Does race really matter? This question is posed a lot in the conservative blogosphere. This is never a question I hear liberal commentators ask each other. It’s obvious that to liberals race does matter…a lot. It’s the first quality that they seem to observe, often. Criticize Obama? Well, you must be a racist. Black teen killed by non-Black? Clearly it was a hate crime because the victim was Black! Breitbart.com’s Joel Pollack daring to raise alarms about Critical Race Theory? Racism, obviously. The only time race doesn’t seem to matter to liberals is when it works to prove the opposite of their accusations. Pollack’s wife is Black, but whatever…racist! Many conservatives are Black but still – racism!
The Trayvon Martin case has brought renewed tensions to the race issue, helped along by eager hustlers like Al Sharpton. For liberal America the case was further proof that we still have a long way to go to reach race equality. For many conservatives it elicited surprise that we are still so angry about the issue of race in this country today, over 50 years after the civil rights movement. I’ve received many comments from people in light of the Martin case expressing confusion and frustration. One commenter said “I’ve been shocked to see how this whole thing has become such a huge deal. Why do we still look at each other as this race or that? When I look at a person I truly don’t see the color of their skin. We should all be colorblind…” This comment is completely representative of many, many others I have heard about race in the last few weeks.
So…does race really matter?
As a Black conservative woman, my answer is “Yes! It does.” Understandably this will make many conservatives feel uncomfortable. Conservative America has been the butt of blatantly cruel and false accusations of racism for decades now. Their words are routinely twisted and misrepresented in the media and Hollywood complex. The meme of “racist conservative” has led many of us to shy away from uncomfortable conversations about race. But I fear that in our attempts to pull our society away from the “race first” hysteria of outlets like MSNBC, some conservatives have pulled too far in the other direction. We completely discount the role of race in our society in our attempts to be “colorblind”. I think race does matter. I do think it’s important. In this world race is intimately tied to culture, and culture is what gives the human race it’s flavoring. Have you ever been to a cookout at a black family’s house? It’s a whole lot different from going to a cookout with a White family. Is that because of income level or education? Not really. It’s because of race, which inevitably leads to culture.
I don’t want our society to be colorblind. I am perfectly fine with anyone noticing that I am a Black woman. I’m proud of my heritage. I’m proud of the amazing contributions the Black community has made in building this blessed and prosperous country. Our community has faced incredible odds, discrimination and oppression, while at the same time becoming extremely influential in areas that set the tone for the general American culture, such as the arts and education. All the racial adversity, the struggles – it all added up to an incredibly rich and vibrant culture. I don’t want to ignore that richness in the name of being “colorblind”. I believe the same goes for other race communities as well. To me, diversity doesn’t just mean a bunch of people of all different races in the same place, it means many distinct cultures coming together and sharing their unique experiences/gifts. I don’t want my Asian friends to be just like me. I love learning about their stories and traditions. Their race actually gives them a specific perspective on American life that I just don’t have. Their race does matter to me, because it informs their views and how they relate to those around them and american society in general.
I appreciate so much my White friends who tell me race doesn’t matter to them. They are good people and they just want to be able to see others for the “content of their character” . But if I’m being honest, sometimes it also bothers me when they say things like that. What they don’t understand is that for most black people race does matter. It isn’t just about “Black power” and lingering issues from our enslaved ancestors. It’s about the way we laugh, what we laugh about; how we socialize, worship, recreate; it’s about how we eat, how we communicate, how we raise our families. All of these things hold within them hundreds of years of experiences and development. And of course that holds true for all racial communities. Sometimes, when a White friend says they want everyone to ignore race, it feels like they are saying we should ignore culture too; and what many people may not realize is that for Black people, their culture is a great source of pride, despite the failings and troubles of our community in recent decades.
I’m certainly not saying it’s wrong to see folks outside of their racial designations; but the controversial Derbyshire piece from a few weeks ago got me thinking about this whole idea of race and conversations surrounding race. His piece was disturbing but it made me think – if I were ever going to have a real, open discussion on black/white race relations I would want a guy like that in on it. Why? Because he said uncomfortable things. At least he admitted how he really felt. It’s hard to have the uncomfortable conversations in today’s climate. If you don’t hold the “right” views you are immediately shot down and ridiculed. That doesn’t leave much room for honesty. I’d like for us to be able to really have those cringe-worthy talks, where people say what they really think even if it sounds crazy or offensive. How can we challenge misperceptions and prejudice if no one is willing to take the risk of opening the dialogue? How can we truly become a post-racial America if no one is willing to tell the truth about our differences, similarities, and all the awkward things in between?
Race does matter. It’s okay to see race, because it means acknowledging culture. It just shouldn’t be the first thing we see, and it shouldn’t be where we get stuck.