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Facing race.

RACE HAS BEEN PASSE for some time now. Even when it does break through the sound barrier into national dialogue--even with something as mighty and undeniable as Hurricane Katrina--the story becomes about inept government bureaucracy, or pathologizing Black people, and finally fading to indifference. In fact, race seems to surface in our national culture only as a gimmick, in celebrity meltdowns or reality shows that traffic in the most blatant stereotypes of people of color behaving badly. We have the license to laugh at racism, but not the will to end it.


Everyone agrees that disparities exist, and they tear at the fabric of a society where rapid demographic change and persistent segregation exist side by side. People of color are now 33 percent of the population in the U.S. and growing. And across every major indicator--for affordable housing and healthcare, access to quality public education and meaningful employment--communities of color face debilitating outcomes. Disparities exist, but why and what to do about them?

For conservatives, the explanation lies in centering racism within the individual. Social problems, discrimination and disparities are reduced to "individual acts of meanness," as Tarso Ramos of Political Research Associates puts it in our cover story. The solution lies in colorblindness and personal responsibility. This ideology is being used in the campaign to dismantle affirmative action, and to drive the defunding of social programs.

Although civil rights and fairness are values held by many, there are few avenues toward common language to speak to these values. There are few outlets to hear voices and stories that tell the truth about race from the bottom up. Just look at two major stories about people of color from the last year--immigration and Katrina. Immigrants have been compared by some immigration restrictionists to "livestock" at the border, to criminals and terrorists. Black residents of New Orleans were portrayed as looters. We have distorted and fragmented understandings of what is going on--and sometimes no public understanding at all of what is happening in communities that are treated as disposable.

As the stories in this issue show, solutions designed without racial equity in mind can actually deepen the divide. BiDil, the first "race drug," marketed to Black folks at a socking profit to drug manufacturers, or the "driving privilege" card for immigrants are examples of how a race debate framed by the other side leads to solutions that do nothing for our communities.

"Racial equity is about lifting all boats by providing everyone with what they need to succeed," writes Tammy Johnson in this issue. But to get there, we need to counter a whole tide of popular thinking that dismisses race as a distraction or uses it as modern-day minstrelsy. Colorblindness is the dominant frame today in America. How can we change that?

I'd like to hear your thoughts. Join us on RaceWire, The ColorLines Blog, and let's continue the conversation.

Tram Nguyen

Executive Editor
COPYRIGHT 2007 Color Lines Magazine
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Nguyen, Tram
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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