What Makes Us Racist?

I am a great believer that activities or behavior that have no direct payoff rarely persist. For anyone to continue in some manner of conduct, there has to be something to gain. So, when someone tells me, "I don't understand how anyone can be racist in this day and age," I simply sign and smile. Just to clarify, it's one thing to say, "I am not racist" with gusto, it's quite another to be anti-racist. No-one is born a racist. Racism is something that we learn. Little children do not understand racism or partake in it until we adults get involved. Saying "I am no racist" means that we would not necessarily treat someone else in a socially unacceptable way because of the color of their skin but it does not mean that we will stand up to racist behavior being exhibited by others around us. An anti-racist on the other hand will not accept racially motivated behavior from themselves or from others. They speak up quickly and the speak up loudly. They are not complacent simply because they are not directly affected. Until we all become anti-racists, there can be no real hope of trust, healing, restoration and peace.

So, what makes us racist? Being racist could mean a variety of things and manifest in a variety of ways. It may mean that we are yet to develop an independent identity of our own so we simply take on the beliefs and views of those around us, regardless of how dysfunctional those views might be. It manifests by not speaking up for our black colleagues when we should. It may mean we dislike a certain group even though we have never had any direct negative experience regarding any representative from the group. We get stuck in a place where we go along with the crowd, a phenomenon often referred to as the bandwagon effect, where our erroneous opinions are strengthened by others in our group. This bias means we think or act in a certain way because others are doing the same and the need to belong to the group is so strong that we do not give our actions a second-thought. The gratification from being part of the group seems to weigh more than an honest evaluation of our habits and it is this kind of lack of independent thinking that causes great pain and sorrow to others.

I recently saw a 45-year old woman on the news who had never engaged in a conversation with a black man - ever. I was shocked but at the same time, I understand why she didn't feel like she needed the experience. Evidently, there has been a huge incentive for sticking with her kind as she appeared quite successful. The "There is us and there is them" mentality had worked very well in her favor thus far. I imagined myself never having a conversation with a white man and the idea seemed preposterous. There would be no iota of success in my life if my story were the same. Even though it may seem normal for us to only want to engage with people who look like us, talk like us, like what we like and have similar backgrounds, we have to resist the urge to exist with such narrow-mindedness. We never grow if we are only with our kind. Nothing develops or stretches until it becomes uncomfortable. By remaining in our groups, we cheat ourselves out of the gift of hearing the stories of others and enriching our own lives. When we stick with our kind, we are destined to pass quick and baseless judgments on those who are different. We fall into the trap of stereotyping others - like referring to young African-American protesters as thugs and justifying our refusal to hire African-American women because we say we just want to avoid the drama. In essence, we take one singular experience and deploy it across an entire race.

Some privileged folks have mentioned the need to take the country back. I am not quite sure what the Native Americans will have to say about that. Another ridiculous statement came from a man named Richard B. Spencer, that African-Americans have a far better life in America than they would have in Africa. The only questions I would ask are, "Why did Africans get shipped over here? Why didn't we just leave them in Africa?" No-one wants to live in a society where they are marginalized. No human wants to be treated as a second-class citizen in a society they call home. Africans helped build this country with their sweat and many times, with their very lives. Blaming immigrants for the ills of society is not just ignorant, it seems to me to be the easy way out. Thinking immigration poses a threat to our safety or national identity is totally baseless. Human beings have issues. We all have problems regardless of the race we classify ourselves as. We each must take responsibility for our progress or lack thereof. What makes America great is its ability to welcome all and give everyone an opportunity to make something of their lives. Why would anyone want to take this country back in time?

Another reason why racism is prevalent is arrogance. The insane belief that some races are superior to others. This is a school of thought anchored by great cluelessness. There are "not-so-smart" people in every race. Someone once said, "Racial superiority is a mere pigment of the imagination." [Unknown]. I have to agree. This is a notion we all must work hard to resist. Just as we are different on the outside, we are also different with regards to our areas of strength. Besides, who set the standards for what being smart truly means?

Since the evolution of DNA ancestry tests, many people are now afraid to disclose their true race because of the fear of being viewed as inferior or the trauma of exclusion. So, although black in some fashion, they live their entire existence posing as white. The story of George is an interesting example. He's always identified as white. It wasn't until he was in his sixties that he came clean that he was 29% black because his father was mixed-race. Asked why he claimed to be fully white all is life, with tears running down his face, he simply said: "Because it was easier."

Minority groups have a lot to deal with, especially black people. Rather than jump on the bandwagon to looks like it's beginning to slow down, why not be an ally to the black person right next to you? Believe that they have struggles that you will never understand. Don't sit in silence when you sense racial microaggressions or jokes. If you have no black friends, this is your chance to make some. Rather than trying to come up with some narrative of your own about the black experience, why not come alongside them and just listen to their story? You may be amazed by what you hear. 

Instead of looking for all the things that make us different, why don't we focus on important values we have in common such as justice, family, community, hope, peace and love. Rather than harbor deep-seated opinions and stereotypes about those who are different, let's reach our hands across the aisle and begin to address the systemic obstacles in our education, justice, healthcare and financial systems that prevent equal opportunities for all. We all want the American dream for ourselves and our children, let's not look the other way and watch it being denied to others.

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