Recently, I have been hearing folks having epiphanic experiences when it comes to institutionalized racism in the United States. I am surprised and quickly become suspicious when these instances are reported, because I reflexively disbelieve anyone living in this country can be so impervious to what has been systematically going on for centuries with regard to African Americans (as well as other peoples of color), that they claim ignorance even as they continue to swim, if you will, in reservoirs of privilege as they have all of their lives! There are countless matrices and social stimuli that daily replay the racial divide within everybody’s purview. We do not need a surfeit of data to observe the injustices and to resolve to collaborate unendingly to fight against this blight upon all of our humanity—although Michelle Alexander has done precisely that in her book entitled, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
Colorblindness, of course, is a popular descriptor of what many wish for and claim today it exists, on the one hand, and an expression of the shallow and uncritical perception many have who simply do not wish to deal with the sickness of racism, on the other hand. Colorblindness can be used as a foil ostensibly to hide our greed, selfishness, individualism, and indifference to the plight of people of darker hue. Prejudice raises its ugly head not only in the thoughts of lower-class whites who have the privilege of sighing that they ain’t like no nigger, but also in the charitable contributions of the well-off who never consider sacrificing current material comforts in order to help to begin to dismantle a system designed to lock people in the poorhouse. Yet because we insist that our society has reached an age of colorblindness, we can exculpate ourselves from any responsibility for a system of oppression and exploitation that scandalizes human dignity and worth. Consequently, a structure of exclusion fundamentally based on racial categories can be blatantly perpetuated by lofting from our lips the sordid and flagrantly cynical subterfuge that we have finally arrived!
Every black person in the United States should develop a hermeneutic of suspicion when dealing with others alleging enlightenment and also live in this environment steeped in racism. It is very, very difficult to transcend it unscathed. Knowing the history of well-minded liberals and some progressives in this country, blacks cannot drop their guards because some of the most vicious forms of racism have been engendered and propagated by such people! Race matters in this country because we let it by supposedly having the luxury to ignore and be indifferent to it—while those categorized, prejudged, and victimized by it recognize its validity and its entrenchment in all facets of our regular milieu.
Until we discern the continuum of racial discrimination—from individual prejudice to institutional genocide—we will forever plead some exonerative ignorance or contemplative epiphany ad infinitum that renders us in effect inactive perpetrators of the status quo, which promises that the day of freedom, dignity, and equality for all persons shall remain a pipe dream!