In honor of Blog Against Racism Day, sponsored by Creek Running North, I offer you these words.
When I was a child, my family watched the movie Jesus of Nazareth when it came on television every Easter. Inevitably, when the movie came to the scene where Jesus was presented before the crowd, and they were asked if he should die, and the crowd shouted “crucify him!” over and over, I would start crying. Not because I was moved by the religious intonations of what was happening, no, I was too young to really understand that. I cried because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be so hated, to have a crowd of people standing before you wanting you to die. I cried for the loneliness Jesus must have felt at that moment. In fact, it eventually got to the point where it traumatized me so much my parents wouldn’t let me watch the movie.
At that young age I had not yet learned the concept of racism. The idea of being hated, for any reason, was something I simply could not wrap my mind around. My parents had raised me and my brothers to accept all people with no prejudices, so it never occurred to me that because someone had a different color of skin, or had a different religion or culture that they were “less” in any way. I was taught to embrace these differences and encouraged to get to know people who came from a different background than I did. These differences, I was told, made the world a more interesting place. So in my early life I never thought of any group of people as “them”. We were all the same species. We were all human beings.
Imagine my surprise, then, the first time my grandmother balked at the idea of me having a black friend. I didn’t understand her concern, and she couldn’t explain to me the reasons. I dismissed her attitude as a result of her being old, and didn’t give it much thought.
I had the good fortune of attending schools for the gifted, first in grade school and then again in high school. Aside from the standard teasing of students outside the program towards our geekiness at being the smart kids, I did not witness any racism or hatred during my school years. I had, however, been introduced to the concept of racism, and knowing the respect, love, and admiration I had for several of my black schoolmates I couldn’t imagine someone hating them, especially someone hating them for the simple fact of the color of their skin. This made no sense to me, I found it to be ignorant and stupid, but I was starting to realize that the world was not entirely made up of the smart people I went to school with, that there were lots of people who couldn’t see past the color line and the differences between people. I understood that these differences, in fact, scared some people, and often scared them into hatred. I started to see the same scene I saw in Jesus of Nazareth playing out in reality – towards black people, Jewish people. I was devastated. The world I had assumed existed was falling apart.
Yet I, in my innocent naïveté, could not understand the way it felt. I was a white, middle class protestant teenager. How could I even pretend to know what racism was like? I could sympathize, based on how I thought it would feel to be hated, or be judged, for what I was, but I didn’t know. And then I went to college.
In my sophomore year of college I started working as a dispatcher for my college security department. The department was crawling with current and ex-military men, most of them misogynistic, several of them racist, and only a couple of them well educated. The director of security at the time (he is no longer the director and is now in fact, deceased) was himself ex-military and ignorant of mind. One of his favorite “jokes” was to laugh and say “a woman can become a patrol officer when she can piss in a cup from 6 feet away”. Now, how he actually thought a man could piss in a cup from 6 feet away is beyond me, because most of the patrol officers couldn’t even seem to aim for the toilet in the single department bathroom. This was not the only “limitation” he saw in a woman’s abilities. This man was misogynistic to the core, and felt that a woman could either be a housewife, a secretary (his assistant director was female, but she did all his dirty work, and ended up essentially a well paid secretary), a teacher or a nurse. He’d occasionally joke that women could be prostitutes and strippers as well but only if they were “stacked” and had nice bodies. He’d scoff at women students, saying he didn’t know why they bothered going to school. He was a real piece of work.
At first his statements bothered me, even hurt me. But after awhile he sounded so absurd and ignorant, and considering I knew full well my abilities, it stopped bothering me. I realized, however, that I had a small taste of what it was like to be judged based on what you were on the outside. It definitely was not a good feeling. While I will contend that the prejudice shown towards a woman is minor compared to the prejudice faced by a black person, or anyone else who is considered different in the world of the white man, I felt I could sympathize with racism a little better for my experience.
There are people who assert that racism is not only a white man vs. the rest of the world issue. Today, they are correct. There are scores of blacks, Jews, and Muslims who disapprove and hate the world of the white man. While I wish it were not so, I hardly blame them. The reality is, racism started as an issue of white against black. Within fifty years of the Emancipation Proclamation, black people in
There are also people who claim that all blacks are African and Africans are tribal, therefore it is a genetic reality that they will be violent. I find this theory particularly amusing, because I have yet to have ever known a black person who had a temper that was worse than any white person I have known. If you watch the show Boiling Points on MTV (a show that attempts to enrage people in everyday situations, to see how long they can keep their cool) you will find that for the most part, the black contestants keep their cool – much more than whites or Hispanics (seriously, white women are bitches, it’s scary). If you want to use riots, looting, whatever, as proof of this tribal mentality, I don’t think the argument holds. Most of these situations occur under extreme duress and white men are just as susceptible to bad behavior under similar circumstances. Besides, to say that only Africans have a tribal mentality is pretty dense. Human beings have a tribal mentality. Just because the conflict plays out on a different scale in
It would be interesting if we could live in a world, just for a short time, where all outlying characteristics of our race, religion, culture, gender, and sexuality were obscured from view. If there was a time when we all just looked like blobs, with similar sounding voices – no way to establish our identities on sight or sound. No names, no accents, nothing to give us away. Because really, that is what we are. A bunch of living, breathing blobs just trying to make our way in this world. So why should any of us waste time with racism?
Perhaps we should all take time to get to know the “others” in our midst. Talk to the black man we see every day, hurrying to work in the same direction. Talk to the Muslim we see frequently in the supermarket. Talk to the Chinese woman who lives two doors down. I bet we could all find similarities in our lives and our experiences, not to mention hear an interesting story about someone who lives a different life. They could even become your best friend. But with racism in your heart, you’ll never know.