Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Racism: A History

A history, not THE history.  I don't believe the history of racism can be written.  It would fill volumes upon volumes and never be complete until everyone has told their story.

This is my history of racism.  My experiences with it.

I am white.  I have spent my entire life in a mostly white community.  My experience with racism is extremely limited.  I don't know that I have ever been the target of racism.  And I have only seen it on a limited basis.

I have heard relatives, friends, neighbors talk about someone and make judgments based on that person's race.  Make jokes about people.  Complain about people.  Not about the one person they know or have had experience with, but about all people they associate with that person.

Prejudice is a prejudgment.  Deciding something about a person or group of people based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, whatever without really knowing that person.

When we expand it to talk about prejudice instead of just racism I have slightly more experience.  I have been treated like I was stupid because I am a woman.  And my religion has been slammed over and over, especially recently.  Since I am Mormon, people think they know what I am like.  That all Mormons are the same.

I do not understand.  I do not understand prejudice.  I do not understand writing someone off because of how they look or where they are from.  It's a logical fallacy.  A sweeping generalization.

This apple is red.  This apple is sweet.  All red apples are sweet.

Most of us can read that argument and know that it's not true.  We've probably all had red apples that were tart, so we know that's not true.  It's obvious.

So why isn't it obvious when the same argument style is used about people?

This person is from Pakistan.  This person is a terrorist.  All Pakistanis are terrorists.
This person is a woman.  This person doesn't know about cars.  Women don't know anything about cars.
This person is Mormon.  This person is closed-minded and judgmental.  All Mormons are closed-minded and judgmental.

I could go on and on.

I do not understand judging a person based on a group they are affiliated with.  I do not understand people who hate African-Americans.  I do not understand people who look down on Latinos.  I do not understand people who shun homosexuals. 

I believe much of it is based on fear.  A fear that something about that person threatens our way of life.  A fear of the unknown. 

And I find it difficult to process that our country's struggle with equality is still going on.  I can't believe that the struggle for civil rights was still going on in my lifetime.  It seems like something from ancient history.  I can't believe that as advanced as we are in so many ways we still get so hung up on personal and ethnic differences.

Maybe it's because I grew up on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, very forward-thinking shows.  I really grew up believing that we are more alike than we are different.  That we can be friends.  That we can learn to work together.  And that we can do all of this with respect and understanding.

I am sad that this still has to be a wish for the future because it isn't the present.


Yarell said...

Well said. I agree wholeheartedly with you in this.

Bonnie said...

It's insidious, isn't it. The "ites" among us. It creeps back in. I heard someone use the "n" word the other day and I thought, "what?" It was so ridiculously out of sync with our era. I just looked at him. I hope the day comes when "wetback" sounds just as out of sync, when there's really nobody who is the butt of a joke. I can make enough jokes about my failing hearing to keep it light, who needs a resident of Poland to pick on?

MaggieJo said...

I don't get it either. Why would we do that? do people really think that a skin color defines a person? makes them less of a person? you must have just finished the book I just picked up. I've been thinking about this too. But at the same time I don't understand why I do this sometimes. I hate to admit it and I fight it, but I have made judgments by the cover of a book, and I'm sorry for it.

Dona said...

I think I need to read "The Help". I don't think I'm racist but I do that red- apple-sweet thing in other areas of life and relationships. It bugs me when I do it. I should stop.

Retrodiva said...

Well said. I've never understood blanket judgments on any group of people. If I'm going to dislike someone, I'd rather do it because I don't like them personally, not because of a color/nationality/religion/whatever. I mean, not that I dislike a lot of people, but you know what I mean. :)

Kazzy said...

It's almost like a self-affirming choice. "If I make these comments about those people than I feel a little higher myself."

It especially bugs me in our church when we judge people. I mean, come on, were not not totally victimized by biased public opinion???

New Jersey Memories said...

*Applause* *Cheers*

citymouse said...

I'm with you. I don't understand why people insist on clinging on to those attitudes and thoughts. I also think there are others who exploit a history of racism in order to accomplish something (ie claiming someone or something is racist when it is not). I treat everyone the way I want to be treated.

Lizzie said...

Sadly, all too true. Well written. Stopped by from SITS to say have a great weekend.

Anonymous said...

My oldest son was in a college history class where someone was accusing a majority of the class of "holding him down." My son replied, "My people weren't over here then, so we couldn't have held you down."

Anyone can come in my living room, break bread with me at my table, as long as you behave with civility, embrace the values of my home while you are there, and treat those within my home as we treat you. In other words, I will love my neighbor as myself - and if my neighbor will extend the same love to me, they are welcome in my door and into my family:)

April said...

I read an interesting article on the differences between racism, prejudice and stereotypes. Psychologists say we as humans stereotype because we sort things into groups to try and understand our surroundings. But when stereotyping turns into judgement and hatred then it becomes prejudice and racism. It was interesting.

I think all of us have prejudices whether we realize it or not. They are not not necessarily hateful, but they are pre-judgements, kind of like the "Women know nothing about cars."

Stopping by from SITS.

Kristin @ Ellie-Town said...

Stopping by from SITS.

Very well written and I totally agree with your sentiments.

Randa @ The Bewitchin' Kitchen said...

Stopping by from SITS. Be sure to enter my Dyson giveaway (it ends tonight) http://bewitchinkitchen.blogspot.com/2010/07/dyson-review-giveaway.html

From Tracie said...

I could tell you lots of stories about my father that are bad. Many terrible choices he made.

There is one good thing that I will always be able to say about him though....in my entire childhood I never once heard a racial slur, a comment made out of prejudice. Not once. I didn't even know that those things existed for a long time. That is one thing that I will always be thankful for.

Kimberly said...

One of the joys of blogging is the ability to find like-minded people. I loved reading this post, nodding my head as I read, feeling so much the same...having had the same sad, reflective thoughts.

There's hope. Hope in what you've written here and the responses of those like me who want to shout out a hearty amen!

Libby said...

So so true. I have a strangely twisted experience when it comes to racism. I grew up in outback Australia in a predominantly Aboriginal town. I went to a preschool where I was one of only a handful of white children and taught by Aboriginal women. Imagine my shock when I started moving about the world and discovered white Australia's narrow minded views on Aboriginal people. Then I lived in worked in Japan... a western girl in Japan, well I'll save that story for another time.

MommyToTwoBoys said...

I love this post. My husband is black and I am white and I have seen racism towards him first hand.

If I could attach a sound clip it would be applause. You are awesome and this is so well said. I need to bookmark it so I have it ready for the next racist person I meet. Especially the one who doesn't realize it...

Carrie said...

Beautifully stated. I started to say more, but really you've said it so much better.