Try to think back to the very first time you ever learned the meaning of racism. Chances are, many of us learned it as children, so I understand it will be a bit tough. But do your best to remember what you first thought when you truly learned what it meant.
As a black man, I sadly learned about racism as I experienced it. I may have been about 10 years old. In Baltimore City, my aunt had white neighbors and the crazy thing is, do you know the first person who I noticed racist behavior from? Not the adults who lived there.
But from the son, who was around the same age as me.
He would come over and say things to us like, “My Dad doesn’t like me hanging out with black people” and “Black people are stupid” and “You’re all losers” (to me and my cousins) and, well…you can let your imagination go from there. Even at that age, I thought it was odd that this kid had such harsh opinions like this about black people. My first thought was, How many black people does he actually know to be saying this? I had white friends at that age and we had white neighbors near us as well. At that age, even though I heard a lot by then that “White people don’t like us,” it never made sense to me and I just downright never believed it. Not because I was some super-intelligent child and thought the way I do now, because I really didn’t. I just didn’t get it.
Then came the day we got into a fight with the kid and his father comes from next door to inside our backyard. Now my cousins and I were at the house by ourselves at the time. When his father came over, I figured he would just grab his son and leave. At the time, they were fighting about giving some toy back to my cousin, who it belonged to. But the next thing you know, he’s encouraging his son to hit my cousin with a plastic bat across the face as he threatened both my cousin not to fight back and worst of all, telling me, “Go ahead, and I will fuck you up.”
At that point, I called my father and he came. As far as I remember, there was major commotion on that street when he showed up as folks thought they would physically fight, but I don’t believe it ever happened. He told us to go inside and we couldn’t see everything through the alley from my aunt’s kitchen window.
While this largely introduced me to the world of racism, this experience did absolutely nothing to shape my overall view of white people, despite what my friends and family told me about how they thought white people viewed us. I never once believed that all or even “most” white people were this way. I knew even then that there were way too many white people out there for them all to feel this way.
I’m in my late 30s now, and obviously I have a more profoundly shaped view and understanding of racism, especially in this country. And here is what I truly believe:
WE ARE ALL THE PROBLEM.
When I say “we,” I’m talking about black AND white people. “We” as a whole.
Oh, you thought this was going to be a “White people are all out to get me!” or “The white man is holding me down!” post?
THAT is what I mean when I say “problem.” And as much as many of you may look at this and say, “Oh, that’s not at all what I thought,” number one, some of you would be lying, and number two, if you know me, then you don’t really count. I say that respectfully, but in knowing me, you already know what I’m about, so this actually would not surprise you. But I also know that it won’t be only my close friends and family who will read this.
The biggest problem is that people on both sides act as if racism exists strictly because of the other race. In other words, white people believe racism exists purely because of black people and vice versa. The classic case of finger-pointing and then being surprised when that doesn’t work.
We don’t need to talk about the blatant acts of racism. That’s not up for discussion. It happens. But what stands out the most to me is how dismissive folks on each side are about it.
DISMISSIVE. Racism is a problem where people DISMISS the feelings of others on it.
There’s such a small sense of a desire to understand where someone else is coming from, especially when it comes to racism. But here’s the thing. In the very beginning, I can’t imagine anyone feeling like this. I would like to say that most of us were closer in what we felt about racism, but over time, while my thoughts went the way they did, others went the way they did, and based on how I see people behave, it’s not nearly as close to mine as it once was.
Being dismissive, in my opinion, is largely what continues to fuel racism. Here’s why.
A black person complains about racism. He or she is immediately dismissed and told by a white person that they need to “get over it” as a list of every black stereotype follows. I’ve mentioned racism before and right away, I was hit with how “we” need to stop committing crimes (I never have), how I need to “stop blaming white people for our shortfalls” (I don’t) and how we “should spend more time looking for work” (I’ve been in the Army for nearly 20 years) and “taking care of our children” (the only times I left mine was when the Army said I had to by way of overseas deployments or training exercises). Then the reply to that white person from some black people is something that is probably just as racist as what was said to the black person, they would get the white stereotypes also, as the white person is also told that they “do not understand” and “could never understand.”
That’s how I see a lot of conversations going. What exactly gets accomplished there?
To black people: Blaming white people as a whole never gets to the root of the problem. You wouldn’t burn down an entire house because there was damage to the bathroom floor, right? Well this is what we’re doing. ALL white people are not racist. If people “don’t understand,” then make a better effort of explaining. Will everyone get it? Of course not. Many are determined that they never will. But some actually will understand if you care enough to try. Don’t let those bad apples ruin it for everyone else. We certainly wouldn’t tolerate being treated a certain way because of the bad apples in our race, correct?
To white people: Telling us as blacks to “get over it” means nothing. What exactly are you telling us to “get over”? Racism? How exactly can a person “get over” that? By not blaming white people for our faults? Well, as I said above, I don’t do that. So how can I “get over it”? By doing right by my children? Again…I am. So how exactly can I “get over it”? You get the idea. The point is that you’re telling me to get over something that you barely understand yourself. You’re telling people like me to “get over” something by either not doing something that I’m already not doing, or starting to do something I’ve always done.
So again…what have we accomplished?
I also look at what’s happening in the world today, largely in the news. Whenever something happens, I closely observe the responses from each race. The most sadly laughable aspect of this is how outraged some people are when certain crimes are committed by the other race, as if these crimes either have never happened by their own race or that it’s impossible for it to happen by their race.
I’m going to add illegal immigration to the mix here. An illegal immigrant commits a crime. Right away are the cries of, “SEE?! THAT’S THE PROBLEM! THIS IS WHY THEY’RE SO DANGEROUS! THIS IS WHY THEY SHOULD BE GONE! AND YOU IDIOTS WANT THESE PEOPLE LIVING WITH YOU!” and everything else. What is the crime? Something that their own race can and HAS done before, in which case, they weren’t nearly as visibly outraged about.
A black person is in the news for a crime. A white person posts about it on social media, along with all this and that, pretending to be SO outraged. A white person commits the same crime. Nothing from them.
A white person is in the news for something. Same thing from a black person. This crime is NOT something a black person is incapable of doing, but you would think so from the biased and outraged replies. Of course, the same ones who would be quiet when we as blacks are in the news for crimes.
So why do you do this? And I’m far from stupid, so…let’s be adults here. Why do you post more when the other race does something wrong, yet say little to nothing when it’s your own race? Is that how you feel race relations will improve? When the “other” race gets their acts together ONLY? And why can’t you speak up when it’s your own race?
These attitudes are part of the problem. People try to disguise it, but again…they fail. This has become “us against them;” not “right against wrong.” That, and Confirmation Bias.
Confirmation Bias simply means that if a person truly believes something, they will look largely for evidence that support those beliefs and ignore all else. If a white person thinks black people are what’s wrong in this country, that explains the reason they choose to show their outrage only when a black person is in the news for crimes. If a black person believes white people are racist, they will speak more about those instances which prove this rather than to acknowledge all those that do not.
And so on.
And oh yeah…what I believe is the main reason people choose to watch either MSNBC or Fox News. But that’s a blog post for another day.
So how do we fix this?
I certainly don’t believe a blog post will eliminate racism by any means. But I think we have to go back to the first time we’ve first learned what racism was or one of those first experiences. Even though some people allow that first experience to heavily influence some of these attitudes, I still believe it was much different back then than it is now.
The reason I say this is because back then, we wanted it to end. I believe in my heart that we were closer back then to holding ALL people accountable than we are now. At that time, the bad apples stood out to us more. In other words, as a child, you knew who the bullies were and you avoided them. Now, you treat anyone you feel may be a threat as a “bully” so to speak, if that makes sense. We would rather classify ALL of a certain race as bad apples rather than taking the time to get to know people individually, understand the TRUE definition of racism, and hold those accountable as necessary.
Saying “white people are racist” does not help. Claiming black people are just “making it up” does not help. Blaming white people for our shortfalls does not help. Throwing black stereotypes in our faces does not help. Putting white people down while saying they are “racist” if they do the same does not help. Telling us as black people to “get over it” does not help.
And most of all…acting as if one race or the other is the main problem in this country DOES…NOT…HELP. Back to the house example…you have a problem in your kitchen and your bathroom. Do you stand there and argue about which one is ruining the house while not fixing either? I would like to think that an effort will be made to repair both rooms. But only acknowledging one as the “main” problem does nothing.
Black people…understand that not every white person is racist. That’s just not realistic and pretending it is only sets us back. And white people…grouping us all together doesn’t make you mature or right. It makes you ignorant. You aren’t close to knowing every black person there is, so you can’t even begin to put us all in the same category. I don’t give a damn about crime statistics. Hell, statistics also say I should be in jail or dead right now. And I’m neither. So you can save that.
The bottom line is that if you are going to point the finger, go right ahead. Just put a mirror in front of you before doing so.
The first time I ever encountered racism in person was in junior high. There was a mixed girl in our school. At a function being chaperoned by parents, I overheard three of the mothers talking. One said she felt sorry for the girl because she “seemed nice” but would “never have a boyfriend in this school”. A second agreed, “I wouldn’t let my son date her.” while the third just “mmmhmmmd”. It actually took me a little bit to figure out what they meant, and of course I didn’t say anything to them because we were raised with that children “respect” adults, even if they’re wrong thing, but after that, I never looked at those women the same again, and I while I acted respectful towards them, I never actually respected them again.
As for understanding racism, I admit I had a hard time with it (past that incident) because we just did not see it. I grew up in a 99% white area, and as such it wasn’t a matter of identifying as white or black or Hispanic, but as other things, such as your income, or your last name, or your appearance. Like fat. Ask me what I identify as and I’ll tell you: I don’t identify as a color, but as a size. I am a fat. I got made fun of because I was fat. I didn’t have dates in school because I was fat. I didn’t get jobs because I was fat. I got cheated out of this, that, and something else because some cute skinny girl walked in and got it all etc. etc. When hubby wants me to meet a co-worker’s wife my first question is, “Is she thin?” because if she is, I’m not interested. When we were making arrangements to go to a retreat with people we’d never met, one of the first things I did was look up everyone’s facebook profiles to see how thin they were. We didn’t want to go if they were all skinny and pretty. And that’s not to say I don’t have thin, even attractive friends, but I view them as individuals, they’re not “thin women” they’re Jane, or Linda, or Susan, meanwhile the umbrella group of “thin beautiful women” (who by being lumped in this umbrella group lose their humanity) are something to revile – and avoid – because, well, you know. They’re all “mean” and “cruel” and “get everything handed to them because they’re thin and pretty”… yeah.
Sound familiar? Is it right of me to feel this way? Absolutely not. Am I working on it? Yes. But I have to say I understand racism (which for many years baffled me completely) a heck of a lot better if I substitute whatever race is involved with the words “skinny” and “fat”. THEN I get it. THEN I understand. Because that’s where my prejudices lie.
I’ve actually thought about blogging about this because it’s a blog worthy topic, but the trouble is that any kind of prejudice is taboo to discuss. If I say “I’m prejudice against thin people”, the angry thin people will say “then loose weight fat a**” and the angry fat people will say “Yes! Those skinny b****s,” and we’ll all get nowhere, just like white/black or any other combination. The first step with any prejudice is that people need to accept they feel it, accept that it is unreasonable and try to work on it (just like you’ve said in this post) but to do that we have to admit we’re not perfect, and I think that’s one of the problems. No one wants to admit that *they* could be prejudiced against someone because that’s a flaw, and to be flawed is not perfect, and we must, must, must be perfect, even at the cost of never fixing anything or improving ourselves or our society.
I had another paragraph but Chrome crashed and lost it (luckily it saved the above. Whew!) So I’ll take it a sign to go to bed 😉
In high school. Three black girls were always isolated in the corner of the cafeteria. Sad.
Totally agree. I think our biggest problem is that we haven’t forgiven our previous “racism” transgressors and that we use words like “stupid”, “idiot” which should be banned from our vocabulary. As a white South African, I both experience “anti-white” sentiments from difference races because of apartheid, colonialism, and current far-right white South Africans, which I am definitely not. But I also cause “hurt feelings” not because I necessarily want to be mean but you are human and don’t always think before you say or because of incorrect beliefs/sentiments/mindsets.
This is something you need to constantly fight against (both parties) and the best way to remove it from your heart is to sometimes get into somebody’s shoes and see the world from their viewpoint – no matter how different or crooked it might be. At the end, God said you must love your neighbor as yourself and that includes all races, cultures and even beliefs.
Very well-stated, Liesel. Thanks so much for commenting reading.