Prison Racial Groups
By Dan Turner
Race is one of the most common denominators of prison groups. It’s an easy way to divide human beings and it always has been, simply because it’s so visible and obvious. Racial groups are based on the importance or supremacy of their own race and/or a dismissal or hatred of other races.
Being part of a group, especially a racial group, is attractive to some because they can collect the unearned. As Ayn Rand said, "Racism provides a pseudo-self esteem for men who have not earned an authentic one." She meant that only an individual can earn true pride and self-esteem. In a racial group, you can pretend to have accomplished something by virtue of your membership, when in reality you've done nothing as an individual. This applies not only to traditional, hateful racism, but ANY expression of racial pride or solidarity, from ANY race.
Let's take one word often used in conjunction with race: pride. In prison, I've seen a dozen or so ethnic words (Irish, White, Samoan, Latin, etc.) tattooed in front of the word "pride." I submit that being proud of your ethnicity, whatever it may be, is meaningless.
First of all, whatever you consider your race to be, it disappears on a long enough timeline. Like most Caucasians, I can trace my ancestry back to Anglo-Saxons and Normans around a thousand years ago. But if I go back two thousand years, my ancestors were members of many diverse Germanic tribes of Europe. Five thousand years, and my race is a group of Indo-Europeans that includes the Greeks and Hittites. Ten thousand years, an even larger group that includes Egyptians and Persians. Go back farther yet into the Paleolithic Era, and you lose any distinction between Indo-Europeans, Mesopotamians, and Semitic peoples. And if you want to get technical, every human being alive today is a descendent of Ancestral Eve, an "African" woman who lived in the area of present-day Ethiopia.
Secondly, how is it possible to claim pride for oneself because of an ancestor? I can say, for example, that I'm proud of my grandfather because he fought for his country, but that in no way bestows on me any accolades. He did those things, not me. I didn't fight for my country; I chose to get stoned rather than join the Army. I shouldn't receive any praise or rewards for something unless I earn it myself.
Likewise, I can say that I'm proud of Aristotle for his advances in philosophy that ultimately made science and modern life possible. But the fact that he had pale skin has nothing to do with his accomplishments, and it doesn't give me or anyone else with pale skin a claim to his legacy. Just as a man shouldn't be condemned if his ancestor was Jack the Ripper, he shouldn't be praised if his ancestor was Aristotle.
And finally, what does "race" really mean besides a few inherited physical traits? Alexander the Great (a Greek) didn’t conquer the known world because of his ethnicity; neither did Cyrus the Great (a Persian). Likewise, Joseph Stalin's heritage (Russian) had no bearing on his policies that caused millions to starve to death, and neither did Idi Amin's heritage (African) influence his decision to slaughter his people and engage in cannibalism.
Being proud of your race is like being proud of the shape of your nose, or having curly hair. They're all completely arbitrary and utterly meaningless traits to hold up as important. Inclusion in a racial group is a way of evading reality. If you want a purpose for the good advice "Be your own man," it's this: You are your own man. No one can do your thinking for you. No one can earn a living for you, or be responsible for your life, or reap the rewards or consequences of your decisions. Who you are and what you accomplish as an individual is all that matters in reality. Be proud of that. And if you have no reason to be, go out and earn one.