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My Racism Recliner Test

In an age rife with race experts and workshops on anti-racism, it might be helpful to conjure an image of what a more or less colorblind society would look and feel like, especially from the vantage point of Black and brown folks. In his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama provided a glimpse of what the late congressman John Lewis referred to as “the blessed community,” which is one where we see one another as brothers and sisters.

A few chapters into the text, Obama reflects on his years at the elite Punahou High School in Honolulu. Largely raised by his Kansas-born white grandparents, the high school-age Obama was grappling with the issue of his identity as a young Black man in a multicultural society. Seeking some guidance, the skinny-legged hoopster would occasionally go over for a chat with Frank, an African American and longtime friend and card-playing chum of Obama’s grandfather. Frank reassured the future president that his gramps was basically a good guy, but then he added:

“But he doesn’t know me…. He can’t know me, not the way I know him. Maybe some of these Hawaiians can, or the Indians on the reservation. They’ve seen their grandfathers humiliated. Their mothers desecrated. But your grandfather will never know what that feels like. That’s why he can come over here and drink my whiskey and fall asleep in that chair you’re sitting in right now. Sleep like a baby. See, that’s something I can never do in his house. Never. Doesn’t matter how tired I get; I still have to watch myself. I have to be vigilant for my own survival.”

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