Matteo: STOP with fixation on looks, choose heroes by the content of their character

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Quite often people will say we need the first X to show other X’s that they can “make it” in America.  Of course the “X” in question can refer to many things such as biological sex, race, religion etc. but how far should this idea of role models who look like us be taken?  In the era of identity politics, people are judged by exterior features like race, sex and a myriad of other factors, but what about the choice of people they admire?  Have we, as a culture, become so myopic that we are now forced to admire people based upon common physical traits instead of admiring ideas of people who don’t share phenotypical similarities?  To listen to some progressives, that is indeed the situation.

When Barack Obama was elected, it was seen by many as a “shining moment” because it proved that it was possible for a black man to become president of the United States.  Did Barack Obama really need to become the first black president, to prove to black people that a black person could have the opportunity to become president in a free country?  When Hillary Clinton ran for president, many people felt she should have been elected to prove that a woman could be elected to the highest office in America.  Recently, President Biden made it clear that he would nominate a “black woman” to be on the Supreme Court, and that’s exactly what he did.  But isn’t a person so much more than his or her outward appearance?

On social media, there are many instances where people seem to take great pleasure in a similar trait or physical feature of someone who did something great, and act as if they “own” part of the accomplishment because of some shared coincidence.  Some individuals even go as far as to deny others their “right” to take pride in someone else’s achievements because of dissimilar physical characteristics.  If you’re white, you better not quote or express an opinion (even a positive one) about anything Martin Luther King said because his words and actions are “owned” by black people.  If you’re a man, you can’t appreciate the writings of Emily Dickinson.  If you’re straight, you can’t appreciate the voice or musical genius of Freddie Mercury.  Ownership of a person’s achievements through shared physical or racial traits is completely illogical, and if we break things down to include larger groups (the true meaning of “inclusion”), then we can all take pride in the accomplishments of ALL humans because we are ALL part of the human race.

Because you share a characteristic, such as race or sex with another person is simply a twist of fate.  Should Italians take pride in what Enrico Fermi or Guglielmo Marconi did and demand that others not study Fermi’s contributions to physics or should not listen to the radio because it was invented by an Italian?  Of course not.  Our obsession with identifying with people who share our race, sex, religion or sexual orientation does not mean that we had anything to do with what these people invented or achieved.  When we seek to make our role models the people who “look like us” we fail to see that what is on the outside is inconsequential in comparison to the complexity of what lies within a person’s mind, which is what actually defines a person.

In 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s running mate, and was the first female vice-presidential nominee, many feminists were vocal about it opening a door for women.  She was seen as a role model, much in the way that Kamala Harris (a woman who needs geography lessons) is seen as a role model today, but does that really open up doors or is it an illogical perception?  Should a child who isn’t “represented” by someone give up the dream, or should that person strive to be the one who is the first to accomplish X, Y or Z?  If someone truly believes that Kamala Harris’ primary reason for becoming the vice president was to open doors for other minority women, there is a great deal awaiting them in the purchase of the Brooklyn Bridge.  The driving force of the message for children should come from within the person, not from some ludicrous idea that this person who looks like me was successful, so I can be successful too.

The misguided notion of equity of outcomes begins with the notion that life isn’t fair, which is actually true, but illogically concludes that to make it fair, we must all start from the same place, which is an impossibility if we are to preserve our democratic freedoms.  The essence of a free, capitalist country is that freedom allows for success and failure, wealth and poverty and we are not all economically equal.  Some people are born into millionaire families and some are born into very poor families.  Some people have the benefit of conditions that put them on a higher rung on the ladder of success, while others must work that much harder to become successful.  Yet, the American dream is about opportunity, and each person has the opportunity to move from the shadows of obscurity to achieve great things and prosper from his or her accomplishments, in spite of what people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other ill-informed demagogues peddle to the masses.

Can’t a role model be someone with whom you share a perspective or an ideology?  Can’t white kids have black role models?  Can’t women look up to males?  Can a non-Chinese person enjoy the philosophy of Confucius?  Can a non-Italian appreciate the voice of Luciano Pavarotti?  Can a white kid admire the skills and courage exemplified by Jackie Robinson?  In many universities, great writers like Shakespeare and composers like Beethoven or Mozart have been removed from curriculum for the simple reason that they are white males, yet their work is what matters not their identities; however, this is something missed by those who are obsessed by identity politics.

There is so much more to a person than outward appearance, and when we judge people by other things that are actually superficial, we overlook the fact that it wasn’t their race, sex or any other fluke characteristic of nature that made the person great.  It was something within them that pushed them to do great things.  This is the spirit, which should be passed on to children, not choosing to be proud of a hero “because he or she looks like you.”

The fixation on identifying with others’ achievements is a selective process.  If we are going to identify with same sex, race, and religion etc. heroes, why stop at these moot characteristics, when there are so many other biological characteristics common people share with famous people, and they might include handedness, (left or right), hair color, eye color, height, weight or shared birthdays.

The best role models don’t have to look like you, but their stories and deeds should inspire and enlighten you.  Great people should be looked up to and respected because they did something that benefitted humanity, and their work has passed the test of time regardless of their race or gender.

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