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Subjectively Objective: Staring at Race

Nathan PorterThis week marks the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

Although the 17-year-old’s murder cast a dark shadow of controversy over the nation a year ago, it also shined a necessary light on the bad habit we have of merely glancing at the surface of individuals. In this particular incident, Martin’s shooter merely glanced at his race.

While racially driven murders and overt discrimination are more seldom now than they were 40 years ago, today we still see the heart of those past actions manifested in racial profiling.

As a young black male, I have experienced racial profiling. Sadly, however, I have also racially profiled others.

Whether we admit it or not, we all suffer and contribute to racism in America.

To combat this, many reformists hope that we can one day arrive at a post-racial society, where all of humanity is racially colorblind.

I pray that day never comes.

I refuse to believe that a person’s skin color is some sort of cosmic mistake that should be ignored instead of embraced.

If society reached a point where we no longer saw skin color, I’m convinced humans would still find a way to stereotype based on gender, height, shoe size or one of the million other distinctive qualities that make people different.

In order to cure racism, we must first realize that race is not our enemy—glancing is.

Humans are obsessed with merely glancing at others and then placing labels on them.

Our desire to label is understandable, because labeling takes little effort. As children, labeling is the lens through which we begin to see the world.

As adults, however, labeling becomes the lens through which we begin to destroy it. Instead of attempting to understand the complexity of each human being, we have become content with merely glancing and making generalizations.

We glance at a young man’s baggy jeans thoroughly below his waist and we label him a thug; and we glance at a wise man’s snugly wrapped turban and label him a radical. But what’s the end result?

A year ago, George Zimmerman glanced at Trayvon Martin. The rest of the nation was forced to stare at the murderous implications of his glance.

Although our labeling will most likely never lead to murder, it consistently threatens to kill our common ground, which may be just as tragic.

However the solution is not to look look away. We must stare.

The only hope for racial progress, or any progress for that matter, lies in us staring.

Whether it’s at the mulatto skin of an elderly woman from El Salvador, the dark brown eyes of a man from Nairobi or the gauged ears of the teen from Oklahoma— looking deeper will only benefit us.

Honestly, I can’t imagine what society would look like if this were to happen. Maybe this is because my proposed theory is too impractical and ideal.

But maybe it is because a society that stares at the distinctiveness of each person transcends every label I could ever try to place on it.

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