Ah, British. Yes, my perspective, and everything I’m about to say comes from an American perspective. I’d like to hear more about your views at a Brit. I’d also like to hear more about what you mean when you say “divides are kept alive by the need to identify oneself.” I’m going to read into your intent which is always a bad idea but pretty much inherent to Internet dialogue, so I apologize in advance if I misunderstood you.
It sounds like you’re saying identifying with a racial group keeps racial divisions alive. To me this sounds like a “colorblind” approach to understanding race. Many White folks, myself included, were raised this way. We were taught not talking about or evening seeing race was the way to deal with racism. Of course, not talking about or ignoring a problem is never a way to solve a problem.
In theory, colorblindness sounds like a great idea. In practice, it teaches people to discount, ignore, and erase the racial discrimination and oppression that people of color experience all the time. And it leaves White folks without a language to talk about the racial inequalities that permeate American society.
A colorblind approach tells Whites what not to do (i.e. don’t talk about race) but it means we don’t have lenses to understand the racial dynamics in our lives and we don’t have language and skills to address them. Ironically, this can — and often does — lead White folks to avoid cross racial engagement for fear of being seen as racist, perpetuating racial misunderstandings, or just experience heightened anxiety about racial difference.
There is more, of course. As you know, racial inequalities are real. Black folks, Black kids, are at greater risk for poverty, disease, incarceration, and death. The risks are embodied for Blacks, which mans the inequalities are not some abstraction but are lived. But colorblind socialization means many Whites have no way of understanding these are impacts of structural racism. Colorblindness means many White folks lack a method for a systemic analysis of racism. So, despite being taught race doesn’t matter, Whites without racial language or lenses are often left to rely on racial stereotypes when trying to explain structural racism.
In the US, talking about race is not just okay, it’s important. It gives White people the knowledge, language, and skills to understand how inequalities have been structured along racial lines.
In the US, race is an essential part of our identity, White folks included. Being White may have little meaning to some White folks, but that does not mean it has no impact. In the US, all White people are White in a society that values Whiteness and disadvantage people of color.
I think we both agree that in the long run, we don’t want race to be a barrier that holds people back or keeps people apart. But for race not to matter in the long run, we have to acknowledge that, currently, it does matter a great deal. For more info, see the link below.
I’m glad you’re happy with being described as (free range) chicken colored. I just read a White guy describe his skin color as boiled tilapia! I hope you’re open to more understanding on why some Americans, myself included, find talking about race so important.
Much of the language/information in this email is pulled directly from this source: http://www.nais.org/magazines-newsletters/ismagazine/pages/what-white-children-need-to-know-about-race.aspx