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Does race matter? It’s a question that was brought to me the other day. And in the midst of all that’s going on in America — the first black President in the White House, politicians remarking that black people were better off during slavery, celebrities using inappropriate and racially charged words — it’s a question that’s not out of place. So, does race matter?

I’m torn. Part of me wants to say that, no, race doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. After all, race is a socially constructed concept with no real, inherently biological traits to distinguish any one person from any other person. Race is a category based on the society of which we’re a part at any given time. Race has changed over time, and indeed will continue to change as society itself changes. In other words, ultimately, it means nothing.

Even though race shouldn’t matter, it does. American society is so heavily impacted by race that you couldn’t ignore its effects if you tried. (You could ignorantly try to deny them, however.) Hundreds of years of white supremacy and racial bias have made race such an integral part of our national identity that we may never be able to get past the color of each others skin.

That may seem pessimistic, yes, but it’s also the reality of the racial situation in America. Post racial America doesn’t exists. When racism, discrimination, and segregation are built into the foundation — even the very legislation — of the country, how can you absolutely eliminate it but to demolish the country and start over?

While America’s federal government system may not (ever) be post racial, perhaps the more important question is: are you? Have we, individually, learned to, not ignore a person’s race, but treat everyone the same regardless of their race? Does race matter to you?

This may be the more pertinent question because race and ethnic identity are intensely person. They are who we are. racial and ethnic issues are often times best dealt with on a individual level. The best way to create a post-racial America is to make sure that your America — the circles and spheres of influence of which you’re a part — are post-racial.

We often hear people use the “but I have X number of (enter race here) friends,” line in order to defend themselves from accusations of prejudice, but without having friends and acquaintances that are racially and ethnically diverse, we will never learn, grow, and begin to understand those who are not like ourselves. We must make conscious choices to diversify (in every sense of the word) the people we interact with, if for no other reason than because being around a bunch of clones who act, think, and talk just like you gets to be more than a little boring. Not to mention the fact that you never learn anything new or how to articulate and defend you perspectives and opinions if you never experience a positive that’s opposite yours.

But who cares about understanding peoples who are different from us? Why is that important? How would that benefit our lives? If you’d like to remain ignorant, close-minded, and selfish, it doesn’t. But who wants to do that? America is growing increasingly diverse every day; it would behoove all of us to at least strive to understand cultures and people who are different than us. Can it hurt? I think not. Can it help? Absolutely.

[Written by Stuart McDonald for Elev8.com. For more from Stuart, check out his personal blog, follow him on Twitter, and connect with him on Facebook.]

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