I am one of millions of people born some years after the end of the Civil Rights marches and overlapping Counter Culture expressions across the social landscape. The public schools I attended as a youth were fully, 100% integrated, there was zero segregation, and the teachers were the most inclusive and open-minded persons you could meet. Well off and poor kids, many ethnic groups, different faiths, all under the same roof. I was one of the poor kids (many years later off welfare and into the lower middle class) who had the opportunity to migrate across 4 or 5 schools growing up. I got to see cross-sections of society across town. There was one school I didn’t attend which was in close proximity to the more affluent side of town, nor the school in what was the poorest side of town, but other than that, I got to see a broad swath of social policy applied to everyone.
Those were good times. Looking back, it is obvious to me that some of the teachers were authentically hippie inspired. I grew up in a conservative town surrounded by a huge number of rural communities. Yes, communities plural. Contrary to stereotype, it was not a monoculture. People were explorers at that time. Despite economic hardships in some cases, people were generally curious about different ideas and the future. In the public school system, that translated into teachers who spoke broadly about world history, encourage debate on ideas, and who sought to unleash the mind in the areas of science, philosophy, arts, literature, and civil participation. I think they were largely successful. Those integrated public schools were awesome. You were exposed to education in such a way as to produce a broad mind.
I rarely meet people I grew up with (move around geographically) but when I do, I immediately read a different spirit from them that is generally good. As a group, I get the sense that people from the era in which I grew up are generally not dogmatic about who is in and who is out. Maybe it was some of the music we watched on MTV, VH1, and BET, or maybe it was the generally guidance of our elders who encouraged forums of inclusive activity. Get togethers, civil activities, field trips, and the like that kept people of differing backgrounds and cultures (including defacto traditional American culture) on the same journey. The effort definitely made tolerance, acceptance, and color blindness more the norm, more natural, than what seems to be resurgent today.
That is maybe why I have such a list of web links below. They are the views of people who have looked into the issue of racism. I have to admit, it seems people much older than I understand this phenomenon much better than I do. Given my upbringing and the quality of the culture in which I experience life, and the unified media messages of those times (most emphatic in TV/movie portrayals of the future), I cannot understand racism. I do understand prejudice which is different than racism, but racism itself is hardcore. I do not understand how you can genuinely dislike or fear a group so much as to disparage them widely and deny them full and equal standing as persons.
I must correct myself. I do understand racism in terms of what it feels like as a young man when a person I thought was my friend spontaneously called me the N-word in a fit of anger. That same person later cursing my brother and I and referring to our man parts in a severe expletive combining the N-word and a more crude term for such parts. Or the young mother who upon entering an arcade declares immediately she doesn’t want her son affiliating with N-word people. Or the time I took my brother and sister on an all-American Halloween outing and greeted by a very elderly gentlemen who proceeded to prefix each of our genders with the N-word upon announcing, “ah a little N-word boy, a little ..” and so on. The internal outrage I felt as the oldest, but powerless to redress such humiliation. My learned Southern Genteelism was to simply thank the gentleman and move on. None of that was as severe as what my forebears reported as the conditions in society and admittedly my own personal encounter with such situations was far less as I conformed more to the ideal expressions and behaviors expected in American society.
Younger people have approached me on occasion and reported that society is going backwards. A few older people have seen it years ago as well. I didn’t want to believe them and have quietly denied their accounts giving counter claims of my own. I was the foolish one. It was inconvenient for me in what I had hoped the world would turn out like to stop and better understand what they were talking about. I can be forgiven for failing to acknowledge what they presented as the mechanisms of division and group preference is subtle, indirect, and institutionalized.
Considering many years of personal experiences, I have made some observations about racism. What I share is based on anecdotal evidence and should be taken with a grain of salt. Yet, if more people have made similar observations, then you may find these observations useful towards understanding this reality. Towards the end, I offer some solutions.
Chronically Under Promoted Minority
If you step back, you’ll often see an interesting phenomenon in Corporate America. You’ll have a hard-working, highly competent, earnest, and driven minority. Yet, that individual will often see themselves either passed over for promotion or rarely at the higher levels of the executive suite. I do believe companies have the right to organize as they see fit. Unfortunately, such recurring situations run counter to the values of merit often advanced in society. You should not look for signs of preference of this kind, and it is probably best to overlook it, striving to do your best regardless, but such conditions can work their way over years to eventually rob persons on the lower end of the natural social scale of their motivation to succeed.
I’ve heard older people and a few others say these words, “We have to get our country back”. On one level, I don’t know what that means. On another level, I have an immediate feeling of what that means. That is a pretty hardcore statement. On the surface, it suggests that minorities are changing the society in such a way that it is no longer recognizable. No evidence exists that suggest that minorities are a threat to America or that if the demographics shift, that it would be a bad thing. Traditionally rich people will still be traditionally rich, and traditionally well-off persons who already established themselves and their families will still be well-off. Maybe because I am a minority, I cannot comprehend the entirety of that statement, “we have to get our country back”. I simply don’t understand it, but I can feel the emotions when a person makes that statement who is not a minority. I could be wrong, but it seems a lot like a preoccupation with sustaining the euphoria of having natural privilege. With being comfortable in social settings in which you know you have more control.
Zero Tolerance Mentality
I don’t see it in the places I frequent, I once saw it often, but I hear about it time again. A group of minorities are congregating outdoors and they are approached and disbanded for now good reason. A different group of persons, not minorities, doing the same things such as indulging libations and frolicking without causing any property damage, are allowed to continue such activities well into the late morning. It seems unfair. You don’t have to be one who engages in such play to see that addressing people in this way is inconsistent. It is a case where zero tolerance takes on a different meaning.
It continues with zero tolerance for outward behavior, facial, and posture expressions that deviate from puritanical forms. You will find that in some settings, minorities who deviate from such expressions, are marked more subtly than non-minorities who are simply being eccentric. Zero tolerance for non-conservative behavior that marks you as fully deferential to the privileged class not fully subject to said norms except their specific economic superiors. This is not unique to the United States. It actually has Western origins in Europe in which persons under a monarchic rule were similarly expected to show signs of deference and submission to their superiors. The Pilgrims, Puritans undoubtedly brought that across the shore with them and it transformed as their descendants became the new lords.
Liberal professors who are not minorities often can express views in an erudite manner that dissents from the established views of the mainstream. Educated people who are not minorities and lean liberal may express views that conflict with the general institutional preferences of the majority. You’ll hear them talk, you’ll ask them questions, or converse with them on a given matter about society and they will express views at great length that is far removed from the racially preferred sentiments in non-liberal, non-minority cultural. You may even listen with awe at how evolved, enlightened, and thoughtful they appear to be. They are al those things and they are also not subject to the natural sanctions and rebuke a person who is a minority who expresses such things in the same way. In many social circles, and in general, there is zero tolerance for minorities who express themselves outside the mainstream norms unless they happen to live in largely liberal cities.
Exceptions do exist to what I stated there, but even in those exceptions, expect little room for career advancement or continued social standing if you are a minority who deviates from these norms.
— Those are the 3 main rants —
What Racism Is
As long as I live, I will never understand racism entirely. When a person who is not a minority say something derogatory, negative, or denigrating about a minority or minority group and I see the passion coming from them, I will never understand that passion part. I don’t have that same passionate rejection of other groups of people. Perhaps it is because I’ve felt second-class at times in my life in the presence of certain members of a majority group. I’ve know what that indirect, subtle rejection is like as well as the overt forms. I was also a believer in the future vision of society wrought by forward thinkers who made compelling presentations in televised media, books, and conferences. I see humanity as one whole with differing sub-expressions and cultures, but one humanity nonetheless and so I cannot see the prejudicial responses in the same manner. I see nothing to fear from other groups that I would be angry and the very mention or sight of them. or give off the feeling that they are lower than dirt. That is odd. Yet, such things exist in this reality.
What I do understand is that racism and prejudice can be very convenient. A useful tool to gain, maintain, and expand power over others. A great way to harvest the fears of other people about their own economic security, physical security, cultural security, and insecurity about the perpetuation of their lineage. I have seen no evidence to suggest that any of those fears are real. I’ve seen no evidence that if some of those fears are justified by actual activities by a minority of minorities that justifies treating all minorities with distrust and progressively harsh responses. Overall, I have seen no evidence that the Western world is so fragile that it can be brought down by the expansion of minorities in Western communities. What may be threatened is simply the continued exercise of power by individuals in Western society who have this one chance to undermine the application of enlightened values advanced by their learned forebears so as to maintain that power.
Money and power. That is what racism is probably all about. Everything that is done that goes against the values of a supposedly advanced and advancing society is probably done for the dollars for a few who promise more dollars to a few others if they go along. The funny things about high standards of inclusion and social enlightenment is that if a prior generation proves those standards can be conveniently put aside, then it begins to disprove those values for future generations. At that point, those values that could sustain a more peaceful and prosperous world situation are then unavailable to those future generations who suffer the consequences.
A great mistake of our most learned minds is they relate information according to the model of argumentation embraced in academia, science, and law. People who seem to operate, perhaps without the information they need, direction over society could probably benefit from the information accessible to these great minds. The problem is they don’t communicate well. Sure, the grammar is perfect. The structure of arguments are ordered well, but a large number of people including those with power don’t actually interpret information that way. The great minds need to do better in translating great ideas and foundational values in a way that reaches the widest number of people. When they advise leaders, they need to get their point across in a way that corresponds to the cognitive orientation of the person whom they are addressing. All that really means is the fissure that seems to exist in society today in terms of how we moved from the lofty inclusion of years pass to the greater division of present times partly boils down to a failure of communication.
Second, racism may be an incurable malady that will persist for many centuries more. It is possible racism didn’t always exist and that it may be an invention that emerged to serve the interest of group preservation, power, and economic expansion. Learned anthropologists and others probably have a good idea. I haven’t read them yet. Whether it has always existed or simply developed as human civilization grew, its effects are enduring and people may not be able to totally escape it. With that, you can strive to overlook it. Some will not like that suggestion, but I do think that mindset does have more value in situations in which you must function for economic reasons and otherwise.
Third, while you as an individual, out of necessity, may have to endure the after effects of institutional racism and/or its reification, you can nonetheless have the courage to speak up with civility on matters in which such things are taking root. You must have courage to speak to things that seem on course to demote your worth as a living person. I truly know not everyone believes that everyone else deserves to live or deserves worth, but I think you have to believe that if that is to apply to yourself. Otherwise, you must give over to the rule of the predator that says they with the most might, money, and civil backing can decide they are more than you. If they can do that to others, they can do it to you. If you believe others (who have not committed diabolical physical crime) are lower than you, even if you have power and wealth or social priviledge, then you must accept that judgement upon yourself if one comes onto the scene possessed of greater power than you and decides to undermine you in similar or more severe ways. That is basically the Golden Rule.
Fourth, recognize that you have to step away from the temptation to succeed based on group preference. That actually applies in all situations. The question is, what is objective moral truth? When you look at two people, can you objectively say that one person is better in their performance or activity than an another? When you seek to do things in life, can you say you proceeded through a process that was not reliant on the preference of a group based on your shared ethnic affiliation? That is hardcore stuff and can mess with a person’s mind. I think if we are to have a truly inclusive society and one in which you are rich because you earned it by being smart and/or hard working and not because of your ethnic heritage, then it is incumbent upon everyone to say how can we create models of objective success rather than be stuck in the rut of group politics even in our personal dealings.