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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, October 09, 2018 1:00 am

Race unavoidable

We must confront divisions to overcome them

Ahmed Abdelmageed

“I'm color blind.”

It's a statement employed by many to convey that they see everyone equally and that race plays no factor in how they treat others. They assume, and I believe with good intention, that by doing so, they are helping improve race relations and that, by looking beyond someone's skin color, they are combating some of the divisive race issues that continue to plague our country.

Although such an approach can be viewed as admirable and, as stated above, most likely stems from a well-intended place, I believe it to be harmful and, to an extent, selfish.

It's harmful because it perpetuates the fallacy that we're a post-racial society – that race is a thing of the past and plays no factor in how people are currently viewed and treated. This simply flies into the face of current reality for many.

If we're a post-racial society, then why do we still peddle the false notion that black people are inherently more violent and disproportionately attack white people, while data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows that the “vast majority of most crimes are committed by a person of the same race as the victim”?

Or that immigrants, especially those with darker skin, are more likely to commit crime than citizens while, according to an article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology, “quantitative research has consistently shown that being foreign born is negatively associated with crime overall and is not significantly associated with committing either violent or property crime”?

If we are truly a post-racial society, then why is race still a real and palpable concern for many walking our streets? I've witnessed it with friends who have to think about when and where they are because of what their skin color, accent, language or religious garb may invoke.

The most sobering and honestly most heartbreaking account of such a thought process is a story I heard on the radio. In an interview on NPR, a self-described 6-foot-plus black Ivy League law professor said that many times, when he's alone in public, he intentionally whistles songs from “Frozen,” the Disney movie, so others would know that he has children and not perceive him as a threat! Just imagine the effort it takes to just be, and ask yourself, are we really a post-racial society?

According to current age distribution in the U.S., at least 25 percent of the population was alive and at an age that comprehended, or lived in a household that was actively engaged in, the civil rights movement in one way or another (i.e., for or against). We can't, in our celebrations of the successes of the civil rights movement, neglect the major percentage of the population that was actively against it.

I don't think that enacting a few laws simply made those who were vehemently and often violently against it change their mind. We need to stop sanitizing history and address these issues head on. It will take hard work over a couple of generations to clean that stain in order for us to truly become a post-racial society.

“I'm color blind” is also selfish because, in a way, one is saying “I don't see color, I don't contribute to these issues, therefore this is not my problem.” History, however, does not stop and start with you, and you can't detach yourself from society. If you're blessed enough to not experience what the marginalized experience, then it is your duty as a member of society to help actively reduce factors leading to their marginalization.

Race is a social construct. It has no biological bases. If we can Frankenstein it into what it is now, then we can just as well deconstruct it and put it to better use. You can't simply be complacent, because if you're complacent, then you're complicit.

Not seeing someone's color, and how that color is perceived, viewed and treated, will not make the problems associated with it magically go away. You need to see the full spectrum of color and all that that entails; you need to acknowledge all of it; and you need to address it. Each and everyone of us has to work, in our own capacity, to contain such evil that continues to plague our society.

That is done in many ways, but the best way is the way in which you feel most able. It can be by denouncing the use of the N word when you're with a group of non-black friends, or by telling your story, which would negate a negative propagandistic stereotype about “your people,” or by simply upholding yourself to the highest moral of “treating others as you wish to be treated.”

You need to see me, and in full color, because if you don't see me, then I don't exist.

Ahmed Abdelmageed, assistant dean of experiential education and community engagement at Manchester University's College of Pharmacy, is a board member with the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace.