Se recuerda cuando Varadero era para ricos y nada más
Y por la playa, playa tan hermosa
El pueblo no podía ni caminar
Aquello estaba en manos de los míster
Y casi solamente se hablaba inglés
Hasta que un día se formó la corredera
Y desde entonces Varadero del pueblo es para ti y para mi
There are more variations of possible chess games than atoms in the universe. Unfortunately, despite the rather fitting simulacrum of it being white’s game to lose, racial politics are far more complicated than chess. In a previous post, I highlighted the failings of a colorblind ideology, and to see society as only black and white is still a form of colorblindness. The false dichotomy of race in America stems as an artifact of history. Both of the landmark cultural revolutions in the United States in the last two centuries, the Civil War and Civil Rights, were ostensibly black and white. The Civil War particularly, left a legacy of bitterness and resentment in the southern states, and established a deeply entrenched racial feud, divided solely by the color line*.
In reality of course, race represents a spectrum, more like the colors of a rainbow, a symbol famously co-opted by another diversity-championing group. Indeed, the analogy is fitting. Anyone with a basic physics background is aware that the myriad hues generated after a summer shower represent varying wavelengths of visible light. Hence, when we categorize color into the classic seven groups (ROYGBIV), we are making a gross simplification to facilitate our understanding of the phenomenon. The same is true for race. We are dealing with a continuous trait, dictated by the common ancestry of all life on earth, but we discretize it for simplicity and convenience. But we must be careful; working with well-defined categories makes it easier to justify unequal treatment of individuals that fall into those different categories.
Throughout history, the ruling elite have attempted to limit access to education to all those unfortunate enough to not fall on the favored end of the race spectrum. Such policies have their root in the overwhelming inclination of people in power to maintain the status quo. Ignorant masses are passive and malleable. Educated masses are unruly and capable of riposte. Speaking on the Civil War, DuBois notes:
“the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent.”
Fear-mongering is a common tool employed to stall, or halt entirely, policies that encourage multiculturalism in schools. Of course, those who adopt such a stance fail to recognize the fact that fear of a backlash is tantamount to an admission of guilt. If white people hadn’t acted so abhorrently, they would have nothing to worry about. Thus, despite the clear need to make education accessible to all, it is whites that most obviously require schooling. Access to education will be for naught, if the ruling class is not taught the fallacy of white supremacy, and introduced to a diverse array of societal perspectives to broaden their cultural horizons.
Without early intervention in the public-school system**, narrow-mindedness and archaic stereotypes will continue to flourish. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explains “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”. From this, it naturally follows that even positive stereotypes cause harm. They are still stereotypes, they still paint incomplete pictures, and of course, they still use whiteness as a benchmark on which to measure all other races. The pervasiveness of stereotypes in society acts as a bellwether for the degree of multiculturalism that society has achieved. The fact that a society still clings to racial stereotypes is an indication that not enough effort has been made to learn about cultures not your own.
In the grand scheme of things, our experiences are so narrow. Richard Feynman used to compare the scientific process with trying to figure out the rules of chess, when you are only allowed to see a little corner of the board from time to time. This analogy extends nicely to everyday life. One of the most wicked curses of the human condition is to only glimpse the world through such a narrow lens. In the context of race, many have not had the wealth of experience required to overcome stereotypes, and continue to misinterpret the nature of reality. We can expand our field of vision through experience, and many have revelatory “a-ha!” moments when a swathe of new truths is suddenly revealed, and our preconceptions shattered. The progress of society appears to be on a similar trajectory; long periods of stasis punctuated by dramatic social and cultural revolutions. Feynman’s closing words seem apposite:
“Unlike the chess game, though… In the case of the chess game, the rules become more complicated as you go along, but in the physics when you discover new things, it becomes more simple. It appears on the whole to be more complicated, because we learn about a greater experience; that is, we learn about more particles and new things, and so the laws look complicated again. But if you realize that all of the time, what’s kind of wonderful is that as we expand our experience into wilder and wilder regions of experience, every once in a while, we have these integrations in which everything is pulled together in a unification, which it turns out to be simpler than it looked before.”
Experience is the enemy of ignorance. Critical thinking skills help too. If the education system wants to lead the charge for racial equity in society, which indeed it must, teachers should provide opportunities to develop critical thinking skills and broaden experiences. Once our children are released from the pervasive monochrome ideology, we can move past the overly simplistic black-and-white model of society, and extol the contributions of all creeds and colors.
People are much more complicated than chess, but the game still has much to teach us about society and the nature of human experience. Simplification is always the first step in understanding, and as such chess provides a nice jumping-off point to begin the discussion on race. We just need to make sure it is not the end of the discussion. Incidentally, as I write, the top 5 FIDE rated chess players from the United States, representing the 2nd, 8th, 11th, 20th, and 35th in the world rankings respectively, are Fabiano Caruana, Wesley So, Leinier Dominguez Perez, Hikaru Nakamura, and Jeffery Xiong.
* As an aside, the Civil War was not an end to slavery, just as the Civil Rights movement was not an end to racism. Slavery is alive and well in western society; capitalism operates as a form of economic slavery, from which death or incarceration represent the only avenues of escape.
** and you have to get them young! The school-to-prison pipeline is a clear indication that it is never too early to challenge and remedy societies racial inequalities.