You can’t fight racism with racism, the best way to fight racism is with solidarity. – Bobby Seale
Recently a Facebook acquaintance called me a racist on the basis of a statement I made regarding Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of Officer Darren Wilson, sparked riots in Ferguson, MO and created controversy across the world. A grand jury and the Department of Justice ruled the shooting justified based on the testimony of Wilson and eyewitnesses and also the findings of several expert witnesses based on autopsy findings. I was responding to her statement that he was a child who didn’t deserve to be shot. The comment I made that caused her so much angst was, “Just because a person is black does not mean they are always good.” She responded with one word “Racist”.
For a little background this woman is white who is married to a man from India and she is constantly accusing anyone who she perceives to be other than dark-skinned a “racist”. She justifies this as “reverse racism”. Well, racism is ugly and wrong. Period. There is no “reverse” in racism. Racism is racism and no one race is better or worse than another.
I spent my whole Federal career helping minorities and women to ensure they had equal rights and services. I taught Civil Rights and EEO nationally for my agency and I was honored many times for my dedication to making sure USDA services were offered to everyone equally. I say this not to pat myself on the back. It was a labor of love. I grew up in the South during the 60’s and I saw inequality. In 1991, I was living in South Georgia when I got the welcome news that I was being offered a job with the Federal government. One of the pre-requirements was a doctor’s exam. I duly reported to the doctor they told me to use and sat in the reception area to wait my turn. My fellow waiters and I had bonded in our forced boredom as we waited to be called in to see the doctor. A nurse put her head out of the door and motioned me up. She asked me, “Don’t you want to sit in the other waiting room?” Other waiting room? She cocked her head at the other patients and I understood that she meant the white waiting room. I looked at her in disbelief and went and sat back down with the other people who up until that moment I had not noticed were all black. I was outraged.
I have seen racism is every place I have lived. Racism against blacks and whites in the South and racism against Native Americans in Maine and Wyoming. I saw racism in Afghanistan among Muslims. No one race, color, religion or any other factor has clean hands as far as racism is concerned.
Am I a racist? I can emphatically say “No.” Am I prejudiced? Yes. And so are you. Prejudice is to be human. Every one of us judges others on first contact. It is our family tapes that we filter our judgement through based on our own life experiences. We all have gut feelings, instincts, emotions and they affect our judgements and our actions for good and for evil. But we are also capable of acting deliberately and analyzing our emotions, then making rational decisions despite our prejudices. And while the word “prejudice” has been used synonymously with “racism” by race baiters and the uninformed, prejudice is neither right nor wrong. It is an emotion like any other emotion. To be prejudiced does not necessarily translate into racism. Prejudices can be overcome with time, exposure and education. When our prejudices become biases and we treat people differently, then racism occurs. Racism is a deep-rooted superiority complex based purely on race or genetic feature and it is always wrong.
Prejudices can encompass not liking people based on mental illness, homosexuality, being short, being tall, being red-haired, freckles, gender, age, weight, and the list goes on and on. Can anyone truthfully exclude themselves of being prejudiced against something or someone? Many prejudices are socially acceptable and sometimes even encouraged. “She’s a vegetarian. I hate having to cook for her.” As I child I was taught certain behaviors to keep me safe in an area that has poisonous snakes. Even though I love snakes, to this day when I first see one I freeze and a frisson of fear runs through me. It only lasts a second then reason kicks in and I usually try to catch the snake so I can admire its beauty before I let it go.
To be called a racist was upsetting until I realized the true racist was the woman who called me that. She judged me based on my color. Her prejudice has turned into bias thus she reviled me with hate. It makes me sad. Until we as a society learn to appreciate all races we will never be free from the blackness of racism. It takes more than hurling insults at one another. It takes work and it takes looking into our hearts and looking at our own motivations.
Person 1: I’ve only known that person for 30 seconds, but I don’t like him.
Person 2: Why do you dislike him? Did he do something wrong?
Person 1: No, he didn’t do anything wrong, I just don’t like him.
KKK: We hate blacks.
Black Panthers: We hate whites
Sunni Muslims: We hate Shia Muslims