You know what I would love to do? Stop talking about race. When people say, “I wish people would stop talking about race,” I want to scream “ME TOO!!”
Let me start with a story: I babysat three adorable girls for years. While watching a movie, the youngest one lifted her head from my shoulder and asked, “Mollie, what do you do to your skin?” as she ran her fingers across my forearm. I looked down into her sparkling blue eyes and smiled as I answered, “I didn’t do anything to my skin.” Her smile widened and she said “Nooooo” in a voice that indicated that I was lying or being silly, shaking her blond head at me. Her innocence touched my heart. I explained, “The same way you have blue eyes and your sister has brown eyes, I was born with brown skin.”
I don’t think she fully understood me, but I observed over the years as she and her sisters handed me dolls that were darker and darker. They were learning that I was to be categorized differently. They had heard one human being categorize another as “Black” or “Spanish” or “White.” The indoctrination had begun.
The emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863, the civil rights movement in the 1960’s, and the current president is Black. There has been progressing, but there is a long way to go. Racism is a plague that is interwoven in the American culture, in the laws, and in our everyday way of life. It isn’t as blatant as people running around throwing around the N-word while having “colored only” facilities (except Paula Deen). No, it shows in the racial profiling, in the high rate of incarceration for black males, and in the police brutality.
Here’s the catch… The race is not going anywhere. I had to come to terms with that fact. It is in our human nature to categorize. Perhaps if it weren’t race, it would be sexism, class or a geographical hierarchy… For America, it’s race.
But there’s more…
We are taught that Black males are predators who rape and steal. We are taught that brown men with turbans are terrorists. We are taught that women who wear the hijab are weak. Asians are permanent immigrants who don’t know how to drive. Black women are loud and obnoxious. Blondes are ditzes. Immigrants steal our jobs. Mexicans do landscaping. Hispanics do housekeeping. Gays are immoral heathens. Women are sluts. Whites can’t dance. Old people are fools. Overweight people are slobs who don’t care about themselves. Jamaicans smoke weed.
We don’t like to think that we are racist, or sexist, or homophobic or ageist, etc. I mean, who wants to wear that name tag? We may even protest, and sign petitions, yet as human beings, in our words and our everyday actions, we still feed into societal stereotypes. The very first step to take towards tolerance and understanding is to acknowledge that our own indoctrinated prejudices exist and take actions to rectify them.
Acknowledging race is not right or wrong, good or bad… We simply cannot ignore the fact that it exists. Race, gender, age… they are not things that we can ever do away with…
We, as a people simply need to make a few adjustments, to be more tolerant of one another:
Things that you should STOP:
1. Saying “We have a black president. Racism doesn’t exist.”Yes, there has been progressing in America, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a long way to go. If that were the case, people wouldn’t be going bonkers over a Cheerios commercial because of interracial parents. (Keep in mind that BOTH White men and Black women made racist comments.) But just because racism exists doesn’t make everyone a racist, so if you find yourself enraged at the fact that people are still talking about racism in 2013, what are you really upset about? Oh, and bringing up race is not racist!
2. Stop the use of the N-Word and all other derogatory terms.The way you treat and refer to yourself is the same way you give others’ permission to treat and speak to you. Rihanna was called a “Nigger Bitch” because foreigners thought it was “cool.” As a woman, why call another woman a bitch or a slut, yet get offended when a male does the same? Why call yourself the N-word as a Black male, but go into a fury when a White male does the same?
3. Sweeping generalizations. “All/Every [insert group] do [insert action].” I’m sure you don’t like being put in a box. Don’t do it to others.
Things that you should START
4. Advocate for a cause that is not your “own.” As long as we continue to stay in the “us versus them” mentality, we are destined to forever be at war with one another.
When your heart aches for Trayvon because of racial profiling against blacks, you should be in the front line protesting when there is profiling against Muslims. If your heart hurts because of government cutbacks for children, you should go visit a nursing home. If you are outraged about sexual violence against women, you should be equally outraged about the violence against gay men.
5. Use your privilege as a platform to advocate for marginalized groups. “I could no longer tolerate her abuse of power and despicable behavior,” is what Lisa Jackson, a white woman, said of Paula Deen’s treatment of African Americans in her employment. Lisa could’ve easily said, “This has nothing to do with me,” but she chose to stand up for what she felt was right.
Let’s be honest: we all start off at different difficulty levels which for some change, and for others, stay the same. What can you do to make another human being’s life just a little easier? It could be as simple as being patient when the Hispanic lady in the drive thru has trouble understanding you. It could be a simple as helping an elderly man through the door instead of rushing by him.
6. Educate and Understand. Educate others on what it’s like to experience life in your shoes. Educate a person outside of your group on what it’s like to feel discriminated against. Give a voice to your struggles. Meanwhile, you must understand if they don’t understand. Let’s face it… not everyone is going to get your struggle, but it’s OK.
A man may never understand why it makes me feel uncomfortable when he looks and smiles at me because in his world, he’s never received unwanted sexual attention, and maybe he never will. I can only do my part to educate, and understand.
7. Invite Someone into your “world.” Sometimes words are not enough. Give people an experience with your culture, your norms, your life… I think our biggest pitfall is that we assume that others know what we’re going through, which would logically cause us to become angry and frustrated. Instead of anger, invite them to your world, as this Muslim family did for their neighbors: