Life at № 42 by E.M. Coutinho
“A 2004 study that examined “ethnic enclaves” within college universities, surveying incoming freshmen at the University of California, Los Angeles the week before classes began and those same students each spring for the next four years, found that “membership in ethnically oriented student organizations actually increased the perception that ethnic groups are locked into zero-sum competition with one another and the feeling of victimization by virtue of one’s ethnicity.”
Fascinating stuff. Sometimes I get the impression we’ve got a whole generation of people who don’t quite understand The Enlightenment – or why rights were framed as they were in the revolutionary period. The great thinkers of that time knew that creating distinctions or assigning rights to specific groups based on those distinctions would land society back in a system of aristocracy and segregation. The second you have a system that highlights distinctions, the next step is to hierarchize those distinctions. Because some animals are more equal than others. Or in more modern terms:
I read a (well meaning) blog post a while back on the term Latinx. As if the term Latin as a human identifier wasn’t absurd enough already. “A native or inhabitant of a country whose language developed from Latin.” What sort of measure is that? It doesn’t describe (legal) nationality, or even culture because cultures vary widely from, let’s say, Romania to Angola to France to Guatemala. So Latinx is apparently the genderless version of that pointless term. Obviously created with the best of intentions- but wholly misguided.
By embracing (and creating even more) pointless, unnecessary distinctions we end up creating more pointless and unnecessary divisions. People can’t have it both ways, which seems to be what they want. In essence the mindset is “I want to be singled out for a difference in my identity, but I want that done only in a positive way.” The problem is humans ascribe value to practically everything. It’s part of our DNA. It’s how we’ve come this far. The more we put a spotlight on the differences the more opportunities we create for hierarchization.
What we must aim for is the opposite. It’s breaking down the pointless distinctions. To the dismay of the nationalists everywhere and Britain’s new prime minister, yes, we are citizens of the world. Here I am, a French citizen who was educated in English, lived most of my adult life in Spain and is writing a blog post that will be read by people in Brazil, Australia, the UK, Canada and the US, just to name a few. And just the fact that you’re reading this makes you a citizen of the world as well. My nationality is nothing more than a legal status. It doesn’t represent my temperament, my skin colour, or the food I prefer. The origin of the language I speak even less so.