Living in Black and White: The Real Reason We Talk about Race

Recently I received email from a white reader who responded to a previous article of mine by saying, "Why do black people always have to talk about race? White people have moved on," he claimed. "If black people would do the same, then there wouldn't be so many racial issues today."

I responded by paraphrasing the great writer James Baldwin, who said that he didn't choose to write about race. He wrote about race because it was a door that he had to walk through every day of his life.

This is what much of white America fails to comprehend. Race is seen in everything we do. Like Baldwin succinctly states, no one chooses to talk about it. But for any conscientious black person, the subject of race is an entity all its own, and therefore must be addressed.

Race isn't just about black people and white people. Race is the haves versus the have-nots. It's justice versus injustice. It's impartiality versus partiality. It's the oppressed versus the oppressors.

This isn't to suggest that the existence of race and its myriad of components are completely mired in disharmony. But in a country where the playing field among blacks and whites is shamelessly uneven, to ignore it would be to ignore the need for justice, for what's right. It would be essentially saying, "I accept where I am, and there's no need for change."

It's not an exaggeration to say that being black is akin to having a second job without receiving the paycheck. Not only does it weigh heavy on our mind, it possesses the potential to overflow our thought processes and interfere in our daily responsibilities of life.

Arthur Ashe, former tennis great and highly respected civil rights activist, lived in a well-to-do Manhattan neighborhood. Despite his success, the AIDS stricken philanthropist stated in People Magazine that the toughest burden he ever faced was being black in America.

But despite hearing this sentiment expressed innumerable times by people of color from all walks of life, most whites refuse to search their souls to even remotely consider this a possibility, as if they have walked in our shoes.

Race is so prevalent and so pervasive in society, that even in those seldom seen situations when it's not present, the average black person believes it to be anyway. Are we paranoid? Perhaps; but is it our fault for being this way? Absolutely not!

Interestingly, although we're accused of firmly holding on to race, it's not black America that originally contrived the heartbeat of race. White America pumped the first drop of blood into this struggle with its acceptance of a superiority based on fallacy, while attempting to enforce a mythical-based inferiority among black people.

And to a large extent, they succeeded. While much of black America holds strong to its free and fertile mind, we live in a racially biased system that breeds inferiority and partiality wherever we look.

While it may not be housed in our minds, white America's belief in this inferiority is displayed in the workplace, where it's common for salaries of black employees to be less than those of our white peers. The same can be said for promotions that bypass us for less qualified white employees.

Inferiority is on display in integrated neighborhoods where we sometimes feel ostracized, as if we don't belong. In segregated neighborhoods, including our schools, we see obvious shortcomings as compared to those across town.

We see white America's partiality in lending institutions, where we are denied the opportunity to start our own businesses, and thereby forced to forgo our dreams of empowerment, while white people rebound from bankruptcies and foreclosures overnight.

We see it in our cars when racist cops stop us for doing nothing more than driving while black. This doesn't take into consideration other forms of racial profiling, such as that which is practiced in retail centers, where merchants follow black shoppers needlessly throughout stores.

None of these shameful situations even address the respect factor for black people. We are generally considered guilty until proven innocent, unintelligent until proven intelligent, dishonest until proven honest.

And what about the issue of quotas and Affirmative Action, which we're thought to support because it's our one guaranteed source for progression? Very little, if anything, of what we acquire, is thought to be based on merit.

Yet, white America has the gall to ask why do black people hold on to race? I question the mindset of any black person who doesn't hold race hostage, who isn't enveloped in this unfortunate consciousness.

As I see it, I have no other choice. My cup runneth over.

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