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Lee: Thomas wrong on race-consciousness

BY ASHLEY LEE | FEBRUARY 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Americans are too sensitive about race:

“My sadness is that we are probably today more race and difference conscious than I was in the 1960s, when I went to school … Now, name a day it doesn’t come up. Differences in race, differences in sex … Everybody is sensitive.”

Even though everyone may not agree with Thomas and his recent sentiment, his tremendous influence as a black male is widely understood. He, along with the late Thurgood Marshall, have helped pave the way for future African Americans in the judicial branch. This is something worth commemorating, regardless of one’s political ideology.

While Thomas certainly has a right to his opinion and is the only one who can attest to his life and experiences, I would have to say that it’s not that Americans are too sensitive, it’s that more people are willing to speak out against injustice and racial inequality today because the consequences for doing so are not as severe as they once were.

For Thomas, whose entry into the political sphere required submission to the status quo, to question or challenge the white male power structure of the Western world would only have hindered his progress.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t conscious of differences in the ’60s considering he lived alongside Jim Crow, Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil and Voting Rights Acts, the March on Washington, the Black Power Movement, and the Black Arts Movement.

Regardless, society today is more “race and difference conscious” because people recognize there isn’t just one American identity anymore. There’s exhaustion and irritation in response in the unjust laws and social norms that deem marginalized groups unworthy and insignificant compared with the majority groups that hold cultural, social, and economic power.

No matter how many people wish to advance the multicultural narrative or claim that “We’re all one race [pause] the human race,” there is still the unspoken rule that “American” is synonymous with white, straight, Christian, and cisgender.

By simply looking at World War II propaganda, the Western world’s depiction of Jesus, the stereotypical 1950s family, and magazine racks at the nearest supermarket, one can see how these identities prevailed in the mid-20th century and still prevail today.

Over the past half century we’ve become more conscious of our many identities, but unfortunately, the transition is incomplete. Instead of being conscious, many of us are still asleep.

People who share Thomas’s point of view prefer to stress the myth of meritocracy. As long as one doesn’t play the victim and perseveres amid white male supremacy, they can succeed. But this old-fashioned idea of success unfairly questions the legitimacy of the individual and not the legitimacy of the system, women still get paid less than men, transgender men and women are constantly dehumanized, and religious and racial minority groups continue live in a country that does not respect them.

We are taught not to question the status quo but rather to be color and gender “blind” in order to paint everyone as the same even though we aren’t. Of course our social identities shape our experiences, who we are, the way we’re treated, and perceived.

Those who have a problem with identities and labels — what some may refer to as political correctness — are too lazy and insensitive to take the time and consider everyone for who they are.

Differences should not divide us; rather, they should serve as motivation to dismantle and correct inequalities rooted in biased thinking that deems groups superior or inferior.

Society is slowly becoming more conscious of these differences and that is a good thing. The point is to see, not to be blind.


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