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Which Race? The Human One!

By Peter S. Kahrmann

When my daughter was pregnant with my first grandson, someone asked me what race the child would be (my grandson’s father, a young man I love very much, happened to be black). I responded to the question with pure truth: the human race.

The heart-wrenching Trayvon Martin tragedy has brought the subject of race to the fore. But the problem with the conversation about race is this: We continue to talk about this issue as if there is more than one race, and by doing so, we, in some cases unwittingly and in some cases purposefully, feed an "us versus them" scenario. Carving humanity into races serves the same purpose as the role of religion: It promotes the insidiously destructive "us versus them" and a "we’ve got it right; they’ve got it wrong" mentality.

It seems to me that by casting people into what are essentially fictional categories separate from some fictional category we’ve designed for ourselves, we create a buffer that serves, or so we think, to protect us from fully absorbing and understanding the horror those in the socalled "other categories" go through. We should not be spared the experience of our fellow human beings.

In my opinion, the bottom line with Trayvon Martin is both simple and brutal: A 17-year-old child was executed in cold blood. There is no doubt in my mind that that poor child was screaming for mercy with a voice on fire with terror. It chills the blood when one realizes that the moment the shot is fired, the screaming stops.

And then there is this: I know that terror. Just months after being held up by a teenager and shot in the head in 1984, I was held up again at gunpoint. I begged for my life. My hands shook, I cried, and I begged to be allowed to live. I can tell you that when you are living in a moment in which you have no say over whether you are going to live or die, you become nothing more than unfiltered, mind-splitting terror with a heartbeat.

From time to time, someone will ask me the color of the kid who shot me or the color of the man who held me up just months after the shooting. I never answer the question. Those closest to me in life don’t even know. And why don’t I answer the question? Because pigmentation has never made a decision in its life. The kid who shot me and the man who held me up at gunpoint belong to one race and one race only – the human race.

And now, my country (and parts beyond) is grappling with the fact that a 17-year-old member of the human race -- your race -- was murdered. If there is anything that all of us need to do, in addition to pursuing justice for this child and his family, it is to move the discussion away from the notion that there are different races and place it squarely in the reality that there is only one race, the human race.

Peter Kahrmann is an advocate for people with disabilities and writes a blog on disability issues. He resides in New York state.


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