Oh man oh man oh man. This week’s takedown is a trickster.
Here we go:
It’s tricky because on the surface, it is kind of sweet. We are all one big family. You, me, that guy down the street – we’re all the same. And the comments on the photo reflect a genuinely felt kindness and belief in fellow man:
“Beautiful – it brings tears ti my eyes.”
“Unite us, don’t divide us. Bad & good people of EVERY race. Quit looking at race and look at the person.”
“Love it! Sends a great message, that we are all equal and come from the same source, when our flesh is gone we are the same exact beings. No labels!”
Love. Equality. United we stand.
I went through the comments and found something perhaps surprising (okay, not to me, but maybe to people who take this picture at its face value): the commenters were overwhelmingly white. There was one person who may have been Arabic, and one person who was black.
It is so easy for a white person to say, “We are all the same, stop bringing up race.” Because when you pretend that there is no such thing as race, you get to pretend like you weren’t born into privilege. You get to pretend like there aren’t any advantages based on your color, and instead, everything you have is based on merit alone. The fact that you can walk around in a swanky neighborhood without fear of being arrested, or shot. The fact that when you get into a good school or a cushy job, nobody assumes it’s because quotas forced people to let you in. The fact that when you lock yourself out of your house and have to climb in the window to get in, your neighbors don’t call the cops on you.
If you pretend like race doesn’t exist, what you are saying is that these experiences – these awful things that have happened because of race – must be blamed on something else. They weren’t attacked because they were black, any white person in the same situation would also have been attacked! Which means that the person in question was obviously doing something wrong. They deserve the crappy things that happen to them. And as white people, we deserve the life free of those problems.
The idea behind “color blindness” is that each individual person has evolved to where race doesn’t matter to them. The people who are spreading this picture obviously feel this way, and it is a wonderful goal. We all want to live in a world wherein the only differences that matter are those that we choose. But there is a gigantic difference between saying, “I would like to live in a world like this,” and saying, “This is reflective of the world in which I live.”
When I was in high school, we played volleyball against a team from a school for the hearing impaired. We beat them, handily. It is tough to play a team sport when you are missing one of your senses; you can’t hear somebody behind you calling for the ball, the referee’s whistle is meaningless, even something as minor as the roar of the crowd that might get your adrenaline flowing is not a factor for you. Practice is less effective if a coach has to be within your line of sight to communicate with you; words of encouragement from the bench can’t bolster you if you aren’t looking in that direction.
I would love to live in a world in which this isn’t true. I would love for people with hearing difficulties to have no other difficulties stem from their auditory problems. It would be great if we could all be the same, one big happy family, everything equal for everybody.
But the world doesn’t work that way. Who does it serve if I pretend like that other team is on equal footing, if I make believe that every point scored on either side is fought for equally? Me. It serves me. When I say that a hearing impairment doesn’t affect anything else, what I am saying is, “I deserved to win that volleyball game on merit alone.” Not to mention, “They deserved to lose that game simply because they were worse volleyball players.” When I say that nobody had any advantages, and nobody had any disadvantages, I get to erase my privilege and ignore others’ disadvantages. I get to pretend that being born on third base actually means that I hit a triple, and the rest of those folks that have made it to third base after working for it should have no trouble running home, because why would they be any more tired than me?
We all want an America with equal opportunities and equal challenges for all. We all want to live in a country wherein race is no more significant than hair color or shoe size, where skin color might give a clue about heritage and culture but nothing more. But we don’t.
It isn’t “race-baiting” and “class-dividing” to talk about the very real challenges or advantages that people of different skin colors face. Until we are willing to talk frankly about the inequalities along race lines that continue to exist, we can do nothing to fix them; and we can make no progress toward becoming more like the picture that the crapdate spreaders profess to love. I want to learn French, run an Ironman, live in a spotless house; but if I pretend like all of those things are already true, they never will become true, because I can’t take the steps necessary to reach those goals.
Racial harmony is a beautiful thing. Racial equality is a worthy goal. The picture, by itself, is quite moving – what a wonderful world this would be, right? If we were all judged by the content of our character.
But we aren’t. The only people who benefit from pretending like we are are those that are already in a position of privilege, who get to pretend like they have no advantages. In other words, those white American-Americans who share this poster and propagate the incredibly harmful distortion that our work here is done. Our work here isn’t done. And it never will be unless we can all admit that, whether we like it or not, race matters. If we cannot admit that, we cannot change it, and the vision of America portrayed in the poster will never be realized.