Sunday, October 4, 2015

How Do You See Race?

TED Talk: Color blind or color brave? --
Mellody Hobson

In this TED talk, Mellody Hobson discusses race inequality and asks us to change the way we look at racial issues. She is wise to first point out that in order to solve any problem, you must first be aware of it. Awareness is key before action can take place. As she mentions, it is a topic which most of us don't like engaging in. What is so important is the lens we use when looking at racial disparities. An individual's personal identity shapes how they view any issue. How are people affected differently, based on who they are? Who is benefiting from the status quo and who is suffering? A successful solution depends on the way in which we acknowledge and frame racial issues. You cannot change what you don't see.

And so, this is why being color blind is so problematic. Often with good intention people will say they don't see skin color. This is another way of saying, I don't recognize your heritage, culture or country of origin --these things about you are not valuable. It also seems like an easy way to avoid an awkward conversation of privilege and oppression. But by handling the issue in this way, it is only perpetuating and even further fueling racial issues. If we keep pretending to be color blind, we won't be able to solve the problem, it will be invisible, just like that perspective.

I wish she had spoke more about white privilege. I think this is what makes it so hard for white people to come to terms with racial disparity, which is institutionally evident and statistically proven --indeed you cannot argue with numbers. So if it's proven, then why can't we address the issue? Because you cannot acknowledge oppression without recognizing the other side of the coin, which is white privilege. In order to solve systemic racial issues, we must address, accept, and give up, our privilege. I think most don't want to give that up. But it is literally impossible for one to be present in society without the other. It is only in their shared relationship that both can exist. Like, "night and day" or "up and down". This is like critical thinking 101, it shouldn't be so hard to see.
But the real problem is that we don't want to see it. I think it would be hard for most people to disagree with, let's say for instance, something like improving a playground at an inner-city school. Helping those who have less, great right? We're all on board with that kind of chairty. So what's the problem? When they realize that this will inherently compromise the superior education package their son receives, based on his white middle-class identity --all of a sudden, the playground project becomes much easier to ignore. We're afraid to give up our privileges for the sake of equality for all. So, what is more uncomfortable than talking about racial discrimination? Talking about your white privilege that is an unearned perk of being born white. Now that's embarrassing.

The ways in which I have felt invisible are not many. I cannot say I have ever personally felt invisible but this is probably due to my dominant race, upbringing, and outspoken personality. I always make sure I'm heard. Doesn't mean everyone likes what I have to say, but I say it anyway, especially if it's something I'm "not supposed to talk about" over thanksgiving dinner. Oh, you'd like to have a political debate? I thought you'd never ask! ...pass the green bean casserole please. Nothing like schooling my 60 year old chauvinist uncle in a feminist theory speaking to the effects of globalization on poor women and children in the developing world. And Speaking of gender inequality, though my voice is loud, I have felt invisible, underrepresented as well as misrepresented, in terms of being a female. Everything from childhood superheroes to seats in legislation, society has taught me that girls are lesser, weaker, submissive, not smart, and not leaders, but rather a good-looking damsel in distress. Luckily my mother, much like Hobson, had been making me see my power and worth since day one. I am grateful for that, not everyone has a role model or mentor in this way.

Not seeing race is disrespectful and ignorant, and certainly not an effective solution to deal with racial issues. Taking race away from an individual means not seeing that person accurately, honestly or in their entirety. Being color blind is purposely ignoring a significant part of someone, and therefore devaluing what that part represents or brings to the table. In society in general, it slows progress. Hobson discusses research which proves that diversity within companies and organizations have led to massive innovative and successful achievement. And that is the lens in which we must look at race through. Not blindness, but braveness. Diversity as a competitive advantage of any venture. She makes a wonderful point by saying if we invite those who are not like us, into our lives, this is often how we grow and learn, by being challenged or presented with perspectives that are not our own.

Nonprofits like Youth in Action, are organizations which uphold this believe in the success and power of diversity. They serve as a platform and facilitator to instill value in the voice of youth. Here, they are represented, they are able to challenge societal norms and policies. Debate is encouraged, and everyone's opinions and insight valued equally. YIA is not afraid of talking critically about uncomfortable topics, this is so important. They work together, and acknowledge each person as an essential piece that keeps the organization functioning. Organizations like these operate much under the saying "be the change", in terms of setting the example of what they think a fair community looks like, where all are welcome and appreciated.