I am pleased to see that we have differences.
May we together become greater than the sum of both of us.
-Surak of Vulcan
I am the child of Charles and Frances Cooke two African-Americans born in the early 1900s in the southern part of the United States. As such I have always identified myself as African-American and from time to time was reminded of this by society. From being chased out of a park while being called a nigger when I was 10, having a police officer point a gun at my head when I was 15 simply because I made the mistake of tossing a football around the yard of a white friend who lived in the suburbs, to being pulled over numerous times in my early 20s despite not fitting the “profile” because as kind of a nerd I normally had on penny loafers with argyle socks and matching sweater but my skin color was still the wrong shade.
While my self identification is the result of being raised, loved, and natured by two exceptional individuals who themselves were also African-American I am also adopted, a fact that was kept hidden from me until my late 30s. I know nothing of my biological father other than the fact that he wasn’t African-American. Recently I completed one of those DNA test and found out I was in fact 54.6% Sub-Saharan African and 43.9% European. Interesting I thought as I looked at my results how many of those Europeans had looked at me and seen just the color of my skin and thought of me as inferior? How many of them don’t look like me but have a similar ancestry? Does it really matter what my ancestry is? Does it define how I should live my life?
Our ancestry defines our culture and to a large extend our culture is a leading factor in defining who we are. But while it is a leading factor it does not change the fact that we are all human. Humans with differences but humans nevertheless. It is our differences that If embraced instead of feared would in fact make us stronger as a species. The sun, Earth’s primary source of energy, emits white light but that white light is actually a composite of all of the visible frequencies of light. Without the differences all the colors bring there would be no light at all. So is the case with the human species? Where would we be without our many differences? How would we advance and grow without the varied contributions of so many cultures?
The question before us now is how do we begin to embrace our differences as a species when our entire existence shows we let those differences divide us. Seemingly there is no answer to that. Man has always fostered a sense of loyalty rooted in group identity. We pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer has always been mankind’s rallying call. I am pessimistic about our ability to overcome the us versus them mentality in the short term. However I am optimistic that the human is a very promising species and as Captain Jean Luc Picard once said “inside you is the potential to make yourself better…and that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are.” Today our difference divide us perhaps tomorrow we will be better and our differences will be our strength.