A couple of years ago, an acquaintance told me that I needed to be more like him, and be colorblind, and I almost lost it. (See also, this article: Colorblind Ideology is a Form of Racism.)
I sputtered for a minute, because what the f*ck? Yes, I know. Swearing. But I feel like this situation deserves it. (Sorry, Aunt Lisa. And Momma.)
I had just come back from the Mitten, from the D., in fact, and someone asked me how it was, and I said, "It was really nice to be in the Mitten, where not everyone is white. And I feel like white people and black people interact more comfortably there."*
Later he said to me, "I couldn't believe that racist thing you said," and I had literally no idea what he was talking about.
It turned out that he believed that my statement about it being nice to be in a place that was not all-white was racist against white people.
I was irate.
On the inside.
On the outside, I told him that I disagree. I told him that I think that diversity is an objective good, and we all need the perspectives of people with different backgrounds than ourselves.
I told him that racism is fundamentally a structural issue, and even if a person had negative feelings about white people as a whole, that is not the same thing as the structure of racism that has given benefits to white people at the expense of people of color for centuries.
I told him that no one wants you not to see the color of their skin, they just want you to value and respect them for who they are, including the color of their skin.
He laughed at me and pointed at me (literally) and said, "Yeah, yeah, you are racist against white people."
And look, this is NOTHING. I know that. I am white, and I live in the privilege of that. I am comfortable in Gone West, in Universe City, in these almost all-white cities, because of the color of my skin. I don't have to think about it.
But what scared me the most about that conversation, what still makes me feel sick to my stomach, is that there are white people in this country who still feel that way. Even one of my friends, when we talked about it later, essentially told me that I should back down to keep the peace.
It is a lie to say that the real racism is seeing race and appreciating diversity.
It is a lie to say that we should be colorblind.
It is a lie to say that we are past racism.
As long as a white man who considers himself liberal and accepting believes that to see race is to be the problem, we are not past racism.
As long as all the loss prevention officers in a store are white while most of the shoppers are black, we are not past racism.
As long as we assume that affirmative action means that an unqualified person gets a job because of their race rather than the truth that sometimes the racist structure of our society has taken away opportunities to such a degree that a perfectly qualified person of color hasn't been able to prove their qualifications quite like a white person has, we are not past racism.
As long as a prosecutor offers a long prison sentence to a black man involved in a DUI where someone got hurt when we all know that he would have offered probation to a white man with the same lack of criminal history, we are not past racism.
As long as we have stereotypes of the "angry black woman" and the "welfare queen", and use the phrases "ghetto" (to mean black and bad) and "white trash" (because people of color are assumed to be trash? or because white people have to be a special breed in order to be trash?), we are not past racism.
As long as nearly every young black man in New York City is stopped and frisked at some point while young white men go about their business, we are not past racism.
As long as 17 year old black young men can't walk home with a hoody over their heads against the rain without being stalked and killed** by men who carry white privilege based on their appearance, name, and language (whatever their parentage), we are not past racism.
We are right in the middle of it. We all of us are right in the middle of it. To deny that is to deny the truth.
It's time we stopped denying the truth.
(Someone asked me what I think, as a lawyer, about the case itself. This post from the Atlantic pretty much says it all: Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.)
* It may or may not be true that black people and white people interact more comfortably in the Mitten. There are problems there, too. I guess what I was trying to say that it felt really good and familiar to be in a place where a black woman walking into the train station said to me, "I love your dress!" and I said, "I was just going to say the same thing to you!" I don't think that would happen in a place as white as Universe City, or even Gone West, because people of color just can't be as comfortable when there are so few of them amidst the sea of white people. Then on the train, the conductor was an older black man who gently flirted with me in that way that I specifically associate with older black men, and it made me happy. I don't think that would have happened in Universe City, either, although I think it's slightly more common in Gone West, being a bigger city.
** Even if you believe George Zimmerman's story in its entirety, this is still true.