Next week America will see its first black president take office. Many people see the election of Barack Obama as a sign that race relations in our country are truly changing. But are they really?
This is the question that was at the center of a round table discussion I recently had with a panel of young, black community activists for a big project I’ve been working on the past few weeks. (I’ll post a link to the finished product once it’s up on my paper’s website.)
As a black woman who grew up in the South, I think about issues of race a lot, perhaps too much, but I can’t help it. I haven’t, however, experienced a lot of blatant racism.
What I encounter more are well-intentioned white people who think the solution to racism is to assume that I’m just like them. I’ve had co-workers who assumed that because I have a couple of degrees and because I’m sitting in a cubicle next to them that my background must be the same as theirs. There’s no way I grew up in a neighborhood with gangs, drug dealers and gun violence, they think.
I’ve had white friends who assumed that all of my pop culture interests, family traditions and even my hair care products would be the same as theirs and whenever I tried to explain and have discussions on our cultural differences they didn’t want to hear it. Needless to say, we weren’t friends for long.
I’m not saying I would have been any happier if they had assumed I did grow up in a rough neighborhood just because I’m black. But what needs to happen is less assuming and more heartfelt conversations to really get to know people.
Convincing yourself of the lie that everyone is the same is not the way to solve racism. Sure, people of different races and cultures will have plenty of similarities and it’s important to uncover those and build upon them. But when differences come up we should discuss them, respect them and accept them, not try to pretend they don’t exist. You may think ignoring cultural differences is being colorblind, but it’s actually just being ignorant. And this goes for people of any race.
What do you think? Do you believe race relations in America are vastly better?
How are race relations where you live?
Tell me about some of your experiences with race.