Wednesday, February 22, 2006

By the content of their character

Seems that this latest generation of folks - one behind us slackers/gen-x types - are more and more diverse in their relationships - friendships and intimate relationships. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dream is becoming a reality.

Ryan Knapick and Josh Baker have been best friends since fifth grade. Colette Gregory entered the picture in high school. She and Josh are dating now. Knapick is white, Gregory is black and Baker is half-Hispanic. To them, race doesn't matter.

"People are finding people with common interests and common perspectives and are putting race aside," says Knapick, 22, a May graduate of Indiana University who works at a machine shop and lives with his parents in Munster, Ind.

For some, though, this is a problem. And you might (or not, depending on your cynicism) be surprised by whom this threatens.

"People think this sort of colorblindness is a kind of progress, but I see it as more pernicious than that," says Tyrone Forman, an associate professor of African-American studies and sociology at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

His research, based on data from the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey, suggests a troublesome side to racial colorblindness.

Even though young people report having friends of other races, Forman says, those friendships don't necessarily lead to a reduction in negative attitudes toward a racial group, because people view their own friends as an exception to whatever stereotype may exist.

Such feelings, along with studies that show less concern for racial issues among white high school seniors in 2003 compared with 30 years ago, makes him believe there should be more and not less talk about race, Forman says.

Did you know that often, I think people are stupid? I don't think my own friends are stupid, of course. But in general, people are stupid. Does that make me prejudiced against people? Sure, en masse, but not against individuals when I meet them. We all traffic in stereotypes, and we all exclude ourselves and our own social circles from those stereotypes. This is a human condition, and has nothing to do with race, specifically, but the general tendency to stereotype. It happens to everyone for many reasons besides skin color.

Do you know what other improvement Mr. Forman thinks is bad?
"In 2003, 17% of students said they were 'never concerned' with hunger and poverty, compared with 7% in 1976, he says. And on race, 27% were 'never concerned' three years ago, compared with 13% surveyed in 1976."

Seriously, fewer children have grown up wondering if they're going to eat every night, and this is bad? And I wonder what the racial breakdown is of those who said they were "never concerned" with race? What if there are black people among that 27%? That means this is an even bigger improvement, socially speaking. If someone is black and hasn't been "concerned with race," wouldn't the implication there be that they haven't felt discriminated against because of their race?

Don't worry, though, the author is sure to point out that Mr. Forman is black and is married to a white woman. And another white contributor to the article who is concerned about this "problem" used to be married to, and has a son with, a black man.

So as people become less and less concerned with race, and we all continue "mixing" on a grand scale, what then? Do we still live by the old "one drop rule" of heritage? Used to be that was the way racist people maintained as much power over others as possible. I imagine that in the near future it may be the only tool a whole different set of racist people have to maintain as much power over others as possible - and the only way the people who make a living off of racism will be able to keep their own jobs.

Thanks again, to The Agitator.

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