Ask yourself one question right now: Are you racist?
I’m certain you are stunned by this abrupt question, and your reaction is to become defensive.
Racism is an ugly word. It’s a word we associate with the 1960s Civil Rights movement, slavery, stereotypical jokes and remarks about the color of another person’s skin.
Because it’s such an ugly word, and no one wants to have it hurled at them, we strive to act rightly and justly; we strive not to notice race. We like to see ourselves as “color-blind,” oblivious to the fact that anyone is different from us. To protect ourselves from possibly acting racist we convince ourselves that everyone is the same, race doesn’t matter and everyone is equal because America has progressed as a country.
But is this really a solution? To turn a cold shoulder to the concept of race? To believe every person in this country, no matter their skintone, has the same opportunity to achieve the American dream?
According to Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, the simple answer is no.
Dr. Hill is an award-wining author, scholar, journalist, professor and social rights activist. He is also a regular political contributor for media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, The New York Times and various others.
This Tuesday, Feb. 10, Dr. Hill is set to speak here at Colorado State about the “Danger of Believing We Are in a Post-Racial Society.” But before you hear this important presentation maybe there are some things you must understand.
What is Post-Raciality?
To put it simply, this is the belief that we live in a color-blind society. A society that has moved past racism and any type of discrimination based on a person’s looks or origins. To believe America is post-racial means we no longer can talk about race as a factor in anyone’s life and experiences.
Why is this “dangerous?” If we’re all equal, what’s the issue?
The problem is, even if you want to justify race relations in America by saying we’ve moved past slavery and gained certain rights, it still doesn’t mean the problem is completely fixed.
Dr. Catherine Steele, a professor in the Journalism and Media Communications department here at CSU and a scholar in multiculturalism and the media, uses the metaphor of a leak to describe it best.
“If you have a leak in your house, you can find a way not to hear it. You can ignore it. You can shut your door, you can put in earplugs, but that doesn’t mean the leak isn’t there. Ignoring it doesn’t make the leak go away. It makes it worse. We treat race like this leak,” Steele said. “It’s uncomfortable for us to acknowledge race because we may be embarrassed by it, we may benefit from it.”
The issue with ignoring race across this nation is that it’s not helping anyone who is a victim of racism. By denying that racism is a “thing” anymore, we engage in a very problematic stagnation.
We will no longer make progress in fixing an issue because, as Dr. Steele says, “we believe the work is done.”
“This is, at best, a false construct we want to believe in and, at worst, a way to maintain the status quo that benefits and rewards white behavior and ideals,” she said.
How do we fix the problem?
America is undergoing social unrest. And for those of us who are geographically detached from movements, such as the protests in Ferguson, it can feel as though we are hopeless by-standers.
But we can make a difference.
As Dr. Steele emphasizes, even if we are beneficiaries of privilege (whether it be white, heterosexual, etc.) we can start conversations about systemic injustice rather than covering our eyes and ears and pretending it doesn’t exist.
We can also listen to the experiences of those who may have less prominent voices in society. By listening to speakers such as Dr. Hill, a great advocate for awareness and change who speaks from his own life experience, we can begin to understand why addressing issues of racism is beneficial to us all.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill will be speaking at the Lory Student Center in the North Ballroom at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Information on the event can be found on the CSU website.
Dr. Hill’s lecture will be hosted by the Black/African American Cultural Center, ASCSU and United Men of Color as part of an ongoing Black History Month celebration.
Collegian A&E Writer Erica Grasmick can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @E_Graz_.