It creeps into so many conversations and those perpetrating racist ideology (yes, I’ll call it that) don’t even realize it. It’s the ethical equivalent of unconscious incompetence when it comes to awareness of one’s own prejudices when it comes to races.
Don’t believe that you are a racist? Great. I invite all my friends and those I don’t know to do a painfully honest bit of reflection on the example below, and ask yourself – do I ever do this?
In a conversation amongst a set of well-to-do white folk, stories of robberies were shared. One participant in the conversation shared a story of being robbed in a fast food restaurant. Here’s the catch: at one point, the raconteur shares that “well, it was a black guy”. And that he went after him.
What should we infer from that small little verbal ‘tell’ (as if playing poker)? Are we supposed to be more afraid? Less afraid of the thief? Are we to assume that it all makes sense now that race has been clarified? Are we to think our raconteur even more brave as he tells his story of chasing the thief down?
I’m sure that my teller would refute the possibility of being racist, if challenged. That’s because racism is some distant concept that I believe is still equated with open slavery, unequal rights, separate water fountains, etc. No, the much more insidious and ever-present racism is that which reveals itself in these small verbal gestures in conversation.
The fact that the thief was black had NOTHING to do with the story, other than to propagate an idea that black guys are somehow more frightening and dangerous than any other dudes. Don’t think this has an effect? Just do a little research into how racial bias plays itself out in new hire selection, promotion, police action, loan granting, grading patterns in education, the list goes on and on.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the speaker was intentionally trying to propagate a negative racial stereotype. I fully believe he is unconsciously incompetent. That’s as charitable as I can be.
By the way the real problem is poverty – lack of education and opportunity. Let’s solve those, and perhaps we’ll be on our way to reducing crime.
It’s not a question of whether we are racist, but just how we are racist.
And yes, I too have an ongoing conversation with myself about this, having grown up white and privileged in the US. I am on a journey to minimizing (hopefully eradicating) my racist beliefs and actions. I am proud to have a very diverse set of friends – people I admire, respect and love – who are of all varieties.
Keep me honest, guys and gals.