Saturday, June 9, 2012

Is racism waning?

I have asked readers to respond to my question about whether we are becoming more color-blind as a society. Is the younger generation less acutely aware of "difference" when it comes to race? My friend Ned sent me a lengthy, thoughtful response I will refer to in the hope that others may join in the conversation.

Based on watching his granddaughter play basketball at their central Florida high school, and noting the fans, Ned notices less color blindness than he might have expected in the past, with black and white students hanging out together, playing as equals, and never (around him) mentioning the issue of race.

Although there is a black "sub-culture" of sorts in language and in more subtle things, he finds that, among the teenage girls on the sports teams, there is a lot more color blindness: "they tend to bond, as girls, and are ready to overlook differences in order to get along." Being friends and teammates is more important to them than race.

But (and there is always a "but" in such matters, it seems) outside of sports, there is less color blindness as fans tend to sit with others of their color. And, among the fans, Ned says, racial lines seem more clearly drawn than among the players.
He suggests that on the surface, things seem to have improved (certainly over the past 40 years or so), based on this selective study; yet deep inside, everyone knows there are differences.

Often this awareness of difference, I suspect, is unconscious among the young. And only sometimes will full acceptance of the "other" as "non-other" transfer into adult friendships between the races. Changes in this area seem to move with glacial slowness, even though the overt signs of greater acceptance of blacks in white America have dramatically shifted in the past fifty years.

The age of Obama, I think, has made every public issue racially sensitive; there is scarcely anything related to the federal government that does not have some subtle racial overlay, some awareness on the part of white people that we have our first African-American president. The fact that his mother was white, that he is bi-racial, is hardly ever thought of.

And yet, like the students and fans Ned observed, awarness of difference does not add up to racism, a form of hatred and bigotry, based on the belief that one group is inherently superior to everyone else. Racism will more and more become marginalized to the extremes of the supremacists, but it will not vanish. Yet racism has indeed waned, even if total acceptance of one racial group by the other has not taken place.

At issue is a problem of assimilation that is occurring throughout the first world, not just in the U.S. Immigration, often advocated as essential for economic reasons, is opposed by many Europeans and others who resent the stranger, the outsider as some unconscious threat to the establishment or to the safety of the society. So America is not alone in this difficult terrain of learning tolerance.

Will the U.S. grow more tolerant, having had a bi-racial president, having had more and more non-whites make their contribution to our multicultural society? We can only hope so, with time and patience, with education and openness of mind and heart.

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