Monday, May 14, 2012

A Color-Blind Society?

A good friend of mine recently shared with me an amazing (to me) insight: that his 12-year-old son and his friends don't focus on color. These white kids have been playing with African-American friends for years and can't understand all the fuss about race. They are shocked to learn the facts about segregation in school.

His dad, growing up in the South in the 1960s, and I, growing up in the Midwest in the 50s, are surprised and pleased by this since race was the Big Issue of the times during our growing up. There were two Negro boys, as we called them then, in my senior high school class of 200, and my friendship with one of them was kept quiet from my parents. I could never invite him over.

Today I again noticed that, in our mainly all-white neighborhood, an African-American boy is the regular playmate of the 10-year-old next door, and the parents are obviously friendly.

The question is, are we moving toward a more color-blind society in this country? To ask this question seems counterintuitive at a time when race is so often the undercurrent of so much political discourse, when our president is attacked or criticized by many because he is the first black to hold this high office.

Most of the people I know in their eighties are less comfortable with mixed dating and racial mingling of any kind. The seeds of racial fear--of the black-as-outsider--and segregation were so deeply planted in the American collective psyche that it hardly seems like racism to this older white generation, who tend to see African-Americans as inherently inferior.

So, while I am reminded of racial differences almost daily, I am heartened by my friend's observation that the youngest among us have not acquired this bias. I wonder if, like so many of my university students in the recent past, will develop more sense of difference as they move from high school to college: less racism, more toleration, but still not the full, open acceptance of each other as social equals, the way today's kids tend to be.

Sadly, I am reminded of that song from "South Pacific": "You have to be carefully taught to hate and fear...."

Still, it's possible that America, with its growing Hispanic and other ethnic populations, will one day be closer to becoming color-blind. If this is the case, important beginnings are being made now during what has been called the transformational presidency of Barack Obama. Of course, these types of change take place very slowly, it seems.

I would welcome comments on this topic from readers at (subject line: race). Thank you!

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