“Racism, racism, racism, why are people always talking about racism?!?" “Racism ended 50 years ago.”
I hear those arguments every day whenever racism is brought up during a conversation. What these individuals fail to realize is that racism is alive and well. It’s not something that just “goes away.” It has simply become a part of us and changed, molded into something else. Something worse. Something much more dangerous.
I remember a self righteous teacher telling me once, with good intent of course, that racism wasn’t learned, it was taught. Later in life I saw that similar message on a T-Shirt with a bunch of happy black and white children.
Hypothetical situation; 30 children in a classroom, 29 white, 1 black. Children will, naturally, notice a difference. This difference will also naturally instigate fear, anger, hatred, curiosity and even jealousy. More so than if he/she was simply the same as them.
Why? Human nature.
This is the way we humans in all our wisdom come to grips with that which we do not understand. We classify and categorize. Perhaps not with any ill intent initially but this tradition is ingrained within our being. I wonder if it is what keeps us from going mad at all the amazing realities of our own existence and solitude in the universe.
So why has racism become even more dangerous than it was before? Well, because people don’t know they are. They act, sure of themselves, clear in their conscience that they are new age and beyond that lowly and barbaric nature of our most recent ancestors.
When I was in High School I spent many lunch hours in the classroom. I would go into a nice teacher’s class, sit and read a book or just relax. The teacher from the next classroom was not as nice as I would soon find out. I had my nose in a book and right next to me, the nice teacher and the not so nice teacher were having a conversation. I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop and at that exact moment I couldn’t tell you what they spoke of. Until I heard a few key words and the entire conversation played back in my head.
N.S.N.T. was complaining about one of his new students. N.T., a veteran teacher, was of course consoling him and urging patience and understanding. He asked N.S.N.T. to think of possible reasons why this kid was acting out the way he was and N.S.N.T. responded thus;
“Apparently Jose, or whatever his name is, suffers from the Mexican disease machismo.”
I stopped reading and thought, “Well, that sentence was not so bad and definitely not the worst thing I’ve heard coming from a teacher.” Though it did give me pause and left me reflecting on the implications of his negative sentiment towards the children he was instructing.
N.S.N.T. noticed that my gaze was no longer on my book and apparently got a little nervous. He stuttered out, “Well…I think I’ve lived in this neighborhood long enough to earn the right to say that.”
THAT instigated my response. I wasn’t going to say anything but his need and justification for defending his statement told me I should.
Slowly packing up my things, his gaze and Nice Teacher’s met mine. I said, “I’m Mexican, and I haven’t even earned the right to say something like that.” In retrospect, I know that was overly dramatic but I was 14 years old or so. That was best I could do. Most of my peers would have probably started cursing at the man.
Why was this harmless little statement of bravado dangerous? Because he thought he was right and in his right. Nothing spurs motivation like justification. This man in his heart believed what he said and probably will never acknowledge the inappropriate nature of his open complaint about a teenage child. Tagging his heritage as apparently the only suffering culture of the male chauvinism “disease.” I’m sure the French translated the word from Spanish.
Little comments and jokes like these seem harmless on the surface but they are evidence of a problem deep within. Much like fore shocks to Earthquakes, they can often be a warning of a dangerous problem with a deep fissure.
“I’m not racist; some of my best friends are __________!”
People actually say this. If you find yourself in a position where you need to defend yourself then it is possible you are not as universally accepting as you thought.
Please don’t mistake this blog post as a self righteous declaration of my superiority either. I know we ALL have this problem. Like I said before, it is human nature. Some people may choose not to describe it like that, perhaps too proud of “humanity” to blame it but I think IT is one of the reasons why we still exist today.
These virtual files and categories we created helped keep us in line, think abstractly and learn to abide by rules that don’t physically exist. We learned to survive by using our sense of judgment. Prejudice. We need to be able to identify a threat and not wait impotently for the attack first.
To this day, in certain neighborhoods, you STILL have to be on alert. Sizing people up and prepping yourself for any oncoming attack on you or your loved ones. So how to we learn to distinguish that habit of self preservation from plain old bigoted classification?
Even those with the open minds, those modern hippies that proclaim acceptance of all, tend to slant an eye towards those who work in big business or politics. Anarchy. Anyone wearing a tie is the enemy.
So today as you go about your day, stop for a second and take a breath. Think about what you will say, how you will act and what you will do when interacting with any other person. Whether they be of a different gender, race, sexual orientation or even financial bracket. Put yourself in their shoes entirely and express the utmost compassion for the individual and the family you don’t see.
But remain aware, always aware.