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Old April 7th, 2012, 06:02 PM
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Thuso Thuso is offline
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Default Why Conversations on Race Usually Fail

The attached article in TheRoot.com misses the point like so many well-meaning articles have done in the past. I have seen Dr. martin Luther King Jr.'s quote -- "I have a dream that my four little 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. " -- missused out of context until no one understands the context anymore.


Dr. King's quote above is generally used by well-meaning white folks as the standard to which we should all aspire in our conversations about race. To them, this means we should strive for color-blindness, and move to some so-called "post racial society." In this post-racial society, no one sees color, nor ethinic diversity, nor cultural differences that aren't Eurocentric. The Eurocentric perspective is accepted by everyone as the norm. (this is inherently racist, but couched in the term "American exceptionalism")

I was there -- in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, when the vision of W.E.B. Du Bois, and Carter G. Woodson were the beacons of wisdom guiding the efforts of Black folks. Contemporary conversations on race fail because we are dealing with a generation that wants to "forget the racist past" of this nation, and attempt to drown that past in the rhetoric of colorblindness.

Just as an aside, what colorblindness means to most white folks -- intentionally or unintentionally -- is that we "paint everyone white, and cover up the cultural and ethnic histories of others." In other words, total white assimilation.
So, conversations on race cannot move forward when one of the participants has a 400 year history of oppression and slavery, and the other has a 400 year history of privilege. A recent study broadcast by CNN demonstrates clearly that even innocent children clearly see the racist biases of their parents. I have seen small examples of diversity that are amazingly effective in solving daunting problems -- when the primary goal is to solve clearly defined problems. When the cultural diversity of the participants is appreciated for the value they bring to the discussion of options, then progress can be made.

Perhaps the greatest example of the value of diversity is fictional. Star Trek's Starship Enterprise was a galaxy hopping laboratory of diversity that was guided by the "prime directive" -- "The Prime Directive dictates that there can be no interference with the internal development of alien civilizations." This is very differnet than "colorblindness." It recognizes that other civilizations are different, and inherently valuable to the members of that civilization.

Here is what Du Bois had to say about being "African and American."
He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
Note that he doesn't ask for colorblindness, but that we Africans in America be "accepted as a Negro and an American." I believe that Dr. King subscribed to this same thinking, accept when the judgment of the value of our potential is concerned. At the point of assessing value, here is where he dreams that his children "will be not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

The conversation on race must start with the acknowledgement that this nation was founded and largely built in its formative years on the premise of racist inequality that has left a permanent underclass of a segment of our population. Some are able to escape that underclass, but structural barriers and institutional racism still affect many in ways that amount to certain Black members of our society being born with a near insurmountable disadvantage. The goal of the conversation must address ways to help those yet to be born into such a condition, and also to craft solutions for those who are struggling with racist barriers every day. If not, we end up with the kind of porlarized discussions that the talking heads are having in the media about the Trayvon Martin killing.

All problems cannot be solved, because some of us simply don't want to help or be helped in ways that are meaningful. We must acknowledge that Black folks of African descent will always be different, just as those of European, Asian, Middle Eastern, or Native American descent. What is needed is a forward thinking application of the "prime directive" that can serve as the guding principle for crafting solutions.

Last edited by Thuso : April 7th, 2012 at 06:06 PM.
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