Just for the sake of variety, this post is NOT a myth. We all need to be aware of and successfully discourage prejudice, not only by others but especially by ourselves. None of us is innocent.
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the [rest] are full of confidence.” –
PURPOSE OF THIS POST:
· To convey the courage of my convictions,
· Emphasize the need for dialogue using the “is it true, kind and necessary” test while aiming for at least two of those criteria in any given moment,
· The importance of a desire for equanimity,
· The need for at least attempting empathy and understanding.
· Being accountable for our feelings and actions by seeking education, nuance, specifics and evidence for, and against, one’s prejudices.
First, consider definitions so we’re at least on the same page as to what we’re talking about.
Second, consider causes
My favorite is from Oxford-
RACISM: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people based on their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized . . . the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.
PREJUDICE: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. Key words: not based on reason or actual [statistically relevant] experience. I added “statistically relevant” because a person’s racism could also be based on rare traumatic personal experiences.
What is racism a subcategory of? That is the source of its solution and dissolution. I think the primary category of thoughts and behaviors is prejudice because prejudice is the fertile soil in which discrimination & antagonism flourish.
So, one achievement from this important word game is that it is fair to say no one is “a racist” nor is anyone “not a racist”. Not a single one of us is free of preconceived opinions not based on evidence. Isn’t it important to recognize that no one is totally prejudiced nor totally not prejudiced? It is simply a matter of degree, given a specific incident of prejudice.
In a courtroom, a jury rendering evidence-free or hearsay-based judgment would be reversed by the judge. Shouldn’t we be as disciplined in our thinking? Why do we seem so susceptible to this bias? What are the causes of prejudice?
Upbringing– familial. There is high survival value- usually -in a child’s learning from the ancestral accumulation of family/tribal wisdom. Unfortunately the not so wise stuff is also transferred.
Human Nature– we want our choices to be apparent and easy. Skin color, dress, language & cultural differences are obvious and easy bits of information. And irrelevant if we’re using them to distinguish others as inferior. We’ve gotten intellectually lazy.
Evolutionary tribalism- worked well 10,000 years ago but now that we’ve populated the globe tribalism is destructive to the individual, society and the world. Collaboration has the highest odds of success for both individuals and groups, not endless.
Biblical misreading– good and evil, all or nothing, heaven & hell. Dichotomies are rarely true or useful.
And false dichotomous thinking in general. Again, there is no such thing as “a racist”. There is no such thing as “a nonracist”. We are all on the gradient, somewhere between. A few are much closer to either end.
Easy scapegoats– insecure, abused, mentally ill people can inch their ways up a notch from the bottom by beating others down to their level of suffering. Skin color, voice accent or visual cultural differences- dress, physical appearance, religious practices -become easy (but specious) indicators of who deserves to be abused.
In general- as with all prejudicial decisions involving other people -thoughts, feelings and decisions based on hearsay or prejudice are risky. On the one hand, you risk missing valuable lessons from, and rewarding relationships with, those you may dumbly marginalize. And, on the other hand, you risk enabling and empowering the prejudicial members of your “tribe” who are dangerous to you and to others. Neither effect bodes well for your future as those effects spill over into all aspects of your life.
But I get it. If you’re struggling financially, physically or psychologically (or all of them!), the emotional release of causing pain to another supposedly inferior or evil person or group of people is undeniable. But that’s all it is. An emotional release. Your underlying problems aren’t solved and are in fact made worse. Your gratifying but evidence-free behavior will also, at some level, eat away at your soul. This becomes a vicious downward spiral: pain > prejudicial action > more pain > more prejudicial action.
Evidence-free, prejudicial decisions are addictive; they are a logical fallacy known as the “sunk cost” fallacy: The more you have invested in something- the sunk cost – whether it is time, effort or money, the more committed you become to that thing even when all the evidence suggest it’s time to fold ‘em, it’s time to evolve. As Jim Rohn says, “We nourish the cause and curse the effect”.
But here’s the encouraging thing: All of these preconditions and effects are within our personal control.
From the above discussion it should be obvious that prejudices cannot be eliminated, much less the prejudice of racism. But in each individual, each group and all systems, racist thoughts and behaviors can be scaled down so less harm is caused. Before talking about solutions, I want to single out one idea that is not a solution.
Etiquette, simply being nicer. Yes, kindness is important. (Remember my “True, Kind, Necessary” test for things you say to others.) Focusing only on acts of kindness fails to deal with anything on this list of systemic racist results, from Alicia Sprague:
- people of all races use and sell illegal drugs at similar rates in the U.S., yet the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is six times that of white folks1 and “the United States currently imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”2
- lending and housing market practices continue to segregate people by class and skin color and relegate folks of color to poorer neighborhoods.3
- Native Americans have been forced off land where their ancestors lived for generations and coerced onto the most marginal and barren land in the U.S., 4 or that indigenous women are missing and murdered at disproportional rates. 5
- a person using a wheelchair cannot enter a building with stairs but no ramp, or more broadly, that our society is not built for people who are navigating the world with disabilities.6
- there are “food deserts” in our urban centers, where working class folks have to rely on fast food without the option of accessible grocery stores.7
- the maternal mortality rate of Black women is three to four times higher than that of white women.8
- private businesses can refuse service to folks who identify as LGBTQ+, whether this means denying them a meal or an education.9
- in Flint, Michigan, a community of predominantly Black folks, thousands of residents are still getting their water from lead pipes, 6 years after the initial water crisis began.10
- trans women of color are disproportionately at greater risk of violence than non-trans women.11
- Latinx women make 54 cents for every dollar paid to white men.12
- Anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise in the United States and are at an 18 year high in Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. 13
So what will work?
Personal Accountability- acknowledge that you are neither perfect nor innocent. Just because you have the intellectual belief that you are not racist doesn’t mean you are not racist. Remember. It’s just a matter of degree.
Education- if you are an avowed racist, try stepping out of your echo chamber by reading black authors, talking to people outside your normal circle of friends. If you are an avowed nonracist, do some serious introspection and outreach to discover and cure your residual racist behaviors.
Nuance- understand and find examples of the fact that the racist/not racist dichotomy is neither accurate nor useful.
Specifics- examine your specific presumptions about race. Whenever you say, “All ______ are _______” about those you are prejudiced against, do some research. What are the exceptions. Are the exceptions really the rule? Does your statement have any evidence to back it up? Are the sources scientific and peer reviewed? Or, upon closer examination, does it even make any sense?
Standing up to racism requires that each of us stand up to our own prejudices and the prejudices of others while working to repair the system that perpetuates it. Stand up.
Your Constructive Comments are Welcome!