The first thing I was taught about race was that it didn’t matter. Like so many others I was taught to ignore the color of a person’s skin and to judge people on the “content of their character.” This was the extent of my racial formation. This color-ignorance became the dominant approach after the Civil Rights movement, and has only gained steam in the supposedly post-racial world the election of Barack Obama ushered in.
The problem with color-ignorance is that it erases the reality of racism and leaves white folks incapable of understanding the experiences of people of color, and therefore incapable of contributing to justice in meaningful ways. Nothing illustrates this inability better than the phenomenon of respectability and what it signifies depending on your race.
Stacie Nielsen-Bortel, who identifies as white, was visiting family in Michigan when social media informed her about the shooting death of Philando Castile. Nielsen-Bortel’s upbringing was not too different from my own. Her parents had said all the right things, “There are bad people who are white and there are good people who are white. There are bad people who are black and there are good people who are black.”
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