Tuesday, February 7, 2012

On Becoming Color Blind

One of the things that has always been most difficult for me to understand is racism. Especially here in the southern US, it is just so strange to me that people of different ‘races’ live with each other and hate each other. There are so many biases, so many prejudices.
The very first time I visited the US we drove through downtown Indianapolis. My boyfriend at the time, who had a few days prior given me a long speech about how racial equality existed and how it was unfounded for anyone to be upset about racism, was showing me the city. We drove down a street that looked very nice, with well-kept houses and stores. Suddenly, on that same street, the houses started to look more and more run down. I was told that we were now in a ‘dangerous’ part of town. My boyfriend explained that only black people lived on this run-down part of the street. It used to be a very nice area, but then black people started moving in, which made the property value drop, which then caused poorer people to move in, and in some crazy downward spiral, everything started to deteriorate. It was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard!
Unfortunately, this was American reality. Equality exists on paper before the law, but true equality is far from being here. A lot of people like to ignore this fact, but if we are completely honest, there is still so much major discrimination based on race that it makes it hard not to laugh at people who say equality is real.
My major at university was American Studies. I have come across the issue of racism extensively in my studies. I won’t bore you with the statistics and facts. Let’s just say that the situation isn’t great. However, there is no need to look at research papers, etc. to find examples of racism. Just take a look around you and you will find it every day, in almost every place you look more closely.
I love people who tell me that they are “not a racist, but…”, followed by some anecdote about how someone of a different color/origin did something to them that they disapproved of. Or people who say that “the blacks should get over slavery”- I am still actually not quite sure what they are even referring to, as I have 1. Never heard anyone complaining about slavery; and 2. Nobody every tells e.g. the Jews to “get over the Holocaust” because that would just be ridiculous- you can’t “get over” history.
I frequently like to remind people that segregation was only officially ended a little over 50 years ago. A lot of people still remember that! Quite honestly, if it were me, I don’t think I would forgive something like that and I would continue to hold a grudge. Surprisingly, most people who lived through that time don’t seem to be angry about it…
Why am I writing about all this? Because I had a profound realization that I would like to share. I have finally understood that true color blindness is impossible UNLESS you understand one thing: there is no us and there is no them. Seeing people as belonging into categories or groups, such as race, nationality, etc, just doesn’t work. I am not like every other “white” person- there is no common identity. Sharing a similar skin tone does not make anyone a kindred spirit.
You may have come to this conclusion a long time ago, but I feel enlightened. I am finally able to see beyond boundaries that were artificially created. Let’s face it: the categories in question were all formed in a feeble human attempt to make sense of the world in which they live. Then at some point, a few white men decided that their group was superior to all others. But actually, they have no real group. Sharing skin color is not common ground. I am of the same ‘race’ as Newt Gingrich, yet I have not one thing in common with him.
I am trying to free my mind. I believe I am on the way to truly becoming color blind. Maybe Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream isn’t completely lost yet…
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction...The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." Martin Luther King Jr., Strength To Love, 1963

1 comment:

  1. My husband and I are tyring very hard to be "color aware." We know that being "color blind" could actually end up hurting our daughter, and not preparing her for realities of life she will have to face, even though we don't want her to. It is not easy, but is guided by love. That's all that matters.