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Toward a Post-Racial Society — or Maybe Not

So a lot of people — even those who didn’t vote for him — had hoped that with the election of Barack Obama as president, we’d be moving to a post-racial society.

How’d that work out?

If anything, it seems that the election (and re-election) of the first black president has actually aggravated racial issues in America. If you want my opinion on why — and you probably don’t — it’s because we specifically elected a black president instead of a president who happens to be black — i.e., his election was more because of racism than a triumph over it.

Hopefully this is just a growing pain on the way to that fabled post-racial society of the future. Being an integrated society is new territory for us; everything is a learning experience. And we’re learning. Maybe.

But the Trayvon Martin shooting and George Zimmerman trial have illustrated the big divide we still have to overcome. A lot of people saw it as a purely defensive shooting — and maybe George Zimmerman made some bad choices, but there was nothing racial about it. On the other hand, some people are absolutely certain the incident was white supremacy in action — but even if they’re right, the incident still shows progress, as it’s now a more inclusive white supremacy that also incorporates Hispanics.

Another thing that demonstrates the divide is voter ID. For the majority of people, it’s common sense to at least try to prevent voter fraud. For others, it’s the most racist thing ever and the return of Jim Crow — which I can’t even comprehend. I guess if you have to present a photo ID, then people can see what race you are in the photo and then discriminate against you… or something.

Anyway, many people say we need a national conversation on race. I guess we’re all just going to sit down and talk this out and learn from each other’s experiences and grow as a more tolerant people together.

Yeah, that’s not working out. Mainly, a lot of people are talking past each other. Some say we are way too dismissive of racism in this day and age, that it’s still prevalent and we act like it’s not there, especially those who aren’t victims of it. Others think the biggest problem is that the accusation of racism is thrown around irresponsibly, and it’s now become this bogus charge against which no defense is allowed. So the conversation has become a bunch of people yelling at each other to shut up and listen.

Maybe, then, it’s time to acknowledge that we’re all too stupid to talk on the subject of race. Sure, we each have our own unique perspectives to add, but mainly we also have a lot of idiocy to stir into the pot as well. I’ve probably already had some in this column. And I think a big part of it is that no one really understands the racism of today. It’s not the blatantly evil racism of the Jim Crow south; it’s the racism of a country that elected a black president thinking that would solve everything. It’s a weirder, sillier racism that none of us quite understand well enough to discuss intelligently. So I’m going to propose a new tactic: Instead of a national conversation on race, let’s try a national shutting up on race.

It’s a relatively simple idea. We all just never mention race and do all we can to not think about it. Theoretically, that’s how society should be in the future. No one will mention race, because what’s there to say about it? “Of course you don’t make judgments based on the melanin in one’s epidermis. That’s just asinine.” So we’ll be acting like the people we one day hope to be.

I know it’s not a perfect idea. There is real racism out there, and that means we’ll just ignore it and try not to be racist ourselves. Because what’s the alternative? We talk it out? That hasn’t really been working lately either.

Also, not talking about race will be a bigger adjustment for some than for others. Presumably, Al Sharpton will starve to death. But his will hopefully be a sacrifice toward a better, more functional society.

I think the big problem is that we’re in this muddled middle area between a racist society and a post-racial society. We all really want to not be racist, but we don’t know how to take the next steps (for instance, there won’t be a National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in a post-racial society, but does that organization even have an exit strategy?). But I think the fight against racism has gotten to the point where it just keeps race constantly in people’s minds, which is counter-productive.

And I’m just speaking from my own experience here. My generation is one that everyone was going to do all they could to make sure wasn’t racist. As far as I remember, my first three years of American history in grade school were nothing but Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King. And it really ingrained in me that racism was bad… while at the same time not exactly making me colorblind. I remember there was a time when I was really young and blissfully unaware of race and didn’t know to think differently of anyone, but then in school I was taught, “Remember: Black people have faced lots of discrimination. So when you see black people, think discrimination.” And while that’s well-intentioned, it doesn’t exactly cause one to see all races as the same.

So that’s why maybe the only way to get from here to the future is a good shutting up on race. We should try to be as integrated as possible — but we should never mention that. In fact, the one place I think affirmative action is most needed is the one place that can still get away with having jobs where “blacks need not apply”: Hollywood. If they’re doing a piece set in Victorian England, you know no one other than white people will be cast. They need to stop that; even if it’s  historically inaccurate, they need to have integrated races in all casts so that in movies and TV, we always see all the races getting along together — but never actually mention race. Because that is what we want to be — a society where everyone gets along and there is no reason to ever mention anything as insignificant as skin color.

So while it may be a hard pill to swallow, I think the only way forward is a national shutting up on race. I know this is easy for me to say as a white person, as I’ve never been as adversely affected by racism as others — in fact, I’m a little uncomfortable even talking about the subject. I think I’ll shut up now.

But hopefully everyone else will too.