Thursday, February 16, 2006

Can society get TOO colorblind?

I have real mixed feelings about this article. I've written before about how my take on race issues is sort of naive and squirrelly because of where I grew up. In Northern VA, whites were the majority but there were kids of lots of different races. The difference for us I think was that just about everybody who went to my school was upper middle class. Thomas Jefferson is right. When everybody has money, strife over petty differences tends to fade. There were some poorer kids, but the ones I knew were white.

An African-American girl frequently made fun of me in junior high school because I didn't have designer clothes and wore what clothes I had a little oddly. Nobody thought that was in the least strange. The truly wealthy kids vs. the merely middle class kids was more where our tensions were.

I think the prom king and queen were mixed race my junior year, but I don't completely remember. It might have been homecoming. Or my sophomore year. Wither way, it was unremarkable.

There was an issue once with somebody painting nazi graffitti on the school, but I'm pretty sure that this was less about Jews and more about how nazi imagery is the most upsetting thing a dumbass high school kid can think of.

I was pretty colorblind as a kid, to the point of being oddly so. My favorite illustration of this is that I went to school for something like 12 years with a guy named Miguel Montoya. My junior year he mentioned he was Hispanic. I honestly hadn't noticed. I didn't know that african-americans were supposed to like watermelon until I got to college.

My Freshman year at college in North Carolina, I recall my horror when somebody told me that "Pontiac" stood for "Poor old (ahem) thinks it's a Cadillac." It was the first joke like that I'd ever heard. I recall thinking "Poor old racist doesn't know a Cadillac is a shitty car, too" but being too flat out appalled to actually respond.

Some people I'm sure will tell me that my experiences come from being around people of other races who abandoned their culture and adopted the white culture. They're right. And how much keeping one's own culture vs. assimilating into mass culture is worth is a decision anyone raised outside the mass culture has to face.

(If I had watched carefully how the rich kids dressed and behaved and imitated them, I probably could have gotten away with it enough to blend. Not be popular, but blend. If I had it to do over again, I would do that and just never let anybody come over to my house. But assimilating like that is my choice and it doesn't have to be yours.)

This relates to UUism in that the people of other races who wear dockers and listen to Coldplay and play golf do come to UU churches sometimes. And they fit in just fine. We don't attract people of other races who still behave in culturally different ways though. And we don't attract recent immigrants from Europe, rednecks or any other group of white people who have a different culture.

A colorblind society is possible, IMHO. But we're never going to be a culture blind society any more than we're going to have a high school where rich kids and poorer kids don't harass each other. Whether the cultural tradeoffs are worth it is another question.

realizing that she did not write out the racial slur in the joke she was repeating not because a word in itself can be immoral, but because of her perception that it is a word that only tacky people use. Another culturally-based decision.

1 comment:

ogre said...

Too colorblind? Dunno.

I got ahead of the curve with my older son, though. He was clueless; white, which is probably part of why he could be... but he must have been 10 or 11, and we were talking about Rosa Parks and MLKjr, and...

You know how sometimes you're talking to someone and you can see all the way through? You're talking, but they're not getting it at all, and they're baffled?

... I tried it a couple ways, wondering why talking about this all was mystifying him. Finally, the light went on--for me.

I asked "Do you know what they mean here," referring to the book we were looking at, "when they say black people?" He didn't. It's not like we live in some isolated, nearly all-white part of the country. There are kids in our fellowship he knows....

So I explained it all, explained... and explained. And it just horrified him to death, and left him raging in tears.

He was colorblind. Didn't notice people's skin color as anything of any significance or meaning or even of note.

And I had to shatter that Ming vase. Because he has to live in this fucked up society. I still grieve for that, every time I think about it. If we can't let our kids grow up and be colorblind... how will we ever get society there?

As to your final question, I think figuring out how to try to be "culture-blind" is going to be a hell of a task.