I Miss Edith Bunker

This morning I listened to NPR’s “Weekend Edition – Saturday” and there was a piece about cross cultural and interracial marriage. Part of the focus was on how these relationships have been portrayed on tv, starting with “I Love Lucy ” and including “All In The Family” and two of our favorite loveable bigots – Archie Bunker and George Jefferson.

They played audio from one scene where Archie complains a about interracial marriage saying that eventually everyone will all be the same color. Edith, with her wise and open heart, asks what’s wrong with that. Archie responds with the complaint that “we won’t be able to tell each other apart!”.

We laugh at this because we realize of course that we all have different faces and all being the “same color” wouldn’t change our ability to tell one another apart. But on a deeper level he’s also expressing our human nature to tend to want to classify ourselves into groups that compete for resources, a hangover from our primitive past. We seem to “need” enemies and feel uncomfortable with not judging or having no criteria to judge.

This makes sense in the context of survival of our ancestors, even though it’s maladaptive today. In fact, classification is a primary function of intelligence, which is why I stopped referring to conservatism as unintelligent, when it’s really about lack of empathy and wider perspective.

Here’s your permission to begin letting go of the concept of race. That’s not to say that we can let go of the concepts of race that others employ. They have to be dealt with, especially when they use those concepts to oppress others.

In order for us to lay the foundations for ending racism, a pillar of that is understanding we are not a category applied to our skin color by others. We are human beings. That’s all. And we can, if we choose to, use our intelligence in concert with our hearts to create a world in which we all have what we need and there’s no real reason to judge or fight one another.

In the words of Edith, “What’s wrong with that?”

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