In the Quote Heard Around The World, actor Morgan Freeman suggested that racism will end when we stop talking about it. The 60 Minute interview is almost ten years old, and his words have been some of the most quoted by people who believe that not talking about race is the answer to lead to country into “Post -Racial America”. America is a melting pot, made up of people from all creeds and colors. But post-raciality (at least as far as how the idea is currently constructed) says we can enjoy the rainbow better if we didn’t see the color.
I wonder if people who think this way assume likewise for other issues. Could you end sexism by not talking about sexism? End classism by not talking about money? Could you solve world hunger by not talking about food? Try to overcome your fear of darkness by closing your eyes? Violence would end if rap music and Grand Theft Auto didn’t exist? Could Goku destroy villains of Earth without doing his Kamehameha?
“Post-raciality” seems like a subverted way of coping with the ills American history, past and present. I don’t think it is willful ignorance, but it doesn’t seem like cognitive dissonance can be resolved through naïveté. It’s a response to understandable, but unaddressed emotion; an intellectual guise to hide “talking about race makes me uncomfortable…..so we all should not talk about it” thinking.
People who believe we live in a post-racial moment in vary in their motives. To be honest, some are just decorating their ego and apathy. “Can we just stop talking about race? I don’t care.” Some believe that people (especially Black people) complain too much; that their lives would improve dramatically if they all just stopped being the Boys Who Cried Racism. Others really do believe that since things are better and the President is Black, we can all join hands in Post-Racial Land. For them, America is and always has been a pure meritocracy. But above all else, there’s that one phrase that comes up. It’s thought, whispered, yelled, cried, laughed, and screamed:
Stop blaming me for slavery. I wasn’t there.
Talking about race worsens racism as bout as much an intervention makes an alcoholic drink more. It is inherently uncomfortable, but not detrimental. Circumventing tough racial issues is a convenience, not a necessity. It’s taking the easy way out of excruciatingly painful, but necessary conversations about race, full of wounds opened, feelings hurt, conceptions challenged, privileges erases, blood, sweat, and tears.
If we are honest, at the heart of discussions about racism is an accusation looking for a confession. It’s what James Baldwin talks about in his 1965 EBONY mag article “The White Man’s Guilt“. On each of side of any race argument, there’s a mixture of resentment, guilt, shame, love, jealousy, hurt, hypocrisy, passive aggression, misunderstanding, ignorance, and ego. Those things won’t go away until they are put out in the open. The problem is that people internalize it on an individual, personal level when the discussion should be about confronting systematic racism. That’s why most heated arguments about race quickly devolve into a barrage of “You did it! No you did it!” rebuttals, discounting each other’s personal experience.
But I think for most people, having an honest conversation about race is just too frightening. Because it goes against an idea they’ve held their whole lives that their experience is the norm, and that if you don’t share it, you are either an outlier, deserve, or “it’s all in your head”. Digging deep would expose the fact their reality may be much more a matter of perception, a perception that would appear more wrong as each ticking second of introspecting, as each layer is peeled away, as each curtain is removed.
Race is a polarizing topic most of us rather avoid. Even I don’t want to talk about it all the time. I don’t want to have debates with my non-black friends about whether or not they can say the N-Word. I don’t want to have to explain why Kevin Hart saying “You’re white…you don’t fight” in Ride Along is very problematic. I rather not wake up to news of shooting in Chicago, or the new Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, or Jordan Davis. I rather not have to watch Bomani Jones explain to people why Donald Sterling is indicative of a structural racism problem, not an old man spewing bigotry none of us civilized folk believe in anymore. I would like to never again have to explain the lingering effects of slavery and colonization, the War on Drugs, racially disproportionate sentencing for drug, violent, and non-violent offenses, housing discrimination, urban gentrification, the environmental racism and classism behind pollution, the School to Prison Industrial Complex pipeline, unequal access to jobs, Driving While Black , the anti-Black stigma of affirmative action, and a ton of other issues it doesn’t take much of a Google search to learn about to someone who says “racism is over”.
It would be AMAZING if I never had to talk about race or racism ever again for the rest of my life.
But that’s not the world we live in. Racism is not the monster under our beds. It is very real. In Baldwin’s words “the record is there for all the world to read. It resounds all over the world. It might as well be written in the sky.”
Post-racial ideology’s (at least in this moment) call to hold hands and sing spirituals is not the means to the end of racism, that scenario is the end of racism. We can’t erase a nightmare by embracing a fantasy. That’s not the American Dream, or maybe it is. Has race relations in the U.S. gotten better? Absolutely. But we still have far to go.
So to those who say that racism will end when we stop talking about race, I say this:
We will stop talking about race when racism ends.
We Out Here,