Trouble in Paradise

Racism and racial profiling are painfully far from being eliminated in this nation. Too often I hear people claiming that we are “better off now than fifty years ago.” Comparing the modern societal handling of race to Reconstruction or pre-Civil Rights Movement-America, however, is nothing short of ridiculous. Our attitudes toward racial policies must not depend on comparisons of present conditions with centuries, or even decades, past. We must, instead, literally determine whether today’s policies are better than yesterday’s. If recent years have brought us a step closer to full integration and an ideal society wherein race ceases to be an unconscious criteria in the perception of an individual, then we have made improvement. The aforementioned utopia may never come to fruition, but at least we recognize this balance, between being race-blind and appreciating the diversity of each individual culture, to represents the ideals of a racially equal society. Yet, how far have we come in reaching this goal? With three central steps, society has strove toward this racial balance since even before the Civil Rights Movement. The first step is to racially integrate society itself, shattering the numerous segregation laws that once controlled this nation. Today, almost all places, from schools to restaurants, are free to anyone, regardless of skin color. While there are certainly still cases of profiling and segregation, we have made dramatic leaps over the last few decades, and most importantly, are still moving forward. The second major step is the root of contemporary multiculturalism: to reinforce the fact that all cultures are equal and must be appreciated in their variations. On this level, too, we have made significant process; but let us not overlook this ultimate goal of civil rights movements throughout history. This goal is perhaps best expressed in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who implored that all people would one day be “judged not by the color of [one’s] skin, but by the content of [one’s] character.” Sadly, we seem to be frozen on this second step. The active “enforcement” of multiculturalism around the nation has produced increased awareness of various cultures, but that in itself is creating a new brand of prejudice. On our own campus, the extracurricular clubs that generally hold the largest memberships and most influence are not ones that celebrate the sharing ideas in equality, but race-centered ones such as Asian Society and Af-Lat-Am. The infamous CAMD office has long been the subject of campus-wide debates over its effectiveness and value to our community; the often-used example of seeing various “posses” upon entering Commons has become familiar in conversations and articles regarding race on campus. In strongly promoting each individual culture at PA and in greater society, are we forgetting our ultimate goal: race-blind judgment? Are we diverse to the point where enforcement of awareness has spawned new stereotypes? The idea of rampant self-segregation has already been beaten to death in discussions, but are awkward events like the controversial “Mix-it-up Day” the most viable solutions to the problem? Are the “multicultural” events on campus promoting diversity, or just ineffective fronts to show that we are, indeed, diverse? I found it rather ironic that while the administration broadly advertised the celebration of the Lunar New Year on a Wednesday, the actual holiday was grossly neglected. It would be unheard of to plan a semi-formal on the Solar New Year, yet the social event landed in conflict with the very time reserved for family celebrations. It is not fair to force any student to make a decision between attending an important social gathering and spending time with family on an integral, cultural holiday. The fried chicken and collard greens recently served on Black Arts weekend only perpetuated established stereotypes regarding the African-American culture. Our campus has reached the point where students are so aware of each diverse culture that they begin to involuntarily form presumptions based on race. To take the third step and create a truly equal society, we must also take a risk. Is it possible for this campus, and perhaps on a broader scale, our nation, to be too politically correct? Many students hide their true opinions in fear of the consequences for expression, yet if we were truly multicultural, there would not be a fear of reprisals for “politically incorrect” comments. In relaxing present restrictions and blurring the clear-cut boundaries between each race-based student group, there is the risk of seeing less than desirable opinions and behaviors. However, we cannot move on to the next phase without dangers, and we certainly cannot remain in this limbo. We need to open ourselves to these risks in order to continue forward, away from a campus and society so mired in its own enforced “diversity” that they have lost sight of true racial equality.