Seeing a Color-Blind Future by Patricia J. Williams Essay
Seeing a Color-Blind Future by Patricia J. Williams
Chapter 1: The Emperor’s New Clothes
In this chapter, Mrs. Williams explores society’s failure to deal straightforwardly with the practice of exclusion. This is something that infects everyone, from the very old to the very young, and Mrs. Williams does a great job of pointing these things out. As I proceeded to read this piece, I found myself being able to relate and agree with a lot of the things Mrs. Williams spoke on. The truth of the matter is the fact that society puts emphasis on things that do not really matter and not enough emphasis on things that really matter is a big problem in today’s world. We are currently living in a society that attempts to hide things from our youth as if this is benefiting them. “Protecting our youth’s innocence” is good, but as Mrs. Williams pointed out the idea of “not thinking about it so therefore it doesn’t exist” (pg. 4) is not a good method of dealing with problems that may arise in life. This is a very important point that is made. The practice of imagining situations away just so they do not get dealt with head on leads to ignorance. There is a big difference between “being color-blind and just being blind” (pg. 6).
The fact that whites do not view themselves in term of race and feel that race is something that blacks solely have to deal with is a division of black and white in itself. When I was a young boy I was constantly reminded of my “blackness”, I have to make it and work as hard as everyone else does because I am black. I was not only reminded of this by other blacks, but by whites as well. In this chapter the issue of the restraint placed on our youth’s inquisitive nature is something else that I appreciate Mrs. Williams bringing to the forefront. There is a point in all children life when they go through an inquisitive stage; this is an essential part of a child’s development. It has to be expected that questions are going to get asked, at times the questions may be embarrassing or in some cases downright inappropriate.
If a child asks a question regarding sex, violence, or any other “controversial” issue it is the job of the parent or the adult present at the time to acknowledge and feed that child’s inquisitive nature. As the author points out, silencing a child when such questions are asked, and never going back to answer the child’s question causes them to use their imagination. This in return causes them to create their own world of what things mean whether the child’s views are right or wrong. The parents or guardian will find that great difficulty may arise when they try to change the child’s view due to the fact that they let the child go so long without knowing the true nature of things.
Mrs. Williams states that whites are usually the ones saying that race doesn’t matter, but usually act as if they are happy not to have to deal with the dilemma that is being black (pg. 9). In the chapter, Mrs. Williams does a good job of illustrating the fact that those that claim to be color-blind or feel that race doesn’t matter sub- consciously feel that race does matter. The mere fact that they try to show pity toward the opposite because of their race shows that they indeed know that race is an issue that is very much alive and well.
Chapter 2: The Pantomime of Race.
In this chapter Mrs. Williams deals a lot with how people view race. The OJ Simpson case and the black church are used as backdrops for this discussion. No matter what the situation is the issue of race always finds a way to work itself into the mix. As the author points out, a lot of Americans felt like the decision to acquit OJ was due to the fact that some of the jurors were black. As Americans it is a fact that celebrities create a sort of awe amongst us. The decision to acquit OJ could have been based on the fact that he was a celebrity or maybe the jurors felt that he really didn’t commit the crime, did anyone ever stop to consider this. When the OJ trial was taking place there were television cameras everywhere and a considerable amount of attention was being paid to this case. The same can’t be said about the DuPont murder in which John Dupont in the presence of a witness shot and killed a wrestler.
There was no round-the-clock coverage of this incident. In fact it was kept kind of quiet. In the end, what it all boils down to is that to be black is to be exploited. Black religion is even exploited, in Harlem, New York bus loads of tourists bombard black churches with cameras fighting with members of the congregation to get a good seat. I had no idea that practices of this nature were taking place. Journalists, reporters, and tourists treating the black church as if it is a spectacle of some sort trying to get the perfect camera angle and other nonsense. It is ok to observe a religion in order to get a better understanding of the people who practice the religion; in fact this is encouraged. The line is drawn when the congregation and the practicing of the religion is treated as if it is a Broadway show, put on strictly for the entertainment of others. Boundaries could be drawn, but at the same time if you draw boundaries there is always a risk of being looked at as either racist or a separatist.
Mrs. Williams states “How can it be that so many well-meaning white people have never thought about race when so few blacks pass a single day without being reminded of it” (pg. 28). This is a point well taken, the way race is presented and represented in the media is the way members of that race will be viewed. This chapter points out that in a time when film and media rule just talking about race is not going to help, some type of action must be taken. Mrs. Williams points out that society must learn to see people and not spotlight them (pg. 30). By spotlight I think she means that we must see people and accept them and their talents for what they are and not put a spotlight on every little detail that makes them up as a person such as race. When people foreign to particular culture try to embrace that culture certain stereotypes tend to throw off course the attempt to genuinely learn about that culture.
The fact that certain minorities know that they will be viewed in a certain way by society causes them to act in a certain way. Mrs. Williams brings up the point about the writer Anatole Broyard, a light-skinned black man that passed as a white man. Not because he wanted to, but because he felt he had to in order to do what he loved which was write. He knew that if he posed as white no one would look at him as the white writer, they would look at him as just a writer. On the other hand if he revealed he was black he would not simply be a writer any more he would be recognized as the “black” writer and this is something that he did not want. This goes back to the point that is made in chapter1 when Mrs. Williams states that race is an issue that whites feel blacks have to solely deal with.
If he is thought of to be white, race plays no part in what he accomplishes; this can not be considered true either. He may have felt people were only looking at him as a writer, but him passing as white played a major role in him being viewed as “just a writer”. “Are we driven beyond ourselves when we set out just to be ourselves” (pg. 30) this is the situation in Broyard’s case. He wanted to just be himself, which is a “writer”, but he acted beyond himself by posing as a white man, in order to just be himself “the writer”. This is the case a lot of the time individuals are forced to act outside of themselves in order to be themselves. It sounds like a contradiction but it actually makes a lot of sense. Mrs. Williams did a good job of pointing this out.
Chapter 3: The Distribution of Distress
In chapter 3, Mrs. Williams explores class and the effect it has on society in The Distribution of Distress. She explains that people tend to equate “underclass with blackness and middle-class with whiteness”, as if they were one entity. I am not sure if this is what Mrs. Williams was trying to insinuate, but I think she feels that class is a subtle form of racism. If this is so I agree with her totally. As she pointed out on pg. 34, “class is to be understood as a stand-in for race”. Mrs. Williams tackles the issue of appearance and accent. The way a person speaks, or annunciates his or her words in America is not an issue, accept when the issue deals with blacks. This whole issue goes hand and hand very well with the whole Ebonics controversy. At my school a lot of the teachers were outraged with the whole Ebonics issue. At first I thought it was kind of cool that society felt like the way we as African Americans spoke was important enough to give us our own separate language.
The more I thought about it the more I realized that racial discrimination was alive and well and I also realized that a stereotype was being implemented and that a lot of the youth was too blind to see it. Ebonics was to be termed as “the black way of speech”, but not everyone that is black or African American speaks with slang. Mrs. Williams points out that the speech of black people ranges and the refusal for people to pick up on the accents or dialect cause them to term it incomprehensible (pg. 36). The point is also made that black’s speech always seem comprehensive when it serves as outlets for the entertainment or the sports industry. This is another point well taken. When White America wants to reach urban areas in order to sell their products they always get entertainers and professional athletes to sell their products. Although Mrs. Williams feels that the color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter the fact is that it does “it is our greatest vanity and at the same time our greatest anxiety” (pg. 37).
In The Distribution of Distress Mrs. Williams holds a mirror to the face of America and shows that although it would be nice to think that race is not an issue anymore it really is an issue, a very big issue at that. The author uses a personal experience of hers to clearly restate the fact. In the process of buying a house, when the bank realized she was black they asked that she put down a bigger down payment than was originally asked for her house. Although she did not have to put down more money it shows that white people discriminate intentionally. Her credit check came back sufficient and they still wanted to charge her more. The bank informed her that it wasn’t race but risk that assisted in their decision. It is a known fact that if a few black families move into what is considered to be an all-white neighborhood, the property value decreases.
The fact that the color of one’s skin can be equated with a lower standard of living is a sad thought. This is often thought, black is bad, and anything other than black is good. The fact that America equates the color of one’s skin with the worth of their possessions is not acceptable by any means. The view that one black man or woman represents the entire race is America’s perception of the minority. The idea of “we are one” is a good thought, but is it a beneficial one in a society plagued by racism and prejudices.
Chapter 4: The War between the Worlds
In chapter 4 our author deals with rationalized racism. The absurd idea that race determines IQ and IQ determines economic status. In order to become part of mainstream white society it seems that blacks must learn how to disassociate themselves with their blackness and live up to the cliches that surrounds us by White America. The fact that a young white male equates being black with knowing how to play basketball is sad. The stereotype that all blacks are good in sports such as basketball is clearly exhibited on pg. 50. The fact that the mother agreed with her child is even more sickening. The fact that blacks get taxed by White America to be part of America is a disturbing find. To live in the nice neighborhoods blacks get taxed more than whites, in order to be part of certain social organizations the fees are raised for the black that is interested. Mrs. Williams states that “racial division has become big business for America, whether it is news, sports or entertainment” (pg.58) These issues are considered controversial so if America feeds in to it and plays the race card with these issues the masses will tune in.
This in return will pump major dollars into the economy i.e. the Simpson trial. “It’s easy is to be tolerant when you do not care” (pg. 59). This is indeed a true statement, if you don’t care for minorities you will tolerate them in order to make money and exploit them and have them seen in a negative light. When you do not care you will tolerate the intolerable if in the long run you will benefit. Not so much an issue of race, but how many people white or black tolerate the intolerable just to gain some type of notoriety or financial gain. It’s just that this issue is more noticeable when it comes to race relations amongst blacks and whites.
Like the author states, “blacks have to put aside the activities of everyday life and subject ourselves to the cyclical inspection point of proving our worth, justifying our existence, and teaching our history, over and over again” (pg.51). Everyone knows that a flow of controversy equals a flow of currency. The fact that America magnifies certain race issues in order to pump more money into the economy is immoral in every sense of the word. The fact that certain stereotypes are still associated with certain races and cultures is also disturbing. Hopefully one day these ills of society can be healed.
Chapter 5: An Ordinary Brilliance: Parting the Waters, Closing the Wounds
In this chapter Mrs. Williams attempts to make people realize that race is not the same as poverty, and that race is not a breeding ground for disease and exotic entertainment. She separates race from this and a slew of other things that it is associated with. The main goal of Mrs. Williams in this chapter is to get minorities to recognize the racism their up against. As she states though it is hard to get individuals to recognize racism when the very thing, material or not that is subliminally racist, is being endorsed by blacks or other minorities. When we learn how to use our third eye, see through the rhetoric, and gain some type of understanding this is when we will be able to see that racism is not just black on white, and that it comes in many forms. Mrs. Williams also criticizes the idea of racial science in which she describes as nothing more than “the science of stereotypification”.
Why is it that a group of rebellious young black men are considered to be gangs that want to do nothing more than create havoc amongst the community. Yet by the same token a group of rebellious white men are looked at as being misguided, but yet are still admired by the masses. Labels such as militia and patriots are often used to describe these young men and they are looked at as heroes by some. As our author states racism will never go away until people start to change the way they think and do not allow stereotypes to cloud their judgement. In order to do away with racism we must do away with the stereotypes that surround race. When this feat is accomplished, then maybe we can look forward to seeing a color-blind future.
In conclusion Seeing A Color-blind Future is a very interesting and insightful look at racism in America. This reading holds a mirror up to the face of America and it is a reflection that further shows that racism still exist even in the twenty-first century. Racism is presented in many ways, shapes, and forms and it is an issue that effects a majority of minorities whether it is in monetary or social means. In order for blacks and other minorities to fight racism, we must first learn how to recognize the various forms of racism, the obvious and the not so obvious. Patricia J. Williams does a phenomenal job of bringing the different forms of racism to the attention of all that read this book. I must say that even I a graduating senior in religion and philosophy learned a lot about myself and past encounters when it comes to the issue of race.