Thursday, May 20, 2004

Race Doesn't Matter

As a member of a darker-skinned family in an area predominantly populated by lighter-skinned people, we confront the issue of race sometimes. A few years ago, before they moved away, we were friends with a couple who had adopted some kids our kids' age. He was of Irish descent, she of some kind of Hispanic descent (I don't know which kind), and the kids were (in order) white, black, and half-and-half white and black. One time we got into a discussion about how she thought the black children ought to be exposed to "black" culture and told about their roots. I gave her my opinion, and it was thus:

All children should learn history. They should learn about their ancestors, and the ancestors of others who have influenced this nation. But it would be an error to think that because a child has dark skin and is the biological descendant of slaves, that she somehow must take on that culture even though her parents have a completely different culture. Like all children, she will adopt the culture of her parents and her environment, not the culture that someone happens to think belongs to her skin color.

It all boils down to one thing: Either race matters, or race doesn't matter. If race matters, we can talk about the degree to which it matters. But if it doesn't matter, and I would dearly hope it wouldn't, then a little black girl having to participate in "black" culture merely because of the color of her skin is an offensive notion. If race matters to others, who will assume that because she has dark skin that she participates in a particular culture, that is their problem. It is you, not they, who decides whether race will matter to you.

If you think it's worth perpetuating a society where race doesn't matter, if you believe in the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then it behooves you to stand firm in your belief that race should not be a factor in decisions about your life, and be a beacon to others. But if you want to give in to popular opinion, to believe that just because others are racist you must be too, then by all means give in. Let the racists win your heart.