Race Matters

Deconstructing race and identity.

Picking Sides Won't Solve the Problem

Has colorblindness fractured our sense of reality?

Originally published at the St. Louis Beacon

From my vantage point, we have more to be concerned about than party politics. When it comes to racial matter, we are like a traumatized child, dissociating at pivotal moments in U.S. history, enacting those injured selves simultaneously as we attempt to interact. The current colorblind rhetoric does little to help us make sense of our selves or to help us move forward. Recent research highlights the problematic ways in which colorblind rhetoric can actually hinder children's ability to articulate the world around them.

This rhetoric knows no party, race or domain. It has left us stuck, unsure what to do about racially charged events, not wanting to touch them with a 10-foot pole, worried about "crying racism" in a space that claims it no longer exists.

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Numerous articles summarize the ways in which race has been used to vilify and marginalize this political season, so I will highlight only a few to make clear this claim is not limited to a particular party. We have a Tea Party candidate, Allen West, in Florida speaking explicitly to the colorblind racial frame with his claim that institutional racism no longer exists. This assertion is layered by the fact that West is African American. If an African American man can clearly see racism is over, we should all be able to follow suit and wake up. His counterpart in Illinois, Al Reynolds, is less explicit. It is quite often the case that people who operate from a colorblind frame do so without explicitly stating, or even acknowledging it outright. Reynolds falls prey to this in his analysis of Black men.

In his opinion, Black men are plagued because they choose the easy route of drug dealing over getting an education or employment. What is most problematic about this perspective is that it ignores the systemic and structural dynamics that contribute to failing schools, limited job options and alternative economies to name a few. To paint it as a choice in a vacuum, devoid of the many ways opportunity has been systematically unavailable to this group of people, is to speak from a colorblind frame. It is to assume that the overrepresentation of Black men in prison is solely due to the fact that Black men all over this country woke up and chose not to get an education or a job.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Democrats have chosen to acknowledge race in a way they hoped would be more traditionally accepted. Some voters in a primarily Black area in Alabama received a robo call from Sen. Hank Sanders urging them to vote Democratic in the upcoming race for governor and lieutenant governor. It appears the call was meant to help Black voters see that the Republicans would send them back to "the cotton fields of Jim Crow days." Coming from a fellow African American (Sanders), perhaps it was envisioned as a "man-to-man" robo call. My criticism centers on the poor strategy of invoking race without any substance. If Ron Sparks and Jim Folsom (the Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor) feel strongly that racism is alive and well and there is legislation the opponents would enact that would ignore or exacerbate that fact, they should proudly make the call themselves.

Blatantly using an African American mouthpiece who cites only empty rhetoric does not help the cause of racism or the campaign.

Finally, a billboard in Houston declares, "GOP is the new Black." The difficulty with "vying" for the Black vote is multifarious. The rationale with some GOP insiders often goes as follows (and can be seen in the comments section on The Blaze): Of course Blacks should be with Republicans because they are the ones who freed them and want to help them prosper through jobs and good ole' American hard work. It seems the pejorative, condescending tone of those remarks must have escaped some people. Yet, the Democrats taking the Black vote for granted is just as problematic as the Republicans being the rightful owners of said vote.

My main criticism of this campaign is similar to the Democratic example above, that race becomes a worthy variable when it is convenient. However, if race is worthy to consider as a way to sway or reach voters, then the GOP claims of colorblindness in the 2008 election and beyond begin to crumble. It is false to deny the importance of race in complex matters yet lean on it in such simplistic ways.

The overwhelming rhetoric that doesn't know quite what to do with race is going to drive us further from being able to deal with race. It is tough being colorblind when, in reality, race continues to matter.

We need a shift in this country to being able to acknowledge and speak to racial dynamics.

Honestly, I'm not concerned about the general climate of mudslinging, as that is not new. However, I am concerned about where all this mudslinging is taking us. Or, perhaps, what it is taking us away from. Our prevailing rhetoric of colorblindness takes us further from, rather than closer to, our stated goals of all being created equal. Like Sybil and others who dissociate, we are in need of some semblance of cohesion, or integration of our fractured selves. We need healing, and it won't be found in the salve of colorblindness.

 

Kira Hudson Banks, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University.

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