Monday, April 15, 2013

Let's Talk About That

I was recently surprised to find multiple racist comments or conversation on my facebook feed during a single morning.

One conversation was in response to a black man who was upset that a restaurant server set their customer name to "5 black guys," and this name showed up on their receipt at the end of their meal.  The original poster wanted to bring some attention to a subtle racist act.  While I could rationalize the server's intentions, there is still a small hint of black racism in this story.  But more shocking were the comments: 3 in a row who chose to demean the original poster, claiming not only that he was unreasonably offended, but that racism isn't even an issue in the US anymore.  I was shocked by this, and I didn't even know how to respond.

Another was a shared article by a friend who sides with the political far right.  The article discussed in length the extent of black violent crimes in the US.  It cited statistics (mostly skewed or spun) that seemed to support an apparent epidemic of black violent crimes.  Moreso, the author was not bashful in making his purpose known: that the country should do more to punish black crimes.

When sharing this experience with a coworker, I was shown a piece of racist writing that was even more alarming.  A nearby local paper published a letter to the editor that was written in response to Black History Month.  The writer not only asks for a White History Month, but lists her reasons why whites deserve recognition.  The list includes white charity work to benefit poor black people, white graduation and crime rates as compared to black, and the simple fact that we brought 600,000 black people to the US in the slave trade, allowing them to live good, free, Christian lives in the US.  Amazingly, this person let her name and hometown be published with the letter, leaving me to wonder how much self control will have be summoned by her readers to keep her house and safety intact in the coming weeks.

When considering these scenarios together, I find a common thread, but it's nothing new or groundbreaking.  The common assumption between the three stories lies in the racial stereotypes that are so ingrained in our culture.  We've come to believe that a long list of positive traits are naturally attributed to white people, and a long list of negative traits are naturally attributed to black people (or any minority race).  Don't believe it?  Follow the link below to a Harvard study, based on a similar groundbreaking study developed by Berkeley about 10 years ago.  According to Berkeley's original results, even black people are more likely to show black racist tendencies through this study.  Give it a shot!
(Select Race IAT)

The study measures how quickly your brain associates white/good and black/bad, as opposed to white/bad and black/good.  Rather than testing your thoughtful reactions (every question has a clear correct answer), it measures your gut instinct.  When the study was first released, we finally had clear evidence of how far racial stereotypes have ingrained themselves in our society.  We had evidence that racism didn't disappear after the civil rights movement lead by icons such as Martin Luther King, Jr.

No, racism has just taken a more subtle role in our society.  Rather than seeing communities with full racial segregation, we see neighborhoods that attract specific races, or companies that tend to employee one race of another.  Friendships tend to be mono-racial because of the prevalent instinctual divide.  An irrational fear or judgment against a particular skin tone or race often prevents any level of open, honest connection between people of different races.

What really surprised me about the situations described above was that each one included claims that racism is dead.  In some situations, the comment chastised the original storyteller for turning something into a racism issue.  In another, the person who shared the news story said he didn't even notice the message of racism  The white community, in most cases, doesn't notice or consider racism.  I can personally attest to this, as I feel I've only become truly aware of the magnitude of racism in the last year.

I've come to believe that our adopted child will most likely be black, or at least racially different from us.  As I've dreamed about this scenario, I've become more intentional about eradicating racism from my life.  Recently, I've even noticed hints of protective fatherly rage in my reactions.

The big question for me: how do I react to racism?

First, I need to intentionally bridge the gap in my own life.  I need to check my tone and my instincts, and make sure I show the same openness and friendliness to everyone, especially people of other races.  I need to work on my relationships with my black friends as much as I do with my white friends.  I need to show intentional goodwill to the point that my instincts change, and I no longer have racism ingrained in my reactions.

Second, I need to foster change in the world around me.  While racism isn't as rampant as it once was, it still lurks dangerously below the surface of our society.  As the old saying goes, "the Devil's biggest trick was making us believe he doesn't exist."  The problem is out there, and we as a society (especially white society) need to acknowledge it before we can solve it.

We all should respond to acts of racism with love and empathy, all the while edifying a different-yet-equal community.  We need to promote black history, latino culture, and asian heritage as a great part of peoples' ancestry, and we need to acknowledge the dark marks on white history, like black slavery, Japanese internment camps, and the trail of tears, which tore us apart at the seams of racial separation.  We need to stop identifying each other solely by what makes us different, but we also need to embrace our differences.  Just like a strong marriage, the joining of our differences can bring about a greatness that we could never reach alone.

I ask one thing of my readers today: Admit the existence of racism in America, and confess your part to the problem.

I am a white man in a racist nation.  I have taken on the racist identity of our country.  I am part of the problem.  Now, I choose to be part of the solution.

Always moving forward,


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