On Racism

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I, like many of you, woke up today to a story about a woman who was murdered after backing out of a KKK initiation. I've since read another article about a boy suing the KKK for a severe beating he received by Klan members and frankly have not been able to get those stories out of my mind all day.

Reading these articles makes me want to bury my head in the sand and go back to being blissfully ignorant of the activities of groups like the KKK, but try as I might, I haven't been able to. I guess in some ways I am thankful for the news for making me think about this, for making it attention worthy.

Last week, we elected an African-American president. For days after the results were announced, I walked around on a cloud of happiness because, you know what? My children will never ask me why only white men can be president. And that? That is amazing. It's something I didn't get as a child, but it's something I got to change, something I got to be a part of.

But while I was experiencing this honeymoon of happiness after what I felt to be a wonderful victory, both politically and in terms of social progression, other people were coming out of the woodwork and showing just how far we, as a country, have to go to reach the tolerance that Obama's victory could've and should've underscored.

I do not understand how anyone, in the year 2008, can be racist. I don't. I understand hundreds of years ago someone who was an "authority" on anthropology gave a "scientific" explanation of the superiority of white people, but that was hundreds of years ago and we've since disproved every single claim. There's absolutely no excuse for racism today.

I don't want to hear bullshit about it's how someone was raised, or where they came from. Those are the worst excuses for intolerance. If you know you were raised under a false set of beliefs, then do something about it. It's not as if by growing up in a generation that encouraged racism you are now bound to be racist. Choose to be different. Choose to be better. Because that's what it is, a choice. People who belong to groups such as the KKK choose ignorance and hatred.

I am a human whose skin happens to be fairly pale. Please tell me, how does the paleness of my skin indicate any kind of superiority? I was born this way, but everything I've done with my life, my attitude, my job, my daily interactions with the world are independent of my skin color, they are my choice, my will and my decisions. Skin color has nothing to do with why I succeed in school. It has nothing to do with why I do a lot of stupid things. It has nothing to do with any life choices I make other than the fact that I cannot wear yellow without looking like I'm seasick.

(For the record, I'm ignoring the argument that I have extra life opportunities because I'm white. I'm not disagreeing with it, but it is neither here, nor there on this issue. My point is merely that what I do with my life is not motivated by the fact that I am white.)

How does the pigmentation of skin correlate to intelligence or manners or morality? I know more than my share of white people who are either extremely unintelligent or horrendously rude or farther into a gutter of sin than I even believed possible. Or often, all 3. I also know plenty of non-white people who are extremely intelligent and capable and possibly the most kind, well-mannered people I have the pleasure of associating with. Simply put, you can find an example of goodness and an example of badness in any group of people, but that is a choice made on the part of an individual, it is not a predisposition based on race, it is not a race-wide specification. It is a choice.

Someone, somewhere, somehow decided long ago that the way we look was a fair way to judge who we are and what we could be. They were wrong, and it is time for us to recognize that mistake and correct it.

It's time for parents to stop talking about people of other races as if they are innately more dangerous. It's unacceptable to me that a student told me that she was afraid to walk to her car in the middle of the day because an African-American man was standing in the parking lot. It's unacceptable to me that parents think it's appropriate to tell their kids that they can't go to a local mall because it's the "black mall." It's unacceptable that it's the year 2008 and we still allow racist stereotypes to influence our behavior.

Perhaps if we all reflect, deeply, about what it is we truly believe about race and ethnicity and what our actions say, we can help usher in a change even greater than a new president. Maybe we can be a part of the generation that ends groups like the KKK and groups who refuse to be tolerant of those who are different.

Maybe we can be the generation that truly embraces the diversity of this country and the generation that puts a stop to the hatred and intolerance that has too often plagued the pages of our history.


Lipstick Jungle said...

I would love to print this out and send it to my father. My father who is the kindest, most generous man I know, is also the biggest "closet racist" I know. While he uses the N word like it is covered in chocolate, and was the first to outwardly admit that he would never vote for a president who was not lilly white, in public he never outwardly shows his racism. And that makes him a hypocrit.

That being said, he too was outraged at the news of this murder, and is outraged that there are still organized groups of vile citizens that would take their racism to the extent that the Klan and Skin Heads do.

He would never snub a colored person of any race to their face, but he will talk about them behind their backs.

And it drives me insane.

I live in a very small community (4,700) in southern Minnesota. My community because of its industry has a 40% hispanic population.

It drives him insane.

When he took the kids to the pool this summer while I was recovering for my kidney surgeries, he had the nerve to come home and say "they may as well hang a sign at that place 'Mexican Bathtub'". I was APPALLED!

I gave him the where with all, explained that while they are not from here, neither were his parents, and while their skin is a little darker then ours, his parents didn't speak fluent english either. I also explained the adverse socioeconomic impact there would be in my very small community should these people not be welcomed here with open arms and endless job opportunities.

It shut him up. And they were back at the pool the next day.

I know it didnt change his opinion, but it may have opened his eyes to another perspective.

We only make small impacts as individuals, but if we all stood up for what we believed in maybe we could make a big difference. I believe that there are more people like you and I out there - its obvious - we just elected a man of color into the most powerful office in this nation.

Thank you for this post! Sorry I wrote a book for a comment!

Anonymous said...

Awesome post Katie - very well said.

I also read those 2 articles and was disgusted by them... I don't understand how those groups can still exist. I also read an article on CNN about how gun sales have soared since Obama's election. That scares me...

I lived with a VERY racist roommate last year, and it drove me nuts. Especially since our other roommate was East Indian. She was absolutely horrible to her, and she and her family would make comments to each other right in front of her.

I'm also in a small town (2,500) where people know who you're talking about when you say "the black kid" and "the asian girl" and commonly refer to them as that. I don't think most people know that "the black kid" got a full scholarship to one of the best Universities around. Yet I know of people who think he's probably into drugs and crime.

I don't know if you read "Boobs, Injuries and Dr. Pepper" but Crystals been having guest posts lately and there's an awesome post (#4 I think) that relates.

I hope that tougher laws/penalties can be formed against hate crimes and verbal racism, and maybe in areas where this is a bigger problem, then maybe money should be spent on education programs for the schools and general public?

Anonymous said...

guest post #5 on boobs/injuries.... oops :)

MsPicketToYou said...

lori sent me here, though I've been a lurker in the past. your story? this story? the beauty and righteousness of wisdom, which is in fact the only thing that can lead the way.

i wrote about the diminishing rights of gay people in our nation. change the words and we were writing about the same thing.

Aquaria said...

I appreciate how you pointed out that racism is a choice. Being raised in ignorance and hatred is no excuse to continue being ignorant and hateful.

I grew up in the South, and I'm talking deep South Southern, in a relatively tolerant home, but nevertheless more racist than a 1960s sitcom. I've seen a lot of ugly things, and heard even more. Yet I didn't let it become a part of me.

I'm not so stupid as to say I'm not prejudiced at all. That would be a lie. But my prejudices run against stupid and hateful, and not on color of skin or ethnicity. A lot of things made me that way, but, ultimately, it was my choice to reject the ignorance and intolerance that were part of my upbringing.

If I can overcome it, anyone can. There is no excuse for anyone to cling to their bigotry.

kim-d said...

Yeah, that whole "rights" and "free speech" thing can sometimes be a double-edged sword, in that even people who don't think anywhere near what we think still have them. No matter how heinous, no matter how disgusting, no matter how WRONG it seems to us, those people ARE making a choice. I think they've chosen to be heinous, disgusting and wrong. And, unfortunately (or fortunately, if you're one of them), they have the right to be that way. It doesn't seem like it should be that way, but it is.

On a totally not-unrelated subject, recently I visited a Holocaust museum; the first time I had been to one. Even though, as Holocaust museums go, this one was probably pretty small, they managed to have a boxcar on exhibit. A real, actual boxcar that had been used to transport people to their deaths. I sat there and cried like a baby because I could just see the people packed into THAT boxcar, the one that I was looking at in October, 2008. And there are people who don't think much about that either. I mean, it didn't happen here, but still.

Rights. They're a funny thing. Just like if somebody breaks into your house and you hurt them, they can sue you. Doesn't seem possible, but it is. Everybody makes choices, but there are always going to be some who don't make the choices we think they should make. Because it's their right. Hmmmm...

CoastingThroughTheSouth said...

These are people that do not want to work hard to improve themselves, but they still want to be "superior", thus leaving them no other way to be superior than to declare it themselves. Basically they are envious, of others who work up to a place of power. They are envious and lazy.

Anonymous said...

While I abhor the actions of what these idiots did, you cannot, repeat cannot forbid them from saying what they say. If one form of speech is ilegal, then the potential for ALL types of speech to be illegal is very real. Smarter people then I have stated this unequivically for years.

Overflowing Brain said...

Please do not misunderstand me- I understand and respect the right to freedom of speech.

I am not in any way, trying to say that people are not entitled to the expression of their opinions or to congregate in groups that promote hatred. I absolutely understand that and I am as big of a supporter of the 1st Amendment as you'll ever find.

That said, I just wish that people didn't want to say racist, intolerant or hatred laced things. It's great that they're free to, now if only we could convince them to not want to.

Anonymous said...

Delurking to say that this has been on my mind since Sunday night when I found a horrible picture my "friend" had posted on his messageboard.

We are no longer friends. If he feels that way about Obama, what does he think of me, a Mexican and White girl? What does he think of my son, who is Chinese, Mexican, and White? I don't need that crap in my life, especially after putting up with it when I was younger because I wasn't one or the other. Now I'm proud of who I am, and if people don't like it, they can kiss my half-breed @ss. :)

Good topic. I need to send this to my hubby.