One of the big problems with racism in America is that a lot of people, white people, only think of it in extremes. They will admit that there are still some racist people around, but not a lot, except, possibly, in places like Mississippi. That is, except for people in Mississippi, who say Mississippi is not racist, maybe it exists elsewhere, not here. Not in America. I mean, sure, there are some Klansmen running around, but everyone hates them, right? I mean, I hate the KKK, so I can’t be racist. That is how people see it – if there are no extremes, there is no racism.
It is easy to find many types of racism at many levels.
At work there are those people who think they are well meaning but might say some insensitive things here and there, not realizing that it makes some of their team members feel unwanted. And then there is that hiring person who doesn’t realize that for some reason they call a person named James much quicker than Jamel, that they hire someone, who coincidentally is white, because they will fit in with the group better than the other candidate, who just happens to be black. Study after study shows this happens all of the time. It is the rule, not the exception.
And then there are the issues with our criminal justice system. Not just cases of institutionalized racism in some police departments, but the very laws we have on the books, as well as how they are treated, are often racist. Hint, things that rich people do that totally destroy lives and wreck the economy are not crimes, but little things that poor people do that really don’t hurt anybody else, are crimes, crimes that black people have been killed by cops for committing.
And, of course, the economic injustices in our system are awful. Read this article from the BBC. So, pay disparity between blacks and whites remain unchanged since 1960. Whites have, on average, accumulated a lot of wealth, while blacks haven’t. Poverty, jobs, college, housing, etc., our system works against first poor people and second black people. The poor black get a double whammy. Despite decades of giving lip service of doing it, we have not leveled the playing field.
There is a problem, despite what many of my Facebook friends seem to think. A problem exists.
To fix a problem, no matter how small or big, from a burnt-out light bulb to a geo-political situation, you need to recognize that there is a problem.
Let me say that again, it is important: the first step of solving a problem is recognizing, admitting, that there is a problem.
To solve racism, we have to, HAVE to admit that it exists and that we are part of the problem.
Think of it like an AA meeting where the first thing you do is admit you have a problem by telling everyone that you are an alcoholic, even if it has been 35 years since your last drink. Here we say, “Hello. My name is Trent and I am a racist, even though I haven’t knowingly said or done something racist in 35 years.” People may look at me, smile and shake their head. No, not Trent. But unless I take a deep and truthful (painful) look in the mirror, I cannot change and improve. I can’t grow.
Part of that is admitting mistakes. We all make mistakes. We have to admit them and try to change them. I have said insensitive things. Did I make someone feel bad or unwelcome? I hope not, but since I admit that I did it, I can work to change it so hopefully I won’t hurt someone in the future.
As with AA, it is lifetime burden we have to work on every day.
Even if you can’t think of one thing you have ever done that is racist, not one thing you said or thought, still take a look and try to learn. You might not see anything, but realize that there may be something there that you can’t see. In fact, error with caution and assume there is a problem.
The first thing, after admitting that there is a problem, is to educate yourself.
First, listen. Yes, you occasionally see the black person who says that racism doesn’t exist, that there are just some cry-babies in the black community, but don’t listen to them. Ignore that person and listen to all of the others.
I have heard top politicians (including a black Republican congressman, so not just Dems), generals, industry leaders, etc. who talk about daily things they put up with, and possibly one or two huge, scary stories. And then there are black professionals, from teachers and lawyers to top scientists, who give example after example. And then, just common folk who talk about daily ordeals. This isn’t just an issue inner city or poor black people put up with, it is every walk of life. Listen. Learn.
These people and others may have ideas beyond their personal experience. Listen. Learn.
Racism in America is a problem, a problem we need to try to solve.
Those are the first steps on the road to the solution: admitting that there really is a problem, that you might be a part of the problem, and then trying to learn the shape and dimension of the problem. If we do not do this, the problem cannot be solved.
But if we do this, admit America has a problem, listen to those who are talking, and learn, then perhaps, together we can find a solution.
(Below are a few notes that “explain” some of my comments and go deeper on others. These aren’t part of the post, but I hope you read it.)
First, let me say that most racism is a subtle thing. It isn’t just those huge acts of violence. Typically, a person doing something racist has no idea he or she just did something racist. If you point it out, the first statement would be, “I’m not racist! I have black friends and coworkers! Ask them…” Most of the racism is deeply ingrained, part of our culture, our upbringing, and often even part of our religion. It is a prejudice, where we think we know. It is those little bits of folklore or stereotypes. It is seeing someone doing something and expanding it to all. For most people (there are obvious exceptions!) it is the little forms that are there, the ones that are hard to see and so hard to correct. Things like saying insensitive comments that we use all of the time which unintentionally belittle people.
OK, we all say insensitive things without meaning harm. We’re human. We say them to all types of people. We just need to try understand that we do it and try to correct it, particularly those bits of “low hanging fruit”, the little untruths or half truths people say all of the time without understanding the impact, the history or the deeper meaning. A little education goes a long way. Remember that an insensitive comment can be taken as a hurtful comment, and a hurtful comment can come across as hateful. We need to be careful with our language, and try to learn. If someone says something bothers them, believe it, and perhaps try to find out why it bothers them.
In that last paragraph I talked about believing people. That is a huge one. There are people telling you truths about their lives every day, and yet so many people discount these truths. “It isn’t really that bad, or at least not all of the time. I never do anything like that.” Maybe you don’t, but still, listen! When I talk about insensitive and hurtful comments, that is a great example. It may seem innocent to you, but it tells people that you do not value their experience. It tells them they are not believed. They are seen as less.
I am a white person. In my everyday life I rarely see racism. If I see a black person in the store, he or she is like anybody else, and I barely take notice. That does not mean that that person didn’t experience racism in that store while I was there, I just didn’t see it. If they come up to me later and tell me it happened, do I believe them?
I know, I have been repetitive with this, but for a reason. That is the place that I feel most well-meaning whites are at their most racist – not believing, discounting, finding excuses, etc. No, it isn’t cross burning, but it is another burden, it belittles, make people feel undervalued. Unwanted. Less than. It is part of racism, and the most stubborn part, the part that is almost impossible to root up.
Another similar phrase to, “it isn’t that bad,” that I hear all of the time is, “I’m not racist, but…” This is usually followed by some generality that comes across as hateful.
First, when the person says, “I’m not racist,” they believe it 100% because they see racism as this awful, cross-burning, lynching thing, not as the subtle prejudice that it often is. The term “racist” has super-ugly connotations because we only see the extreme. Stop, don’t be afraid of that word, and look to the subtle meaning of “racist” and “racism”.
People are so binary. When I say not believing is racist, I am not saying it is on the same level as beating someone to death for their color. There are a million levels and a million subtleties on each level. That is another issue – painting it all with the same brush.
And if you are about to say, “I’m not racist, but…”, look at what comes after “but” and try to find out the truth behind your thought. Often you don’t understand the history or the culture. Or your information might be wrong, usually in the form of one person did it, so you blame the entire “race”. Or there might be something else in there. You might be repeating something someone who has a an agenda said. Or an outright racist said. Try to find our before saying something hateful.
We need to look a little beyond the surface. Some racism is buried deep. It is a whisper, a misdirection, a hint,a look in the eye, a smile for the wrong reason.
And going the other way, not everything that seems racist on the surface is true racism. I did call misunderstanding “racism”, mostly because it causes people to sit up and hopefully learn. but is it? Maybe, maybe not. In ways it depends on intention and how it was received. Pay attention and fix it. And perhaps other things aren’t racist, even when they maybe called racist.
I do understand that white people can, and do, feel uncomfortable around black people. What do I say? How do I act? It can happen to anybody when tossed in with a group of people they are not familiar with. It is not necessarily a racist thing. I feel uncomfortable in many situations with different people. It is human. Becoming familiar with different people, different cultures, and such is a good thing. As long as we try and learn from it.
Living is learning, learning is living.
Oh, I just want to repeat one more time, if someone says something bothers them, believe it, and perhaps try to find out why it bothers them. Listening and learning is perhaps the most respectful thing you can do. Admit there is a problem, and listen.
And, yes, I agree:
Black Lives Matter