It’s your culture, not your skin colour

Imagine the Smiths, a family somewhere in the South wherever football is loved, which is pretty much everywhere. These Smiths (they can be black or white) are a football family through and through, the women being every bit as enthusiastic about the sport as the men. From high school, to college, to the pros, this family follows its favourite teams faithfully and fervently. 

Every boy in this family after completing his initial indoctrination in bouncy seat and highchair before the big screen TV, and his rudimentary training in the backyard, is signed up for the pee wee leagues and plays straight through high school at least. Several of the men played in college, and one great-uncle even played one inglorious half season in the AFL in the early 60’s. The family boasts one full-time assistant coach at a small regional college.

Among the Smiths is Joe-Sam. He is fifteen and sure enough plays football.

Recently moved to their community are the Garza’s who hail from Los Altos of the Mexican state of Jalisco, by way of Houston. Their game is fútbol which is very similar to football, except the rules which are completely different. Most notably the ball is round and you can’t touch it with your hands.  However both games are dependent upon gravity.

Among the Garzas is fifteen-year-old Guillermo, which is William in Spanish, which tickled Joe-Sam who took to calling him Billy so now everyone at school does. Seeing as Billy wants very much to fit in amongst his new redneck friends, and is plenty stout and athletic, he tries out for and makes the high school football team.

The question is, do either of these boys have an advantage over the other in American football?

First the physical. Does the color of their skin give either an advantage when playing football? 

It is hard to imagine how.

But on a related note, do genes give either an advantage? Quite possibly, because we inherit our physical traits from our ancestors which include size, strength, speed, and agility, all of which, unlike skin, hair, or eye colour, are decisive advantages in football.

But what of the conjoined twins of culture and history? Does who the Smiths have become, and thus who Joe-Sam is, give him an advantage over Billy? Obviously, yes it does. His people made the first wagon trails in the South and were present when the first football was planted in Southern soil and, for generations, has participated in its cultivation and watched it grow into the monstrous institution that it is today. Joe-Sam is a direct heir of the tradition of football. Its nature and subtleties come as easy to him as the English he learned on his mama’s knee and as naturally as his preference for sweet iced tea.  It is memory in the blood.

The broader question is, can the culture into which we are born, the culture that determines our taste, limits our view, compels us in this or that direction, and that may give us in this or that area some advantage or disadvantage in life, be avoided?

No it cannot.

Can a new culture be purchased, or downloaded like a computer programme? Can Billy Garza just become a redneck?

No it cannot and neither can he.

Rather we are bound to carry the culture imprinted upon us in our early years until the day we die. In the course of Billy Garza’s life, whether by conscious effort or external forces, this imprint may be may be altered. He may be shaped by the culture of the redneck South and will shape it to some degree by his presence. He and his family may be grafted onto it like a branch to a trunk. But who the Garza’s are never wholly disappears, anymore than lemon juice disappears in the tea.

The differences that divide us are not because one group says “yall” and another “you guys,” or one lives north of the river and the other south, or because one has white skin and the other black. These are only indicators of a possible or even likely divide, and that divide is culture, and culture is always a product of a people’s shared history. Of shared memory. It can have relatively shallow roots like the Southerner’s love of football, or its roots can descend into the subsoil of the past, back to long forgotten peoples who would not answer to the designations archeologists have given them today.

Cultural traits can be innocuous like a preference for cooking in bacon grease vs. olive oil, or they can be vicious, like the practice of human sacrifice or infanticide.  

Culture can manifest itself in a people’s inclination to line their ducks up in row or to take life as it comes.

All cultures produce results that distinguish them, and traits of relative strength or weakness. But it is not the colour of your skin that makes you who you or your people they are. It is the past. It is the experiences of our ancestors, be they forgotten or remembered.

M.C. Atkins

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