Scan the news on any given day in America, and you will invariably find multiple stories about race, racism, ethnicity, and race relations. We can’t seem to get enough of this topic, and correspondingly, the media appetite for all things race-related is unquenchable.
Racism is one of the more tragic features of the human condition. Like greed, envy, and other sins, it has been around for thousands of years, on every continent.
So here we are, in the most advanced, successful, and powerful nation in the history of the world, and yet we continue to struggle to get past the color of each other’s skin.
There is no more shallow, hollow, or soulless way to think about human beings than in terms of their skin color. It is completely inane. Under what logic would any intelligent, logical, or decent person give any thought to the pigmentation of a person’s epidermis? It’s nothing short of immoral, not to mention stupid (oops…there’s that word again).
On the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech in August 1963, many are asking the question: Are we in a better place today when it comes to race relations?
Yes and no. On the yes side, consider the following:
My parents immigrated to the United States from India a few years after Dr. King was assassinated. They came looking for an equal opportunity, and they got it, in the Deep South, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My parents wanted only to be judged based on the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
In 2003, I decided to run for governor of Louisiana, a state where David Duke got 44 percent of the statewide vote in 1990. The pundits said I was insane to even try. Friends worried about my mental stability and begged me not to run. I narrowly lost that first race, but I’ve won every race since then. I wish I had a nickel for every time East Coast political journalists have asked me about discrimination, and I wish I had a dime for every Louisiana voter who has broken those journalists’ ugly stereotypes.
Here’s what I’ve found in Louisiana: The voters want to know what you believe, what you stand for, and what you plan to do, not what shade your skin is. And I think that’s true of the country as a whole: America’s younger generation pays less attention to skin color than the generations that preceded them. (By the way, I noticed recently that the president of the United States, a man with whom I disagree with on almost everything, seems to have darker skin than most Americans. He hasn’t had a problem getting elected.)
When I look at America, I see a country that increasingly has lost its way in terms of morality. As a Christian, as I look at American culture over the past half century, I don’t like a lot of what I see. Divorce is through the roof, pornography is everywhere, sexual predators are on the loose and on the Internet, our abortion rate is higher than almost every First World country, vulgarity and profanity are mainstream and commonplace. In general, our culture has become coarser, and I regret that.
I do believe however, that while racism still rears its ugly head from time to time, America has made significant progress in the half century since Dr. King’s incredible speech.
But not all the news is good. In another respect, we have taken some steps backward. We all remember learning in grade school about America as the great “melting pot” — a concept that was completely compatible with Dr. King’s dream of every American being judged on the content of his character and not the color of his skin. You come to the United States and you become an American, regardless of your heritage, your ethnicity, your traditions, or your accent. But now we seem to act as if that melting pot is passé, an antiquated notion.
We have made tremendous progress, but as long as our society is comprised of imperfect human beings, we will always be striving for a more perfect union. We must not let this constant process prevent us from acknowledging the enormous strides we have already made.
Yet we still place far too much emphasis on our “separateness,” our heritage, ethnic background, skin color, etc. We live in the age of hyphenated Americans: Asian-Americans, Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Indian-Americans, and Native Americans, to name just a few.
Here’s an idea: How about just “Americans?” That has a nice ring to it, if you ask me. Placing undue emphasis on our “separateness” is a step backward. Bring back the melting pot.
There is nothing wrong with people being proud of their different heritages. We have a long tradition of folks from all different backgrounds incorporating their traditions into the American experience, but we must resist the politically correct trend of changing the melting pot into a salad bowl. E pluribus Unum.
When I became chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association last year, I gave this advice to the Republican Party: If you want people to like you, a good place to start is to demonstrate that you like them.
I try to treat people as individuals, and that is the way I want to be treated. I’m extremely proud of my parents and family, but that does not deter me from going “all in” on the idea of America. Put simply, I just do not care about the color of anyone’s skin – or eyes or hair either, for that matter.
We are all created in the image of God — skinny, fat, tall, short, dark, light, whatever. Who cares? What does it matter? It’s time to get over it. It’s time for the end of race in America. Now that would be progress.
Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana. This piece originally appeared at POLITICO.