The recent senseless violence we all witnessed in South Carolina gives us all cause for feeling emotionally drained and physically unsettled . Once again, a racial incident, this one of epic proportions and committed in shocking cold blood, rises to the forefront in the wake of a church shooting in Charleston, leaving nine innocent citizens dead. And, the clamor for every facet and nugget surrounding this dreadful incident becomes the fodder with which the media now bombards us.
The bigger issue is what will be our collective response to this matter. We continue to have this "incident by incident" reaction to racism often sparked by a single occurrence (Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, Charleston, etc.). The real crimes are actions of far less notoriety that have a greater detrimental impact on our nation's ability to confront racism head on. Maybe it's the uncomfortable nature of having to acknowledge our country's struggles with race or the evolution of Jim Crow type oppression that is less overt than it was decades before. Either way, the "post-racial society" that some would like to believe in is more mythology than reality. National surveys bear this out in the disparity. For example, this article points out this division along racial and political lines as it relates to views on the criminal justice system: http://wapo.st/1dasmSk.
We have to move beyond these episodic racial conversations and engage daily in discussions on race in our country. We should not rely on flashpoint philosophy that naturally raises tensions in the absence of thoughtful dialogue. We are a nation of immigrants—some willing, some forced—who have seen some of the most horrid acts of inhumanity perpetuated on our fellow man because of their ethnicity, race or creed. It is unreasonable to believe that a country that has had hundreds of years of this behavior will change overnight. However, if we perpetuate the misguided notion that we have somehow moved into a post racial world, then we, all of US, will never truly enjoy the freedoms that our nation was built upon.
An example of this recent color-blindness is last year when the United States Supreme Court struck down provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The cultural myth of a post racial society was at the crux of the decision. It was academic reasoning with no basis on everyday reality. The authors of that law's stated desire, was to make it illegal to practice racial discrimination at the voting booth. The law provided equal access to the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote and was integral to empowering a portion of the citizenry who had been long denied this opportunity. Chief Justice Roberts’ court, at the core of its decision to remove some of the voter protections, wanted us to believe we live in a society where such legislation is no longer necessary. In my opinion, they could not be more wrong.
Much of this post-racial euphoria is traceable to the election of President Barack Obama in 2008, which respected journalists and opinion leaders heralded as the dawn of a new era in our country. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. We currently live in an era of the greatest political and racial polarization that I have seen in my lifetime. The concept that our nation has moved into a post-racial America is really a superficial attempt towards the hard work of truly meaningful racial understanding. In actuality, this lazy approach to rationalizing the real American racial experience exacerbates the gaps among us. It allows us to erase race from the conversation, which is essential for us to really move forward in having that real, honest and difficult discussion. The inconvenient truth is that we will never move beyond race in our country. It is ingrained into who we are from the earliest inception of our nation to the media portrayals of those relationships today. We cannot escape that it's there, but we can find ways to work together to lessen its impact on our lives.
This issue of a post-racial society, or more accurately the lack of it, will not disappear unless we put in the hard work to make it happen. The single, greatest roadblock in working toward a solution is this reality: Many people simply refuse to believe that racial disharmony exists, which blocks us from having the dialogue that we need so desperately. This is perfectly reminiscent of trying to improve a process or a person when they simply refuse to acknowledge that a problem persists. There is no perfect antidote, but if we don’t talk about the problems of race in America, the manifestations of its ugliness in our society will persist. No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, their background, sexual preference or their religion. It's learned behavior that as teachers of our next generation we can correct. That’s my take. What’s yours?