In answer to “Why can’t we just ignore racial differences already?”

I’ve been wondering ”why can’t we just ignore racial differences already?” seriously since 1985/6 when I was a senior in college and a black male friend of mine got dumped by his white girlfriend because her family couldn’t stand the idea that she was dating a black man, and she caved to them.  This was a guy with a good job, and more to the point, he was one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet, who would make a great husband and a great father — and all this girl’s family could see was that he was black.  Unbelievable.  And this was in the Akron/Cleveland area, which was hardly a hotbed of racism. 

When I graduated from college, I decided to move to Boston, and this particular friend begged me not to, because it was known for being such a racist town.  I blithely said, “Then it needs more white people like me,” and went.  I ended up not spending much time with black people for about 14 years, so I wasn’t helping much with the issue during that time. 

A few years ago, I started working out at the Reggie Lewis Center — first for the indoor track, but then I started going to the aerobics classes it offers.  So now I go to these classes three times a week where I am often the only white person in the room … and sometimes I completely forget about that fact, but it’s always floating there and the awareness can pop up at the darnedest times — when someone mentions how very pink I turn from the exercise, for instance, or when one of the instructors sells tickets to the gala his black fraternity holds every year, and I realize that really, I am kind of Too White to go. 

On the bright side, because of spending so much time in rooms filled with black people, I realized recently that I do see people differently now.  I’m pretty sure I used to register “black” first, and then a person’s facial features — and now I register their facial features first, and then realize “oh, and he or she is black!”