "them" or an "us," but there seems to be no mention of a "we." You know, as in "We the people ... "

It may seem far-reaching, but I can't help but wonder if we see each other as so very different based upon factors we have no control over simply because it's what we teach our children (and what we have been taught) as soon as they are old enough to hold a pencil.

Maybe it has nothing to do with skin color or religion, sexual preference, physical ability and academic aptitude. Maybe it's just what we're taught.

What do black Americans, white Americans, gay Americans, straight Americans, fat Americans, skinny Americans, tall Americans, short Americans, young Americans and old Americans all have in common?

We are all American. It says so right there in the Constitution of the United States of America.

Born on this soil? American.

It's simple really.

As a nation, we are facing a crisis and it has nothing to do with our president, our financial status as a developed nation or our CIA's ability to garner a confession.

It does, however, have everything to do with attitude and a superiority complex that every person should perhaps evaluate and bring into check. We are not a nation of black or white; we are all shades of gray and we are one and, as such, we should be indivisible. However, recently, we are anything but united, and we are now so divided that it may take decades to bring us back to par.

The greatest accomplishments of mankind have always taken time, but what if we could start small? What if we could all be a friend like the ones I had when I was in school? What if we could trade in our labels and stand in solidarity with one another?

These days "other" doesn't sound so bad to me, but I have found that having an opportunity to leave the box blank is even more appealing. Taking away our labels doesn't mean that we forget who we are or where we come from, but it does allow us to identify the issues facing our personal lives, our communities and our nation so that we may address them and ultimately overcome.

Choosing not to promote division, through division, doesn't delete our past. It will not change our history, but it can ensure we have a future.

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Schuler Bauer
Barbara Shaw
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