Unless you have been living under a rock, almost all of you who are reading this article are familiar with the recent killing of young Trayvon Martin at the hands of a delusional vigilante. What I find almost equally disturbing is the reactions that some have had to this incident. While most are correct to note that young Trayvon’s only “crime” was being black, it has been troubling to see how a nearly equal amount of individuals have attempted to run as fast as possible from the elephant in the room.
Few things make individuals more uncomfortable than frank, open, and honest discussions about race, racism, and privilege. Many insist that such things as “injustice,” “racism,” and “inequality” are things of the past, and that we are now living in a “colorblind” society, in which it is impossible to be racist at all, so long as you teach yourself how to not “see” color. Their assertions, however, could not be less grounded in reality.
Those who defend injustice are no better than those who cause it: Some individuals adopt a mindset that if you do not wish to be discriminated against, then you should just stop “acting black.” In other words, they argue, if you “act black” or “act ghetto” (two notions they see as identical), then you deserve to be met with indignation and/or derogatory slurs. These folks are usually always quick to accuse others of playing the “race card” in response to any attempted discussions on the topic of racism, believing that such discussions are nothing more than the whining of a petulant child. These arguments are as absurd as – and unsurprisingly similar to – the claims of those who believe that sexual assault victims could have prevented their attacks if they had somehow “dressed less provocatively.” Being an apologist solves nothing, and reveals a deep-rooted belief that certain groups just need to shut up and “know their place.”
An unwillingness to discuss privilege leads to the creation of racist ideology: Many people like to think that everyone has an equal playing field in this country; that everyone has an equal likelihood of being successful. It’s a nice little concept that fits right into our egocentric tendency to believe that our own personal successes are due to nothing other than our own willingness to “work hard.” When confronted with the mountains of data that show otherwise (consider, for example, that Blacks and Latinos are much more likely to be unemployed and to stay unemployed, compared to equally educated and qualified White folks), the resulting cognitive dissonance leads many to cling to the notion that certain groups are inherently “disadvantaged or lazy.”
Colorblindness is a dangerous practice: It is the belief of many parents and school administrators that if they downplay or ignore discussing injustice and racism as relevant topics, then things like racism and injustice will just “go away.” Mountains of research clearly show otherwise. A colorblind mindset can, for example, cause children to (A) fail to recognize incidents of overt racism; and (B) fail to report such incidents appropriately and accurately.
We all bear a responsibility to no longer avoid that elephant in the room. We must all be willing to have open and honest dialogue about race, racism, and privilege, rather than treat them as some ethereal concepts that are merely academic in nature.