By Jennifer Harvey
Time and again, my white students write that "everybody's equal" is the "most important" thing their parents taught them about race. Time and again, a not-insignificant number of them then proceed to describe their present trepidation about a.) telling their parents they date interracially; b.) bringing home a Latino/a or black classmate; c.) Thanksgiving break, when everyone will silently tolerate the family member who makes racist comments; or d.) something else that reveals how deeply and clearly these students know this "most important teaching" doesn't mean a hell of a lot to their actual white experience.
Few notice the contradiction they have themselves managed to describe in the space of only four pages.
I struggled to make sense of these papers for a long time. Then, Nurture Shock (not a book about race) gave me some help. It reports on social scientists' studies to figure out why so many white kids have such poor facility in engaging racial difference and challenging racism despite their exposure to (liberalish) white culture's "everybody's equal" mantras. Turns out our kids, literally, don't know what "everybody is equal" means. It's an empty phrase. A numbed out flourish. (Sugar.)
Meanwhile, they are daily assailed by a relentless barrage of anti-black imagery, Native American stereotypes, slurs against dark-skinned non-native English speakers and on and on.
Our happy equality and shared humanity platitudes just don't stand a chance. It's sort of like putting your kid in front of a 30-minute television show. The first 28 minutes show children bullying and generally treating each other like crap. The last two resolve into a nice, moral lesson on kindness. Guess which part of the show kids absorb and imitate? (Another amazing study reported in Nurture Shock.)
Volumes of evidence demonstrate how phony these beliefs are. For instance, disliking Latino (but not other) immigrants. Disliking Muslims and Arabs. Claiming Obama is a foreigner--and telling him to go back to Kenya.
My posting about black Jesus made the point well. If people were color-blind, they wouldn't care if Jesus was portrayed as black. In reality, they squeal like pigs if anyone proposes a more accurate Jesus with dark Semitic features.
For more on the subject, see America's "Colorblind Racism" and Conservatives Fear Minorities.