For a long, long time, I have bought into the mindset of colorblindness - that is, that our ultimate goal in equality is to reach some magical epiphany in which we perceive no racial differences at all. Or for that matter, no differences in sexuality, religion, language, politics, whatever.
We would all be the same. And that would fix everything.
The more we think about it, though, the more we should realize that first, that's incredibly realistic. And second, it isn't what we should hope for.
The more time I spend with people of different color, national origin and beliefs from mine, the more I realize that they face challenges I will never truly understand.
I worry about how to pay for my children's college education. A good portion of our Hispanic population of our town is just worried whether their DREAMer kids will ever be allowed to seek higher education.
Not everyone is concerned primarily with a mortgage, affording a nicer car, or improving their golf game.
Today I was writing a story about dropout rates. The handy picture available was of a troubled-looking, well dressed, very white girl. Problems like dropout rates, mental health, poverty, drugs, homelessness and so on cross all the lines, but not equally.
Dropout rates vary widely by ethnicity and socio-economic levels. That's fact. Many of our social challenges will not be solved by pretending that absolute equality exists, or will ever exist.
There was an interesting guest editorial in the Iowa State Daily newspaper, by psychology grad student Meredith Tittler. She wrote:
"The first time I became really aware of my white privilege wasn't until I was 28 and noticed something happening on Facebook and other social media... when the Ferguson riots began.
"My Black/African-American friends on Facebook posted about the riots, the police brutality that spurred the riots and the years of systemic practices that set our country up for a 'boiling' point - they posted news stories, articles, videos and poetry all addressing these topics.
"My friends of color were passionate about these issues, they were angry about these issues, and these issues were the prominent thoughts in their minds and in their hearts. When they sat down at their computers, these issues were the first things they shared with the world. These friends of mine also participate in the 'normal' activities defined by U.S. mainstream culture like my white friends do. A lot of them were or are in grad school, they're buying houses, forming or ending relationships and going to this or that concert - but what was most important to them were these pressing issues of race.
"My white friends (myself included) continued to post on grad school, buying houses, going to concerts, etc. The riots in Ferguson were just another news item that, for the most part, would go unnoticed. This was the first time I had the thought, 'well, that's kind of screwed up.'
"White privilege had never been held in front of my face like that. It made me angry at myself, and it made me angry at my other white friends. Myself and other white friends of mine who are passionate about certain social-political issues like the environment or women's reproductive health - who see ourselves as forward-thinkers and always trying to do the right thing - have been swimming through a sea of privilege of which I am only now becoming aware of.
"We have been able to choose the issues that feel most important to us. My friends of color cared about the riots erupting around the country not because it seemed like a valid human-rights concern, but because they have always experienced what it means to be a person of color in a country built on the pillars of white privilege.
"They have not been able to choose their concerns. The fact that myself and other white people in this country can choose what we really care about is kind of screwed up...
"For me, I think some of the first steps involve acknowledging the fact that I grew up in a town that was 98 percent white and that I was taught at a young age that everyone is 'equal' (my early indoctrination that there are no "races" [i.e., colorblindness]). I didn't live a multiracial reality where I had friends and peers who identified as people of color until my 20s and even then I have always been in the racial/ethnic majority. In many ways, I am still ignorant. I have biases or prejudices of which I am not aware but that I am learning to identify."
That's it, really. A key step in learning isn't how much we know, but recognizing how much we don't.
Equality isn't about not being seen any more as black, or white, or Latino or Asian, gay or straight or transgender, citizen or not, religious or not, liberal or conservative or apolitical, young or old, rich or poor.
It is about having the same basic opportunities to have those issues that impact our lives seen and heard and cared about.
Blindness to the differences among us would be a terrible thing. It would rob of us of the opportunity to discover and appreciate all that is different and unique in every segment - really every individial - that makes up America.
All of the joys and sadnesses and challenges. We will never be the same, and that's good. Sameness isn't the goal here, understanding is.