Today April 4 is the 43rd anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader who advocated for judging of people by the “content of their character, not the color of their skin.”
On Friday night Dr. Cornel West, Princeton professor and author of a 1993 book “Race Matters”, spoke at Centennial Hall, invoking the legacy of Dr. King, asking the audience of about 1500 people, if America had become “colorblind as MLK envisioned.” He then went on to say that we have become “blind to the suffering of the poor, working people, indigenous people”. He said he was glad to be here in Arizona, the “epicenter of human rights”, that ethnic studies at TUSD was the “quest for truth.” Dr. West was highly critical of America saying that corporate greed/avarice had made us “well adjusted to injustice” and being “indifferent to the poor and other evils”. Read more about Dr. West (who has also acted in two Matrix movies) in wikipedia (click here.) And if you want to hear a 2 minute audio of his talk posted in the Tucson Weekly by John deDios (click here).
So have we become racially/ethnically “colorblind” in 2011?
Recently a man at an art show starting speaking to me in Japanese. When I answered him in English, he started asking me if I was part-Native American and what tribe I belonged to. He just had to know what I was racially and I refused to say, as I didn’t think it was relevant at an art show. He was first treating me as “foreign”– as a visiting Japanese tourist, which I am not.
I did grow up “colorblind” on the Big Island of Hawaii. I had public school teachers who were Caucasian, Korean, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, Chinese, etc. and it never occurred to me to categorize them by race. The were all the same to us students, only different by their last names. We accept people in Hawaii by their culture and character. I knew some people in my community were Puerto Rican but that meant to me that they ate pasteles at their parties and danced to “kachi kachi” music. That’s all, it was cultural, as it was with my Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, Samoan friends (and lots of those who were of mixed ancestry, very common in Hawaii).
I didn’t even know that I belonged to a racial “minority” until I went to Boston to attend law school. It was then that I learned what it was like for Black Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc. on the U.S. Mainland. Ask most members of a racial minority if there is racism/discrimination in America, and they will likely answer in the affirmative.
Being as today is the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, let us reflect upon race relations in America, and strive to be better and more accepting of other cultures and people of a different ethnicity.