It was an old clip on Youtube. But when I heard Larry King say to Tom Jones, “You sound like you might have some in you,” I knew he was still in the P.R.O. phase.
They were having a discussion about Tom Jones (the famous singer) possibly getting a DNA test to determine if he has African blood. It has been speculated about for decades, with him. Surely, a garden-variety white dude from Wales couldn’t have cords like that. Clearly he must have “some in him” – meaning, black DNA.
But Tom Jones has a sister. Does she have that same kind of voice? I mean, if he has black DNA (which, apparently is the recipe for a great vocal instrument), then she would have to have as well. It gets complicated when you start lumping people into groups.
The point is, until you shake off the ridiculous notion that Tom Jones can only sing like he can because of his ancestry or blood, you are still kind of in a phase of racism. I call it the P.R.O. phase.
There are essentially three phases of race relations.
The first phase is something I call the F.R.O. phase: Fearing Relative Others (“Relative others,” being other humans relative to you, but who are opposite in color or culture).
Different parts of the world are still in varying aspects of this type of racial view. But the best examples of it are the most stark examples.
You can’t do any sort of piece on race without dragging out Hitler. But he’s a good example of being locked in the F.R.O. stage. See, hatred is sparked by anger and anger is sparked by fear. Hitler hated Jews because he was essentially afraid of them. He admired and coveted the abilities they had cultivated through the centuries.
But he was tribal. So, he wanted what the Jews had for his own race, instead of realizing that integrating another successful cultures into your society makes everybody stronger – not one side weaker.
Any sort of anger toward (or hatred of) another race, because of the race itself, is basically a fear of it. And it can run in all directions.
The F.R.O. phase is what white supremacy is based on but it’s not exclusive to white supremacists. Black people and brown people and Asian people Indian people and Polynesian people and pretty much all people can languish in that phase of race relations for their entire lives; remaining afraid of others relative to them, but who don’t look like them.
Sometimes those fears are well founded. Sometimes those fears are based on half truths. Sometimes those fears are simply fairly tales handed down from generation to generation.
And sometimes those fears are still only a thing because there are entire industries out there where millions (and sometimes billions) of dollars change hands because of them.
Beware of the person getting rich off your fear. They’re keeping you in the F.R.O. phase.
But for those who fancy themselves more evolved than the F.R.O. phase, there is what I call the P.R.O. phase of race relations: “Praising Relative Others.”
This phase is the most subtle form of racism. But it is still racism, nonetheless.
In this form of racism, you graduate from fear of your relative other to believing they are superior in some way. You constantly give them the benefit of the doubt for everything. You revere their culture and contribution. And you are convinced that you and people like you are the problem.
You gaze on your relative others with the same envy as those who fear them, only you turn your fear and anger inward, toward yourself, instead of lashing out.
In this phase, you believe that soulful singers must have black blood – because, you know…black people can sing. You believe that all the Native American tribes were peaceful and harmonious and the only reason they became violent was because of white men (even though that’s not even close to what the fossil record shows).
In black culture, they used to say, “the white man’s ice is colder.” That’s a reference to back in the day, when people purchased big blocks of ice, they would prefer to get ice from a white vendor because they believed that because the person was white, his ice was better…or colder.
That’s a real reference.
And it illustrates a culture that has learned to hate itself and revere another race.
It was a warped sense of the world – oh, and it wasn’t true. ALL water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Ice is ice. But only when you are in a cycle of praising your relative other, can you believe in something so non-scientific.
Many people these days, are locked into the P.R.O. phase of their race journey. If you still “admire this race for” blah, blah, blah, you’re still there. Or if you assign certain attributes to a race (rather than a culture), you’re still there.
There were some Asian doctors at Princeton (yes, I said Princeton) who didn’t believe my daughter had Angelman Syndrome, because they didn’t believe Asians could get it.
Guess what? She does. And they can.
The final leg of any racial odyssey is what I call the B.R.O. phase: “Beyond Relative Other.”
And until you can get to this phase, you’re still languishing in some form of racism. This phase is seeing people as individuals.
Once we realized that any male from any race could make a baby with any female of any other race, we knew that we were indeed the same species – the EXACT same species.
See, unless you’re the same species, you can’t reproduce. Spider monkeys don’t breed with Gorillas. Even though they appear to be at least close to the same species.
Humans are all humans. We migrated from Africa to all parts of the world, creating different cultures and ways of life and diets and customs and we developed different physical characteristics.
To continually focus on those differences is a myopic view of the story.
The real story is what the individuals have done and still do. This is where we get to the real frontier of human nature and the real fragility of the human condition. Because as long as someone can hide behind their “racial experience” we still don’t know them. Not really.
It’s only when we can step beyond our perception of tribes – our own and others – can we get to the good stuff; the real stuff.
It’s there that we find real community. It’s there that we actually learn. It’s there that where we can get to the truth.
Until we get to the B.R.O. phase of race relations, we’re still going to be in some form of bondage to our differences. Until we start taking people one at a time, we’re still going to see our relative others as either a threat we must protect ourselves from, or a god we cannot live up to.
We are all, at one time or another, in and out of all three of those phases of race relations. Life is complicated. And it seems to be getting more complicated by the day.
But if you spend any amount of time with enough of your relative others, you will find fewer differences than you might believe. You will find (inside that shell that you’re either worried about or admiring), a person.
Then, you can either celebrate them or condemn them; admire them or dismiss them, based on their character.
And you don’t have to virtue signal or bend over backwards to show your support (the P.R.O. phase) OR constantly make your case and prove your point (the F.R.O. phase).
You just be you and let everyone else be them, and allow history to write the self-evident story of what that looked like in the world.
The B.R.O. phase.
And you can know that Tom Jones just has a uniquely great voice, no matter where his ancestors are from.
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