Today is officially Martin Luther King's birthday. Barack Obama will be officially named president of the United States of America in five days. Martin hoped that one day black and white children could walk hand in hand under the same flag; Obama believes Americans share far more similiarities with each other than they're willing to admit. But even with these hopeful expectations from these grand men of color, many of us still navigate through race every day. Sarah Kershaw of the New York Times published an interesting article yesterday titled Talk About Race? Relax, It's O.K. In the article, Kershaw poses many questions, including: Why can't Whites seem to penetrate Blacks? Figuratively folks, figuritively!
Now I've heard it all from White Americans. From being told I look like Will Smith or Sidney Portier or NY Mets Jose Reyes to one of my grad school advisers randomly asking if my father was "in the picture" to dating someone outside my race who refused to believe my grandmother's grandmother was a schoolteacher. My date actually shouted, in a restaurant: How is that possible!?! And yes, at one point, I made some crazy assumptions, too. Being from 1980s Cincinnati, I assumed most Whites I encountered had the potential to get drunk on beer and call me the N word or boldly call "Black Music" jungle music. So, for a minute there, in my early youth, I stayed clear of Whites and any potential of racial crazy.
I'm convinced the interracial anxiety among Americans prevails because many Whites, intentionally or not, exist in a privileged bubble and there hasn't been any need [demanded or otherwise] to inquire about the social and historical complexities of Black people. Many of them, intentionally or not, approach Black people as a marginalized, monolithic, urban-dwelling, hip-hop loving entity and many of the Blacks I know have grown tired of addressing the oh-so-tiresome assumptions. It's a complicated issue, yes, and it's nothing new. But I believe a great start would be to restructure American History in the schools. [Because it's impossible to reverse time and start all over.] Study the great white presidents and revoluntaries in detail, but also study the great black minds and revolutionaries in even greater detail. Balance it out. Make it institution. Now that's a start, I think, to remedying interracial anxiety.
Keith Josef Adkins is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and social commentator.