A recent discussion thread on Blog Catalog asked the question "Do you care about racism?" The answer to that one was easy, but the next question gave me pause: Do you think about it on a daily basis?
I don't. Answering the question was easy; determining whether or not my answer was the right one was a little more complex.
Racism is beyond me. Maybe that's not a good thing for a grown-up of above average intelligence with a degree in political science and a law degree to admit, but I just can't get my mind around it. So much so that I tend to forget about it except when I'm confronted with it, and when I am, my first reaction is disbelief.
When my daughter, who was born in 1996, first heard about Martin Luther King, Jr., she had a lot of questions. I tried, in six-year-old terms, to explain what he'd done. I lost her fast, though. I mentioned that black people were once prohibited from eating in restaurants with white people and she laughed out loud. She was so struck by the absurdity of it that she started making up what she thought were similar laws: People who wear yellow can't drive cars! People with brown hair can't go to the gas station!
In one sense, I was purely delighted to have raised a child who couldn't comprehend that anyone would ever have distinguished people based on race. As far as I could see, she had it exactly right--the color of a person's skin is exactly as relevant to his suitability to enter a restaurant as the color of a person's shirt is to his ability to drive. In another, I was nagged by that cautionary line about those who forget history being doomed to repeat it. That was five years ago, and I'm no closer to the right answer.
How do we ignore race without ignoring racism? The world is full of good people who work hard to eradicate racism, and they've accomplished some amazing things--but they've also kept the issue of race in the public eye, made it something that we can't forget about. And that's a conundrum, because while we can't forget about racism, we should absolutely forget about race. Or at least, that's my view--maybe those who actively fight racism every day would disagree.
It just seems to me that making decisions based on race is most likely to end when people don't even register race unless there's some reason for it.
A few years back, I worked a table at an event on a college campus for my former employer. The event took place in the field house, and it was packed--there were probably 700-800 people in the building. At some point, the man working the table with me said to me, "I think you're the only white person in this room." A quick scan of the crowd indicated that he was probably right, but I'd been there for about three hours and I hadn't noticed. Unless I'm missing something, that's where we should all be headed. I wasn't making a political statement. It wasn't just that I didn't care about the racial breakdown of the room. I'd simply looked at each person I'd encountered as an individual person and not even registered that I was the only causasian among 7 or 8 hundred blacks and latinos--any more than I might have registered that I was the only person with a brown clip in my hair or the only one wearing a sweatshirt.
So what is that? It seems to me that when we live in a world where everyone is as oblivious to race as I was that day--as I think I am every day--then we'll live in a world that is automatically without racism. Am I ignoring racism, or have I risen above it? Or do they amount to the same thing in practical effect?