On Martin Luther King Jr day this year, I told the guys I play basketball with at a posh athletic club in Middleton, who are all white, that this is the one day they actually have to pretend to accept me.
It was tongue-in-cheek of course, as I have been friends with those guys for ten years. I also grew up in that area, the adopted son of a racially mixed family.
Beneath the surface, however, I was only halfway joking.
The club is in a part of town where they definitely ask for ID when a person of color uses a credit card. You definitely hear the beeping of cars being locked as you walk by, if you’re a person of color. The tension feels thick whenever a group of unknown black guys, especially black teenagers, come to play at the club for the first time.
It was in this setting, in the Spring of 2016, at the height of explosive issues between police and minorities, I had a conversation about race with the whitest kids in America. They were the children of Middleton golf society. The attitudes of entitlement and privilege were on full display. So were some less kind attitudes.
Repeatedly they used the words “us” to describe the American population at large and “you guys” to describe both me and the “other” community I supposedly represented.
As in, it is the role of law enforcement is to protect “us” from “you guys.” That is literally what these guys said.
When I confronted them on the usage of “us” and “you guys,” they pushed back, saying I was being politically correct and that’s what keeps people like them from being able to vocalize the real problems in America.
That’s when I understood the issue.
This generation came of age in a world where everything is — pardon the expression — whitewashed. The tension they feel about race comes from the fact that they have grown up in a world artificially manufactured to prevent such tension.
All the integrating, legislating, marching and battling all created this. It is exactly what Dr. King wanted. It’s a society where we’re all together, side by side. Colorblind. Blind to race, and, unfortunately, to racism.
Here’s another example. A couple of years ago I had a friend over who goes to MATC with me. He’s white, and was a college freshman. A song came on and he was singing along, saying “nigga” along with the lyrics. When I said something about it he gave me the most incredulous look like I was crazy.
There was no connection in his brain between that word and racism, no connection between that word and the whites who hurled it at me in anger and hate when I was growing up. To him it was just a line in a song. His look was as incredulous as the kids at basketball when I told them it was racist to say that law enforcement exists to protect them from black people.
Time is the only thing that can say if there is a middle ground here. For my music loving friend, historically racist words have just become lyrics and a way you talk to your buddy. He would never mean it in a derogatory way.
My golf society friends would never say the derogatory version of the n-word either. But they don’t have to. “You guys” has taken its place.
Yet, both of these groups are missing the depth of the issue. “Political correctness” has become a punchline to them because none of them were around to see the battles that led to such correctness. They see that correctness as just a violation of their First Amendment rights, not an entity that exists to protect minorities from harm.
But it was impossible to explain that. When you’ve existed in a colorblind world, how do you learn racial sensitivity? How do you become sensitive to race, when you’re taught that race doesn’t matter?
Police shootings are just community protection to them. “Nigga” is what you call your best friend. Segregation is a myth. The President isn’t racist, he’s just protecting their constitutional rights.
This generation has experienced the fullness of Dr. King’s Dream. He got what he wanted. A color blind society where we all accept one another while pushing our stereotypes far beneath the surface — and brushing racism under the rug.