Race is a lightly veiled issue in this country and it takes only the slightest breeze to uncover it. We've seen this with the debate surrounding Henry Louis Gates' arrest, the health care and tea party protests, and Joe Wilson's outburst. Even Kanye West and Serena Williams' self-involved antics sparked national dialogue filled with racial undertones.
In these discussions, the word, "racist" is reliably thrown around. Another word you would hear in rebuttal is, "color blind." Before the next inevitable racially charged event, it's worth exploring the impact of both these terms.
Recently, a study done at the University of Texas Austin grabbed headlines when it suggested that infants even at six-months-old display racial preferences. The question this study left lingering was, "is distinguishing between races natural?"
Human self-separation and resulting social biases have existed since the beginning of mankind.
A brief look back through history shows all manner of divisions between groups of people we now would consider the "same". Romans enslaved the Slavs (hence the root of the word); different ethnic groups warred in Africa long before colonialism. If distinction between humans is natural and inevitable, does it make sense to pretend to ignore it? It follows that living in a multi-ethnic world, all people -- whether brave enough to admit it or not -- feel some of these biases.
To claim color blindness ignores this very human truth. We can no more be color blind than be unconscious of height, weight, age or sex. We can easily and openly describe any of those human characteristics; however we whisper or try to find creative ways to describe someone's race in conversation. Of course the reasons behind this discomfort are rooted in an ugly history that held race as the primary marker for our discrimination.
It is because of the atrocities of the past that we have let our national guilt swing the pendulum of the race discussion too far in a politically correct direction to the point where color blindness is held up as a virtue. Color blindness is not a virtue; it's dangerously ignorant.
In the study from the University of Texas Austin, the researcher examined groups of parents with their children and the children's racial attitudes. The children of parents who did not talk to them about race made no improvement in their racial attitudes, but the children of parents tasked with speaking to their kids about race showed a dramatic improvement in racial attitudes.
We give weight to the idea of race being negative by considering it taboo. The more we avoid the topic, the discussion, the word, the more power we lend it. To bring race into casual conversation is to treat it as it should be treated -- as a non-issue.
Now is the time to accept our human nature and admit that no matter who we are, there's a little racist living inside. To face our racist and look to battle its biases every day should be a personal and life long struggle for each of us against the very worst of our human nature. As any recovering addict can attest, the first step to recovery is admitting the problem.
Expel your prejudices by confronting them. Ignorance will get us nowhere.
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