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Querube Suarez-Werlein: Race is a factor that can’t be denied

The race talk. We’ve all been there. The lasting silence that is a group consciously trying to be politically correct. The uncertain glances toward members of different races, trying to judge their reactions.

My generation is the Pavlovian dog of this conversation. We have learned that it is right to value equality. The remarks we make reflect this. People have good intentions, and are cautious not to offend. One phrase has crept into the dialogue masquerading as a continuation of Martin Luther King’s dream, but in reality insinuates a slew of falsehoods: “Race isn’t important.”

Dwell on that. Now remember: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Those words were famously spoken by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington.

“That sounds about right,” some of you may be saying. You’re not wrong. This isn’t a question of whether a person’s temperament and personality should be more important than their appearance. It is. This isn’t a question of whether different races are significantly different genetically. They are not.

This is really a question of whether we choose to address the bitter truth, or leave it to fester.

Race exists. In fact, it has been the determining factor in how some people have been treated historically. Every time the phrase “race isn’t important” is uttered, an invitation is extended to a color-blind mentality and ignorance of the facts.

Color-blindness operates under the assumption that we are living in a country that is “post-race” — a country that does not have prejudice or discrimination. It works off of the foundation that in order to be truly equal, we need to act as though race does not exist at all. Race and ethnicity have no real significance and therefore should be completely disregarded.

I fail to see how this works in a country that has in the past mistreated some because of their race, or that to this day continues to mistreat based on race. Sure, we live in an age where the first black president has been elected — twice, a couple of races are represented in the media and Jim Crow laws have long been repealed. But not so long ago, that wasn’t true.

When determining blackness in the slavery era, the “one drop rule” was law. It happened to the Japanese during the World War II, and yet again to “those who look illegal” under Arizona’s law SB 1070. Perception of race is a determining factor in legislation, a pattern so repeated that it has become integral.

The effects of race are tangible and real. This realization may leave an unsettling feeling in your stomach. But it is in our best interests to accept it as such.

So instead of denying the existence of race or the implications of race, let us welcome it with open arms. Different races present different experiences and different perspectives. It is an opportunity to grow as individuals and as a society. United in a common goal of bettering our social world.

Querube Suarez-Werlein of Amherst is a junior at Deerfield Academy. She is attending the School for Ethics and Global Leadership in Washington, D.C., this fall.

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