Tag Archives: racism

Not So Black and White

By Jason Menard

I’ve always considered myself colourblind when it comes to issues of race – but maybe my vision’s not as pure as I think.

Oddly enough, this revelation came from watching an episode of Lost. Without getting too involved in the plot, an older black woman has been expressing her certainty that her husband was still alive, despite being in the back of the plane when it tore apart. Recently we met new characters, survivors from the back, and one – a slightly older black man, I assumed was her husband.

In fact, it was an older white man who turned out to be her husband. And I never even considered the possibility.

Was I outraged at the depiction of an interracial marriage on TV? No. It doesn’t bother me in the least. I honestly believe we’re all the same on the inside, and the exterior doesn’t matter. But what bothers me is that I assumed that the black male would be the black woman’s husband – never entertaining the possibility of a mixed-race union.

Why is it that I can pass thousands of same-colour couples, both black and white, and not notice them, while I notice the mixed-race couples? I don’t judge, don’t discriminate – and really don’t care about these people and I go on my merry way. But why do I notice them – not the others?

You know who I blame? Spike Lee. Well, not just Spike Lee, but I blame those who consistently reinforce the negative aspects of our society and continue to hold up race as a divisive issue.

I understand that, for some people, race is an issue and there are deep-rooted discriminatory beliefs that need to be address and eradicated. But the flip side of this is that this sort of activism plants a seed in the minds of those whose thoughts aren’t infested by this insidious racism. Because the mirror has been held up to society so long, we’re noticing the reflections as aberrations, as opposed to the natural unions and co-existence they should be.

So how do we balance the need to educate those who continue to hold on tightly to the reins of ignorance and steer them to enlightenment, with the damaging effects that shining a spotlight on these issues can have for those of us who don’t consider colour and race an issue? Are activists, who rightly strive for a day when race and religion are not an issue, compromising their ideals and dreams by making race and religion something to be noticed – an issue, however benign, in the minds of those who previously wouldn’t even factor them in our day-to-day life?

I wasn’t brought up to discriminate and I can say I have a collection of friends that span a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. It’s not something of which I boast, or which I’m proud, simply because it’s just what it is. It’s not something I think about. Nor is race or religion a determining factor in how I develop my social relationships. There are so many other reasons not to like someone that using the colour of their skin, the God they choose (or choose not) to worship, or their country of origin, just seems so petty. They are my friends, and I’m proud to have them as friends – independent of their country of origin.

In discussing this issue with others, I spoke of how in my life I’ve had a number of friends of various ethnicities. But as I thought further, I remembered even more that came from different countries and religions. I didn’t think of them as my black friend, or my Bengali friend – they were just friends. Their colour and creed weren’t an issue, nor were they of interest to me, except as an opportunity to explore and learn about another culture. But these are ancillary benefits – the main benefit was, and is, friendship.

I hate the fact that people will say, “Oh, I’m blessed to have good black friends like…” or “I have a lot of Hispanic friends…” in their conversation. I’m blessed to have these people as friends first and foremost. Their ethnicities are ancillary to our friendship. Of course, when it comes to dinner, I appreciate their backgrounds more – I’m not going to say no to a good Lebanese or Greek meal.

I look no further than my daughter, who will soon be turning four. She has had a friend for a couple of years now, who happens to be black. But instead of remarking on the colour of her skin, what impressed upon my daughter was that she had curly hair. To this day, her skin colour has never come up – it just is what it is.

And that’s the way it should be. And that’s the way it can be. As a writer, I love adjectives, but not when it comes to describing people. The best description I can give to anyone — whether black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, or Christian – is friend — and friend alone.

But the mirror to our society as a whole has been held up — and I don’t like how it’s affected me. Like a funhouse mirror, we’ve created aberrations where, for many, only a clear reflection would normally appear.

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