Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Will We Ever Be a Colorblind Society?

“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Well, it was a nice dream while it lasted. Back here in Awake Land, I wish I could just love people for who they are, and the color of their skin wasn’t thrust upon me when I wasn’t worried about it to begin with. A confluence of events have made me realize that the issue of race is still volatile in America for all the wrong reasons, and perpetuated by those who are hurt most by it remaining volatile.

First, there was an anchorwoman for Channel 2 in Chicago who accused a reputable contracting company for doing “shoddy” work, simply because she was black. There is no proof that the contractors are racist; it is an accusation that was made because it can be. It’s not the first time this reporter has made such accusations, and given her high-profile persona, it strikes me as highly irresponsible if no proof can be offered. The real damage of these sorts of accusations are twofold: it forces us to look at people only by the color of their skin, and because these character assaults require no proof, the reputation of the contractor is instantly stained through no fault of his own.

Second is the continued immigration rallies, which I understand aren’t supposed to be about race as such, but the issue bubbles just beneath the situation. Unlike the crystal clear race issues of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, the immigration debate isn’t about race. But for those who don’t support the marcher’s political aims, it has been hard to distinguish their political goals from their ethnicity. And to those who oppose the political objectives of the marchers, the ethnicity of the marchers is of no consequence; but it seems that we can no longer ignore it.

The hoisting of Mexican flags is a right I grant to them all, but it focuses the attention to be on cultural and ethnic divisions as much if not more than political goals of the marchers. So honest debate about serious immigration issues is tarnished from the beginning, because the compulsion by the marchers to force outsiders to see them for their ethnicity as much as their policy needs has made a colorblind debate all but impossible. It has forced those who oppose illegal immigration to sound as though they are opposed to Mexicans or South Americans (or any ethnicity marching for that matter) more than policy changes. This is simply not the case, and it could set the stage for future unrest.

And then there is, of course, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, whose “chocolate city” quip single-handedly made an entire speech (and an entire agenda) about solely the color of someone’s skin, not the content of their character. Far be it from him to encourage all qualified people to return to the port city to rebuild it! No, this was about race and nothing more. And what was the result? White backlash that is both unfortunate and preventable. Backlash in the form of bumper stickers, racial defensiveness, and resentment. Backlash that was encouraged by forcing people who are willing to ignore racial differences and get on with life.

And this purposefully race-filled rhetoric is still going on despite a middle class with more and more minorities participating in the growing economy. I guess my question is, what can I do to encourage people to stop forcing me to view them in a way I do not want to? I do not want to only view people by the color of their skin, so what can I do to end the rhetoric about race in America?

For now, I’m disappointed. I wish we could all, white, black, and brown could take Dr. King's advice.

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