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‘Post-racial America’ isn’t a thing

| Thursday, January 23, 2014

Possibly the most despised concept I have encountered, a “post-racial” society embodies a world in which naïve individuals believe, because slavery is no longer legal in the United States and there is a black president in office, that racism has suddenly been abolished. I’m sorry to break the bad news, but we are anything but a progressive nation of racially accepting individuals.

A quick anecdote — I recently did a project on the ethnic identity at Notre Dame and found my primarily Caucasian classmates were very shocked to find that more than a dozen of my Latino peers have faced racial discrimination on campus over the past four years. Varying from blatant name calling by peers, to racial profiling by a broad spectrum of Notre Dame affiliates, racism is very much alive.

I am not angry my classmates had no idea racist and prejudiced people exist on this campus. I suppose I am a little happy I had the pleasure to meet those innocent enough to hold nothing but positive views of their racially diverse peers. Or maybe they were shocked people voiced their racist views directly to ethnic students instead of laughing about it among their white peers. I would like to think it is the first explanation, though. But, as much as our brochures and commercials would love to boast a diverse and united campus, there still exists a distinct tension amongst a fair amount of the student body.

On a greater scale, I recently read an article in which a well educated African American woman, unable to attain work, changed her name and ethnicity on a job-searching website to appear Caucasian and immediately received over a dozen job offerings, while her original account — listing her true identity — received only two. The fact that she was forced to change her identity in order to be acknowledged by employers is unbelievable and a concept many people with a purely European background and name would not be aware was even a concern for people of color. This instance alone is enough to prove that “post-racism” has yet to be achieved in the United States. To be terribly cliché and quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are not yet a nation that judges people “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” but a nation that values whiteness over darkness, ethnicity over skills and most importantly, appearance over character.

I am unsure as to where I stand in this situation, because although I identify with my Mexican American roots very strongly, my name has German origins from my father’s side, which in itself reads very well on paper. Without having met me, many people believe I am white, but my obviously racially-ambiguous features say otherwise. My father changed his last name a few decades ago to his paternal grandfather’s last name. He did so because he understood the necessity to assimilate as much as possible in America. But things are still uncertain for my future. My father is able to get away with being Caucasian or Latino when he chooses, but when the time comes for me to apply to jobs, will I be rewarded for my Caucasian name or rejected for appearing too ethnic and deemed unprofessional? Am I “light-skinned” enough to pass for Caucasian? Or am I not ethnic enough to fill the minority requirement for the company to which I will someday apply?

The fact that, statistically, I will likely be paid less than my white female counterpart is not acceptable. The fact that I will likely be passed up for a job because a less qualified, but more Caucasian-appearing woman looks better for the company is not acceptable. But in an America where job opportunities are difficult to come by, it is reality.

Many people say that ethnic individuals need to “get over” slavery, or segregation, or the mass genocide of Native Americans, because we now have equal rights and hundreds of years of slavery and racial and ethnic discrimination in the United States should be forgiven. Though we read about the Civil Rights Movement in our history books, we forget that out grandparents, and probably a lot of our parents, lived in a time where blacks, Latinos and other ethnic minorities were not equal to whites. There are people alive today in America who fully support segregation and see nothing wrong with their beliefs, and that alone is scary.

As much as I would love for one’s skin color or ethnic-sounding name not to play a part in the judgment of his or her character, it is reality. We will never live in a post-racial America. As pessimistic as that sounds, there will never be a point in which I can just be a human being. I will always be an “other” in predominantly white America. But, I am not sure if that’s a bad thing. I like being Mexican American. I like being recognized as an individual with a rich heritage and background. I will not apologize if I sound too “radical,” because this is anything but a militant rant as some may like to assume — it is presentation of reality. But I will yell “Viva La Raza!” if my “too liberal” words are not enough and that becomes what it takes for my ethnicity to be respected.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

About Katrina Linden

Katrina Linden is a sophomore English and Latino Studies major living in Lewis Hall.

Contact Katrina