March 5, 2009

What is post-racial America?

Posted in Between Us column, Diversity, Employment at 6:04 am by dinaheng

I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately.

It started with a conversation over lunch with some friends who were debating the meaning of post-racial America in the Age of Obama. Now that we have an African-American president, has it changed the way people think about those of another race?

One friend said, “Of course it does. Just look at what happened on Inauguration Day. Thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C. and there wasn’t a single scuffle or arrest.”

Another friend said, “Nothing’s changed. People are more polite, but it doesn’t mean they don’t hold the same racist fear in their hearts.”

In my mind, post-racial America isn’t about erasing racial differences and living in a society that no longer sees the color of our skin. It’s about celebrating our differences and finding the commonality in our human experience.

I live in California, and the people I interact with every day come from diverse backgrounds. My next door neighbors are Iranian Americans. My closest friends in town are Anglo, Hispanic and Asian Americans. Dear friends elsewhere are African American.

We rarely talk about race. Instead, we talk about our work, our passions outside work, our families, and our spiritual beliefs. There’s a bond of love between us that’s earned, and a relationship that continues out of choice.

Last week, I met with a group of Asian-American journalists who had gathered to discuss our cultural values and career goals. We took a look at how Asian cultural values could conflict with corporate American values, and how our families viewed race.

In my family, I was never taught to reach out to people of different cultures. I come from a very traditional Chinese-American background, born to a father who always wanted sons, and got seven daughters instead.

My mom, who rarely spoke up when she disagreed with my dad, didn’t find her voice until late in their marriage, scolding Dad for his decision not to attend the wedding of a daughter who chose to marry a Caucasian.

Dad didn’t go to that wedding, but over the years, he’s come to like and respect his first Caucasian son-in-law. When I see how far he’s come, I know there’s hope for the rest of us.

My curiosity about other cultures comes from being a journalist and a sci-fi fan. I absolutely believe there’s intelligent life everywhere in the universe, despite occasional evidence to the contrary on this planet. So when I meet new people, I don’t look at them, so much as I look into them.

As a journalist, I know that everyone has a story, and that at the heart of who we are is the need to love and be loved. Diversity isn’t about race or ethnicity. It’s about how we experience life, how we assign meaning to action, and how willing we are to see ourselves in another.

At the end of the week, I ended up holding a friend as she cried. She was struggling with her own bi-racial identity in a world that all too often doesn’t see the wholeness of who we are.

I couldn’t help but think of some of my nieces and nephews who are also bi-racial. Most are younger than 12 years old, and rarely refer to friends or family by race. For them, post-racial America means defining people as being short, tall, fat, cool, or just plain weird.

Now that’s something worth thinking about.

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