“Please Don’t Ask Me That Question Again!”

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Once again I received an email with that question. What question you ask? “Does race still matter?” It has emerged more frequently since the 2008 Presidential race but it’s been creeping into conversations since the growth of the Black middle class. It typically comes from a place where people think policies and laws designed to level the playing field (e.g. Affirmative Action, Voting Rights Act, the 1965 Civil Rights Act) are enough to erase over 200 years of chattel slavery and another 100 years of  legal apartheid. Quite frankly, if these legal remedies and policies had done their job our universities would not look like they do, our executive offices would not look like they do, our corporate boards would not look like they do, the halls of Congress would not look like it does!

Of course some would argue that the election of Barak Obama leveled the playing field (incidentally, those who say that to me are never people who themselves voted for President Obama). But, a careful examination of election politics tells us something different. Major news outlets like to talk in terms of red states and blue states because the electoral college is a “winner take all” game. However, if you do a more careful analysis of voting patterns and look at the county by county vote (as opposed to state-wide) you will see that the “blue” portions are primarily on the coasts with a few portions in the midwest areas that constitute Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee. The rest of the nation was red, red, red!

A racial/ethnic analysis of the 2008 (and 2012) voting patterns indicates that Barak Obama was the recipient of demographic shifts because although he won large majorities among Black, Latin@, and Asian American voters, he did not win the majority of White voters. We live in a country that still votes largely along racial lines.

Does race still matter? Of course it does! I am not suggesting that class has no impact but we have to be clear class and race co-vary. It is difficult to separate out class when the proportion of Black people who are poor is so large. However, I know far too many middle class Black people who continue to suffer the stings of racism. I am a parent of 3 adult sons–all law abiding, gainfully employed homeowners who are doing their best to live as good citizens and raise their families. But, all 3 have been unjustly stopped by the police. All 3 have been overlooked for opportunities that less qualified White co-workers received. All 3 have been mistaken for Black people who look nothing like them because for some reason it is hard for some White people to distinguish among Black faces.

Last year I went to give a talk at a major university. I was picked up from the airport and driven to the hotel by a very nice White graduate student. She accompanied me into the hotel to make sure all was in order regarding the reservation. While we were waiting at the front desk of this quaint, historic hotel, the hotel manager appeared. Immediately, he engaged the graduate student in conversation. He went out of his way to show her the historical photos on the walls and the various restorations that had been done. He invited her to return and bring her family for a visit. Finally, she told him, “I’m not the guest. I live here. I’m just transporting our “distinguished scholar.” He turned to look at me with his mouth open and forced a smile. Later, the student said to me, “Wow! I am so embarrassed! I can’t believe he would ignore you like that.” I smiled and said to her, “Welcome to my world!”

Does race still matter? When I can go into an upscale store without being treated like I have no right to be there, then race will not matter! When my sons can hail a taxi without being passed up over and over again, then race will not matter! When Black people who are managers and supervisors can  stop having irate White customers say, “I want to speak to the manager/supervisor,” when they have a complaint, then race will not matter! When our children can walk into schools and not be assumed to be in remedial or special needs classrooms then race will not matter! When something is all black–a community, a school, a workplace–and people do not assume it is inferior, then race will not matter! When our children are not shot down in the street because of how they look, race will not matter! But, since we are not there yet, I assert that race still matters. What do you think?

Stay Black & Smart!

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2 thoughts on ““Please Don’t Ask Me That Question Again!”

  1. Let’s continue the real talk. Race will not matter … When my mother can answer her office door at the University of Michigan dressed in a suit and not be asked by security “do you speak english”? (1995) [Her answer: ‘english, spanish, and french, which do you prefer?] When folks don’t go up to my mother, touch her curly hair, and say, ‘oh, it’s smooth’? (1990) When my brother can run after his loose dog to bring home in his own neighborhood (in Ann Arbor, MI) and not be followed home by the police and accused of not living there (1990). When my mother can drive home wearing a hoodie ager visiting me on University of Michigan campus, and not be followed as she pulls out of the parking lot and then followed home by the police, as they stop and watch her pull into her garage (1994). When my Puerto Rican cousins don’t want to be ‘light skinned’ because they are not comfortable in their own dark skin (1987). When I can walk my own child in a stroller and not be assumed to be the Nanny, asked how much I charge, and ‘are you teaching him spanish too?’ – all in the same breath (2006)? When women like me can attend a Big Ten university and not have friends mention they can’t share an apartment with me because their parents don’t think my parents are able to co-sign or afford to cover my rent (1996). When, as a family, we can visit friends in The Woodlands, TX and take a walk in their neighborhood without being followed by a police car, a strobe light placed on us, and then asked, ‘what are you doing around here’ (2008)? When someone like me can attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, live in family housing and not wake-up in the middle of the night to KKK men banging on my door, and yelling ‘we’re gonna kill all of these niggas and spicks’ (perpetrators charged with a hate crime). When my 3rd grade son doesn’t come home asking to have blonde hair and light skin like his peers (2014). I could go on. Yes, race still matters.

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