Being race conscious is the opposite of being colour blind – not seeing the race of others – and raceless – not seeing your own race or thinking it does not matter much: “I am just normal.”
Being race conscious is not the same thing as being racist – thinking or acting like one race is better than another: “Black people can never do anything right.”
You can be race conscious and yet not be racist. Martin Luther King, Jr, for example, did not seem to be very racist, yet he most certainly was race conscious – his life story would not make sense otherwise.
Some people say, “If you stop seeing race and making such a big deal about it, racism will go away.” That has been tried. It does not work. Since 1970 most White Americans have been brought up in a colour-blind way and yet they are still racist.
Because being race conscious is not the same thing as being racist. You can be racist without thinking all that much about race. In fact, it makes being racist easier because race barely enters conscious thought. That is why a white person can say “I am not racist” with a straight face and yet do something completely racist. Because they are that blind to their own racism.
In fact, most whites who are not racist go through a period where they become very race conscious, become unblind.
For people of colour in America race consciousness is not a choice. If their parents do not bring them up to be race conscious, it will be thrust upon them from having to live in a white racist world. Either that or they will be forced to conclude that there is something wrong with them, that white people truly are better.
It is hard for people of colour not to become race conscious: because of how their lives are shaped by race, because of how white people act towards them. They would be fools to “forget race” unless and until white people do.
The latest studies show that for black children too much race consciousness can be a bad thing if it leads them to always expect the worst from white people. On the other hand, having no race consciousness at all and therefore no pride in being black is bad too because it leaves them defenceless in the face of white racism.
Blacks in America are not equally race conscious throughout their lives. Sometimes it is pretty weak, like when they are little children or in their 30s, and sometimes it is very strong, like between the ages of 15 and 25 or sometimes in middle age. It goes up and down.