Sunday, October 24, 2010

Adventures in The R Word

Some of you may know that I've been writing fiction for the past several years.  One of my manuscripts, The R Word, is about to be published by my friend, Debbie Capeci, who's started a small independent house called Morning Joy Media.  Over the years that I've been working on The R Word, I've been fortunate enough to receive critique from several different sources.  Here are some of the major concerns people have shared with me:

"The main character, Rachel, seems too sheltered to be a modern teenager."
"There should be sex in the novel.  All teenagers have sex."
"The black characters don't seem black enough."
"It's not racist enough.  Someone should use the N-word."

But this next one has been the most curious to me:

"It's too racist.  No one behaves that way any more.  Surely the election of President Obama shows that we're past all this."

You'll have to read the novel to decide for yourself what you think (and I hope you will!), but the idea that racism is a thing of the past is a hard one to argue against.  True, we've come a long way in this country since the days of The Civil Rights Movement.  However, I believe that both individual and structural racism still exist.  Just the other day a friend who is black told me how the local police were watching their house because there were a lot of family members coming in and out, due to an illness in the family.  They'd been alerted by a "concerned" neighbor. This happened just last month, not 40 years ago.  And I think the film maker Davis Guggenheim does a pretty good job of pointing out structural inequities that still exist, caused by the legacy of racism, in his new documentary, "Waiting for 'Superman.'" The film is an indictment of our American educational system and isn't specifically about race.  But it makes the racial inequities of the public school system  pretty hard to ignore.  Catch it if you can and let me know what you think.

More on The R Word later.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Can't We Just be Colorblind?

Wouldn't that solve all our problems concerning race? Isn't that what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he dreamed of a nation where his children would "not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character"?

An interesting study from Northwestern University made the news this week. Here's the link --

The researchers found that 8 - 11 year old kids who were primed to be colorblind (told that we shouldn't focus on race) through a multimedia storybook were less likely to recognize obvious racial discrimination in a subsequent story than kids who were told that "racial differences make us special." In other words, trying to be colorblind makes it harder to recognize real discrimination when it occurs. This is not new news to people who study race; field researchers have found that the same happens in schools who adopt a colorblind philosophy among their student and adult populations.

The folks at Northwestern note that although the colorblind approach is well intended (coming from a desire to promote equality), it can actually have the opposite effect. I agree that most people who argue for colorblindness do have good intentions -- in my experience, when teachers say "I'm colorblind" they mean they try their best to be fair and unprejudiced. However, I have heard the word used in another way, too. "Why should those scholarships go to minority students? That's racist! Aren't we supposed to be colorblind?!" This argument strikes me as ironic -- ah, now, after centuries of oppression, we want to be colorblind. Seems a bit self-serving to me.