I think not. If you ask anyone who knows me, the answer would be certainly not. But these times call for much more than a popular answer. They call for serious introspection, followed by serious action.
Have a discussion! Start a group for a 21 Day Racism Challenge! Protest! Speak out! Organize! Right the wrongs! The forces calling for immediate action are all around us. These are all good things. We need to change—all of us. It’s a very different “Me Too” movement.
I have decided to take a small step back from the immediate action front and change me first. This is particularly difficult since my nature is to react forcefully in almost any situation. I am a gulper, not a sipper. and that refers to outgoing and well as incoming.
What concerns me most is not what I think or feel or know. I am secure in these things. What I am focusing on is what I don’t see, what I don’t know and what I don’t even realize. It is a journey I need to take before I take to the streets.
All of us are all shaped by our culture. From our nation’s shores to our front door, the influences are inescapable. I was raised in the multi-cultured, multi-colored, multi-historied city of New Orleans by a racist mother and a pacifist father. As an adult, I have long chosen to embrace some of that and discard the rest—especially the racism. New Orleans was and still is a complex place filled with Jim Crow sentiments but culturally blended. Everything was not all right but we managed to laugh together over tables of crawfish. The Cubans always brought bananas and black beans and shared it in the communal dining of the crawfish table.
Because I grew up in a black, Cuban, French, Southern community I have considered myself colorblind. I have sought inclusion of everyone because that’s what I know. Not inclusion because of skin color but inclusion because of perspective. It is undeniable that skin color plays a role in the experiences that create a perspective different from my own. My dinner parties are colorful—multi gender, color, origin, orientation, political and generational. I celebrate our differences and try to approach dinner-table discussions with an open mind and heart. Isn’t that the point? To value people for who they are and not the color of their skin?
In a recent conversation I had with a friend, I said that I forget that he is black. I said I had ceased to see the color of his skin because it is irrelevant to me. He responded by saying that he can never cease to see the color of his own skin. It was a stunning difference in perspective—one that has clearly not left me.
This and other recent events have led me to re-think the correctness of being colorblind. I struggle with understanding a more enlightened way than the way I thought was enlightened. Is it a problem that I even think I’m enlightened on the issue of race? Probably. But the reality is that what works at my dinner table will not bring about changes in embedded thinking and practices. It is not enough.
I applaud the protests. We need to disrupt the status quo. I’m not talking about outside agitators whose purpose is to subvert but the thousands taking to the streets in outrage over centuries of institutional racism. Can we sustain the protests for the long haul in the face of a paramilitary police response? We must.
I struggle with false inclusion—the check-the-box tokenism that makes it look like we’re doing the right thing. It’s not genuine. In fact, I venture to say that tokenism is worse than racism because it is insidious. Including pictures of black and brown people in a proposal feels trite unless it accurately reflects the people involved on the proposed project. Yet if don’t see people of color in images, they are invisible and that is part of the problem. Does my intent matter? Does the viewer see what’s in my heart and mind when they view the stock art I’ve chosen? Antidiscrimination laws are necessary. That’s good. But if in practice it leads to tokenism, then it makes things look like everything is all right. But it’s not.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any answers. I’m just trying to understand the right questions to ask on this path I’ve chosen. I invite all of you to find your place on this path and work to move along in the right direction to build a sustainable and equitable community. A little introspection is only the first step.