By David Schwier–4/4/2018
Here is a distillation of current race relations in America:
Black people: ‘Racism is still a huge issue in America.’
White people: ‘No, it’s not. We’re past this.’
Why the disconnect?
Black people: ‘White people don’t listen to us.’
White people: ‘Black people are whiners.’
So which is it?
Is there still a huge problem, or are we past this?
Here’s one reason white people say we’re past this:
So why are African-Americans still criticizing?
Well, because of this:
Because quite often well-meaning white people don’t understand how their words and actions still perpetuate racism in ways they don’t even realize is happening.
“What, Dave? You’re crazy…”
No, I’m not.
Here’s a great example:
In 1999 I remember watching Serena Williams being interviewed by Mary Carillo after Serena won her first US Open tennis title.
I dreaded what was coming. I was already cringing.
The question. The question.
The question that would belittle Serena; and Mary was completely clueless.
Mary asked Serena: “How does it feel to be the first African-American woman to win the US Open since (the last African American woman many years ago)?”
I felt horrible for Serena.
Because I knew Serena didn’t care how it felt to be the first African American to win since blah, blah, blah.
She only cared about what’s like to be the first Serena Williams to win.
And rightly so.
Because no white player is ever asked what it’s like to be the umpteenth hundredth white person to win the US Open.
Nor is any white basketball player in the African-American dominated NBA ever asked what it’s like to be the 158th white person to win an NBA title.
That would be ridiculous.
In Mary’s defense, she was probably trying to be helpful.
Mary might have legitimately thought, Serena’s gone against the odds. She’s had to work harder to overcome obstacles white people don’t face.
What Mary didn’t know, however, was that this is exactly how white people trying to be helpful can actually make things worse.
Because she should have known Serena Williams only wanted to be the first Serena Williams to win the US Open.
And again, rightly so.
Sloane Stephens only wanted to be the first Sloane Stephens to win the US Open, just as Steffi Graf only ever wanted to be the first Steffi Graf to win the US Open.
Steffi Graf never wanted, or asked, to represent the entire white race.
Why should Serena, or Sloane, want to represent their entire race?
Bringing up race in every situation is not progress.
When we stop bringing up race in every situation…that is progress.
So this gets to the heart of the current racial disconnect in America:
Because White culture needs to understand that when these types of situations occur, and the black community says “that’s racist,” that’s what they mean.
They are not calling Mary Carillo a racist.
They are not saying she’s a card-carrying member of the KKK intent on burning crosses and hanging people from trees.
And it’s not helpful when white people push back with that kind of ridiculousness.
What they are saying is that you can have racist actions and words, and not even realize it.
That’s what they’re saying.
So what would success look like?
Success would mean not necessarily being color blind, but being color affirming.
That means all people are created, and treated, equal: Dark skin, pale skin, cream skin, blue skin if you like.
Because who cares?
It’s just frickin’ skin.
No more of a biological function than pooping or growing hair.
It’s your body’s genetic pre-programming to best help you survive in your environment.
And the environment of pale Europeans was not North America. (Pale skin is best suited for Northern European climes.)
And the environment of African people was not North America. (Dark skin is best suited for African climes.)
Both came later.
So what is the best genetic pre-programmed skin hue for North America?
We know exactly what it is, because those people are still here living on the worst land in the worst physical and cultural conditions.
Europeans used to call them ‘Indians,’ but they’re really Native Americans.
And their skin is smack in the middle of pale and dark. A really nice tan, exactly what millions of white people flock to the beach each year to achieve.
What is needed is understanding.
Listening to each other.
Fixing what is broken in certain systems.
Then, and only then, will we get closer to a society that is more equal, and just, for all.