It’s 2017, and progress has been made. This can seem hard to believe in today’s tempestuous sociopolitical climate, but it is undeniable. The United States of America has elected the world’s first clown president. Clowns are an underrepresented minority in the United States. Young clowns now have someone they can look up to in the White House. Someone with unnaturally painted skin and a bad wig. Someone who used to be funny, but is now hated and feared by many Americans.
Clown jokes aside, I really do feel that progress has been made. Sure, we don’t live in a perfect world, but we live in a pretty interesting one.
Last year, when I was at an IHOP with a couple of friends, I had an eye opening experience which I have reflected on many times since. We were sitting at a table, and I was in a seat facing the windows at the front of the restaurant. There was a boy sitting alone nearby, clearly waiting for someone. He made small talk with my friends and I before returning to his solitude. As we were eating our pancakes, he leaned over to me and gestured to my friend’s cracked Android.
“No iPhone?” He whispered loudly. “But she’s white!” I laughed at the private joke and it’s implications. My friend is white. White girls have money. People with money buy iPhones. The boy and I are black, so we can share insides jokes about white girls with total strangers. These were the implications, though they were not necessarily true. Later in the meal, I saw a white boy walking towards the IHOP. Something about him stood out to me. He was dressed ostentatiously, adorned with gleaming ornaments and a backwards snap-back.
“Look at this white boy,” I remarked to my friends. The boy sitting nearby responded by shooting out of his seat.
“You talkin’ bout my best friend?” He asked. The boys embraced one another. I sat in quiet contemplation while my friends laughed at me, and I pondered the purpose of my comment. Why did I feel the need to point out this particular white boy? Why did I classify him by race, and not say ‘look at this ostentatiously dressed boy?’ What were the implications of what I had said? Implications, for better or for worse, are prevalent in our society, and it is important to question them.
Progress is, in my opinion, the act of minimizing big problems, until all the problems you have are small problems. We talk about micro-aggressions because we don’t have to talk about the plague. We now have a responsibility to think critically about our thoughts and our actions when it comes to race, because it is something that affects all of our lives, whether we want it to or not.
Everyone is free to make jokes, but it is irresponsible to make jokes without ever thinking critically. Critical thinking allows you to make decisions you come to on your own terms, rather than blindly following, or ignoring a list of rules you don’t understand. In these confusing times, we must remember that it is our right and our duty to think critically, think responsibly, and think for ourselves.