Imagine a Brighter Racial Future

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Remember when a lot of people thought Barack Obama’s election meant we had become a post-racial society? Well, it hasn’t turned out that way.

We’ve heard the Attorney General of the United States call us a “nation of cowards” about race. We’ve seen a movement of people who still insist that Barack Obama wasn’t born in this country and therefore isn’t qualified to be president.

Just last week we saw the NAACP and the White House so freaked by the possibility of being found “soft on racism” that they rushed to a wrong and disastrous judgment on Shirley Sherrod.

Unless something unexpected happens, this week we’ll see Arizona’s immigration law, aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting undocumented immigrants, go into effect. Opponents call it a racial profiling law. Both Latino immigrants here legally and Latino citizens of the United States will pay a hard price. And on and on it goes.

Ok. Pause.

Now let’s imagine a United States where race plays out very differently. It’s the year 2042, a year when we may no longer have a racial majority. Race still matters – we haven’t become “colorblind” — but even the struggles around race are different, healthier, less divisive.

Let me ask you to think about this – with your friends, your family, your colleagues.

What would a United States at a much better place on race look like? If some seeds of change are in place right now, in 2010, what are they? How can we get from here to there?

Think about it this way. Suppose thru some weird, unexplained quirk you couldn’t know what race or ethnicity your own children would be. Regardless of your own race or your partner’s, your kids could be white, black, Latino, Asian American, Native American – however we think about race in 2042. Suppose even US citizens could find themselves the parents of undocumented Mexican immigrant children?

What changes would you want to see to make sure your kids had the best opportunity to thrive, whatever race they turned out to be? Would you change the way schools are funded? What changes do our immigration system would make sense? What about how the media deal with race?

This challenge isn’t for everybody. Some of you just won’t buy my premise that race shapes the opportunities we get and don’t get and our perceptions and expectations of each other. Some of you will have a hard time imagining a better America that isn’t simply colorblind. But those of you who take me up on it may find yourselves having some really interesting, constructive, and uncowardly conversations about race. Which is to say: conversations not at all like the ones we’ve actually been having.

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