Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to face any of our fears, and that they would all just one day disappear? This is the mindset of many people in America regarding race. Although skin color is one of the first things we notice about each other, many of us would rather not discuss such a topic because it’s “divisive” or “touchy”. Many people would prefer to insist that they don’t even see race. Many believe that even mentioning race is immediately going to tear people apart. Why even think about something that has torn people apart for centuries? After all, race shouldn’t even matter… right?
I’m here to challenge this mindset and say that race does matter. While we are all people deserving of love and respect, we are not all the same. Your skin color is a piece of what determines your worldview. My experience as a black person in America has been, and will continue to be different from the experience of a white person. For example, when I was fourteen, my family moved to a predominantly white area of Schenectady, New York. My high school was nearby, so I would walk to school every day. The first time I walked to school, I took a wrong turn on a side street and I was lost. Being a very outgoing and social person, I decided to ask for directions. I noticed a car parked with a family inside, and all of their windows were down. I walked over to ask the man in the driver’s seat for directions, but when I got close to their car, they locked the doors and sped away. Needless to say, I was late for school that day.
I am not white, so I am not able to completely speak for how a white person would have fared in that situation. However, I think it would be fair to say that this has never happened to the average white American. I can’t help but think that if I were white, I would have gotten directions out of that family very easily. The expressions on their faces as I approached their car said it all. They were afraid of me. And they weren’t the only ones. In this neighborhood, white people walking their dogs, going for a run, or just taking a stroll, would walk on the other side of the street if they saw that I was walking in their direction. If I forgot to take my hood down in Dunkin Donuts, people would almost immediately get up and leave. Because I have the experience of strangers being fearful of me, I have learned to be apprehensive of pretty much everyone I meet. You know what’s scarier than a black man in store wearing a hood? Being a black man in a store wearing a hood.
This is my experience as a racial minority, so whenever I hear someone say that race isn’t important, I cringe. When I hear someone say that they don’t see race, it feels like they’re saying that they don’t see my struggle of being a black man in America. And unfortunately, people that “don’t see race” are often the same ones insisting that I, and many other minorities are overthinking what we have perceived as racial discrimination. Their response to racial inequality is the same as the family in the car- avoid eye contact at all costs.
We need to be able to see each other’s race because it represents so much more than a color. A person’s race is a step to mutual understanding. If you can recognize that minorities have had the cards stacked against them for centuries and still live with the consequences today, you can grow in empathy for them, and you can see them for the strong people that they are. If you can accept and appreciate the diversity of race in America, it becomes easier to appreciate the fact that we are all different and bring different perspectives to the table of understanding. Black people are not the same as white people and that’s okay! That doesn’t make black people better than white people or vice versa- just different. If you can comprehend that minorities have a different experience than white people, then you can take the time to listen to them when they are outraged over the racial inequalities that still exist today.
I’m not saying any of this to make white people feel guilty. Guilt is never productive. My hope is that people will read this and begin to realize that the answer to division is not to ignore it. When you ignore the problems that exist, you choose to allow them to live. When you ignore the diversity of race in America, you ignore the struggle that many of us face on a daily basis, and you refuse to do anything about it. If you want everyone to be equal in this country, you have to first acknowledge that we are all different in the first place. While we are the same in the way that we are all people in need of love, we also have different backgrounds and perspectives. It’s not the recognition of this fact that divides us, it’s the exploitation of it.
So please, look at my skin and notice how it’s different from yours. Ignoring this piece of the human body diminishes everything that minorities have fought for. The fight was never for racial homogeneity. It was for unity in diversity. We can learn a lot from each other if we just open our eyes.