Michelle D. Bernard, chairman, founder, president and CEO of the Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy, explained that when Americans are walking down the street and encounter a black woman, the first thing they think is: Look, there's a black woman.
Just as when I see a white man walking down the street, I can't help noticing that there's a man and he's white.
Bernard, a guest on the McGoofy Group (Mike Royko's term for the McLaughlin Group on WTTW 11) brought up this
wisdom when the discussion turned to whether America had made much progress since Dr. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech 50 years ago. (Has it really been 50? As I 21-year-old, I watched enthralled as King made perhaps the greatest speech of his and our generation.) Bernard was elaborating on the idea that no matter how far we've gone, there's always that dark recess in the minds of white people that first identify an African-American's race before anything else.
Well, of course, we do. Because that's what we see. Just as we see a person wearing a coat. Or a person jogging. Or a person with a baby.
What we see at first glance is not the question. What matters most is what meaning we attach to what we see. There no doubt are people who upon seeing a black woman, man or child will immediately think of an "inferior" person. Or something else hurtfully and dangerously stereotypical.
But I submit that it is not so for most Americans. At least not like it was a half century ago. If we are to make progress in race relations, it is time to give up the mind-reading. It's time to stop assuming that because we notice a person's race that we are harboring evil thoughts.
By the way, when I first saw Michelle Bernard, I thought, "There's an attractive woman." But that doesn't mean that I harbored sexist, misogynist or lecherous thoughts. I mean, come on, give me a break. Can't we just get along?