Sunday, January 15, 2017
RACE RELATIONS: Colorblindness and the Content of Character
For the past 5 years, I have served as a member of the Multi-Cultural Commission. The Commission has served as a sounding board for ethnic communities throughout the state and a place where issues and concerns can be discussed as they relate to separate and specific groups.
While the mission and focus of the Commission seemed to waiver during my early tenure there, it has since coalesced around a message of outreach and advocacy. The best example of this is the yearly Youth Leadership Summit that brings thousands of kids from ethnic minority homes together to promote education and personal success. Indeed, the event is inspiring and successful in its own right.
But with all this being said, there is an undertone that I have noticed in much of our dialogue about race and ethnicity that I find disconcerting and perhaps counter productive to our ultimate goals of harmony. Early upon my arrival at the Commission, we discussed the different Chambers of Commerce that were set up for various ethnic minorities. There was the Hispanic Chamber, the African-American Chamber, the Asian Chamber, and so forth. I spoke to a Commission member after the meeting and related to him my excitement that one day none of these Chambers would be necessary because we would all be colorblind and our differences wouldn't matter. To my shock, this member rejected my comment and declared that it was absolutely important to have individual and distinct groups. He believed that each group should be celebrated in its difference from the others. I was so surprised that I didn't know what to say.
Here is the paradox as I see it: Martin Luther King Jr. taught that men should be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Yet, in today's diversity sensitive society, we are expected to distinguish people by their racial difference from our own. I struggle to reconcile these two thoughts. One one hand we have colorblindness and on the other we have high-contrast.
In my view, diversity simply for diversity's sake is divisive. The term 'diverse' should be an adjective used to describe the physical qualities of something, such as a population. But in many cases it is assigned a moral value. Such as diversity is good, homogeneity is bad. Yet, if we go back to Dr, King's words, if we are truly living by them, neither diversity nor homogeneity matter. They become irrelevant.
So, this colorblind view has been a perspective I have held for a long time. I have Hispanic neighbors who don't speak any English and are from rural Mexico. I have African-American and Asian colleagues I work with in my profession as a real estate broker. To me, everyone is an equal in their humanity and each brings something of value to the table in my personal relationship with them. Yet, when I share this perspective with my liberal leaning friends, they say "Well, that's great you are doing that, but the rest of the world isn't that way." Well, I say Why Not?
Racial acceptance is a non-partisan issue. Sadly, the ongoing politicization of this topic moves people farther apart rather than closer together. My wish for this MLK Day is that we take an introspective look at how we view those around us who are different from us. If we realize they have a family, work, pay taxes, and want the same opportunities in life we do, perhaps we can get past the divisions that keep us from relating with each other. Rather than persistently pointing out our distinct differences to everyone else, let us engage our fellow men in a spirit of our common humanity.