Tuesday, January 13, 2009

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.
Posted by in  on 12:36 PM 2 comments

2 comments:

  1. ha! we all know race relations are just instantly going to be solved with the election of a black president.

    i love that we all are different. we are suppose to be. i just don't get why its such a big deal that people, races, and cultures are all different.

    here in alabama. i constantly hear people bashing another race or culture. black people bashing white people and everyone bashing anyone that doesnt speak english or share their beliefs. it really sucks and i try to ignore it so i wont bash them all in the head.

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  2. Yeah Obama's election is the perfect ending to the fairy tale about race, right? I agree we've come a long way, but we have much further to go. Honestly, part of me feels there will always be issues with race and culture in America. No matter how far we get, we'll only be as strong as our weakest links. And whether folks want to admit it or not, Lord knows racism & prejudice played a part in the founding of our country. Also I hope that black people can accept that Barack Obama doesn't owe us anything just for being black. As much as we have a right to be proud and excited, he's the President of U.S., not just President of Black America.

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