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Andrew Grant-Thomas, Ph.D.

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You Cut, I Choose: Imagining a Brighter Racial Future

Posted: 07/29/10 08:02 AM ET

Remember when some people said that Barack Obama's election meant we had gone post-racial? It really hasn't turned out that way.

In the last 20 months, we've heard the Attorney General of the United States say we're a "nation of cowards" about race. We've seen a movement of people who still insist that Barack Obama wasn't born in this country and therefore isn't qualified to be president. We've seen white unemployment rates at their worst in almost three decades -- and Latino and Black unemployment rates that blow the white rate away.

Just last week, we saw the NAACP and White House so freaked by the threat of being found soft on racism that they rushed to a disastrous and wrong judgment on Shirley Sherrod.

Arizona's immigration law, aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting undocumented immigrants, goes into effect today. Yesterday, a judge put on hold provisions in the law requiring immigrants to carry their papers and requiring police officers to verify the immigration status of people they've stopped for other reasons. These and related provisions are blanket invitations to profile by race. Depending on how the courts decide these issues, Latino immigrants here legally and Latino citizens of the US will yet pay a heavy price. As it is, the Obama administration has overseen the deportation of some 400,000 immigrants this fiscal year alone.

And on and on it goes.

OK. Pause.

Now let's imagine a United States where race plays out very differently. It's the year 2042, a year when we may no longer have a racial majority.  Race still matters -- no colorblindness, no post-racialism -- but even the struggles around race are different, healthier, less divisive.

Let me ask you to think about this -- with your friends, your family, your colleagues.

What would a United States at a much better place on race look like, sound like, feel like? If some seeds of change are in place right now, in 2010, what are they? How can we get from here to there?

You know that game little kids play when, say, they want to divide a piece of cake fairly and equally? One kid cuts the cake, the other kid chooses which slice she gets. Suppose through some weird, unexplained quirk you couldn't know what race or ethnicity your own children would be. Regardless of your own race or your partner's, your children could be white, black, Latino, Asian American, Native American -- however we think about race in 2042.

Suppose even US citizens could find themselves the loving parents of undocumented Mexican immigrant children?

What would it mean to cut the societal cake fair and square, knowing that your child could get stuck perpetually with the smaller piece? Would you change the way schools are funded? What changes to our immigration system would make sense? What about how the media deal with race?

This challenge isn't for everybody. Some of you just don't buy my premise that race still significantly shapes the opportunities we get and don't get and our perceptions and expectations of each other. Some of you will have a hard time imagining a better America that isn't simply colorblind.

But those of you who take me up on this may find yourselves having some really interesting, constructive, and very un-cowardly conversations about race. Which is to say: conversations not at all like the ones we've actually been having.

Photo: U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton

Crossposted from Race-Talk.