Flesh & Bone #6: A Reflection from Greg Ward (Part 3)

Here is the third and final part of Greg Ward’s essay. Click here to re-read part two.

Before beginning to write this paper, I was surprised about what I thought about when I thought of the term “race.” Most of the ideas that came to mind had only to do with physical appearance and where a person’s family may have originated. As I began to research this topic, I saw that, based on physical appearance, one could argue that people from different “races” actually have a lot of common physical features. Why do we think this way? Have we been programmed by our history? Most likely, yes.
 
First of all, there are many different thoughts held by researchers about the beginning of the idea of race. For example, some believe that this idea developed in Europe in the 18th century as a way to legitimize the enslavement of Africans.   Others believe that the first citing occurred in the 17th century publication of Francois Bernier’s “A New Division of the Earth”, where he presents the idea of four or five different races. Two main interpretations of race that are discussed today  are the folk concept and the biological concept of race. The folk concept is categorized by observable traits, such as skin color, eye shape, and hair texture, while the biological concept assumes that it is possible to divide humans into races such that members of each share certain heritable characteristics, such as overt physical traits and some psychological or behavioral traits as well, that they don’t share with members of other races. Some researchers argue that these concepts are flawed because of the fact that many of the traits used to distinguish one race from another vary independently. While most have used this information to deny the existence of race completely, Philip Kitcher and Robin O. Andreasen argue that a better way to define race is to do it genealogically. Genealogy is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. Andreasen calls his concept the cladistic race concept, which is a branch of systematic biology that defines taxa (a group of one or more populations of organisms) as monophyletic groups (a group that is composed of an ancestor and all of their descendents). The cladistic race concept divides humans into six possible races: Caucasians, Africans, Northeast Asians, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. Although these racial groups seem all encompassing, they are constantly challenged and rearranged.
 
Various social divisions have existed throughout history, as well. For example, the caste system in India, the Osu system of West Africa, and the treatment of the Cagots of Western France and Northern Spain. These are just a few examples of the systems that people are born into that dictate their social interaction or exclusion. While some of these social class systems are disappearing, other forms of intolerance and discrimination continue to develop and to invade societies throughout the world. Racism, religious intolerance, sexism, and many other forms of hatred seem to be spreading faster than ever. Why is it that there always seems to be some sort of inequality in society no matter how much we advance as a people? In all of the research I’ve done for this paper I haven’t been able to find any documentation of a time of peace between all people. What does that say about us as human beings? How can we stop inequality in our communities? Once, I tried and experiment during my residency in Chicago. First of all, I’m a professional saxophonist. As a newcomer to the Chicago jazz scene, I began to see certain divisions throughout the city. For example, not only were the sub‐genres of the jazz‐ scene divided into cliques, but the cliques also seemed to be divided racially. At the time, which was during the early 2000’s, I came up with some terms to describe these divisions: the north‐side swingers, the north‐side free scene, the south‐side swingers, and the AACM. I have to clarify that these group names are just a way that some of us who lived in Chicago during this time period referred to the different scenes of jazz. More importantly, I noticed that most of the north‐side scenes were predominantly Caucasian and that most of the south‐side scene and AACM were predominantly African‐American, each with a few exceptions. Then, it was more rare to see people playing in multiple scenes. One place that we would all come together, from time to time, was at jam sessions in the city. One night while at Von Freeman’s jam session at the New Apartment Lounge, I noticed that most of the African‐American musicians wouldn’t talk with the Caucasian musicians and vice versa. Being multi‐racial, I took it upon myself to investigate this situation. Both sides gave me a similar response, which was that the other seemed to be “vibing  me”, as we say in the jazz world. This term could really mean anything, I suppose, but we’ll simplify it as meaning to make someone feel unwelcome. To me, this sounded ridiculous. Without speaking to each other at all, there was this huge division or color barrier amongst the young musicians in Chicago. So, I asked some of the people that I was close with to make an effort to develop some level of communication with people outside of their ethnicity. Some made attempts and cleared up all of these misunderstands while others did not. To further this idea, while running my own jam session at the Velvet Lounge in Chicago, I made an effort to make sure that this session was as diverse as possible by varying the styles of music we played and the methods of improvisations we used. In my opinion, throughout the four years that I hosted the jam, we developed an extremely diverse community of musicians that appreciated and benefited from each other’s differences. Still, after my tenure at the Velvet Lounge was complete, some musicians in Chicago told me that they felt unwelcome at my session and that they were intimidated by the aggressiveness of some of the players who attended. Once again, poor communication had created a division that I was completely unaware of.
 
So, maybe it is optimistic to think that just talking about our differences will have an impact on our actions and beliefs? This idea would have definitely been difficult in Prerov because of the size of the group of Autonomous Nationalists. Convincing 700 people that it is wrong to discriminate against anyone for any reason is extremely difficult when a riot breaks out and people stop thinking and just react to their surroundings. I firmly agree that in order for any valuable dialogue to take place that peoples’ hearts must be in the right place, which is the greatest challenge. Even beginning to question the societal norms can be frightening and alienating. Imagine the bravery that is required to go against the current of your immediate community or to explore any foreign ideology, for that matter. To begin this seemingly insurmountable journey may seem daunting at times but it’s how we’ve seen great change throughout history. Here, in the United States, we’ve witnessed the end of slavery, the end of segregation, the end of anti‐ women voting laws, elected the first African‐American president, amongst many other great accomplishments that have required great courage and sacrifice. And now, in these turbulent times, we must fearlessly continue down this path to eliminate inequality and all forms of intolerance.

Click here to download a pdf of the entire essay.



 

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