Recently I have been getting to the point that I don’t like opinion pieces. All too often, opinion pieces are used as an alternate to real news. They make claims that aren’t backed up by fact, are completely tainted by ideology, and serve only to try to persuade people to substitute propaganda for reality.
I am making an exception to my hatred of opinion for this piece from the New York Times. This piece, while labeled as opinion, is based on an interview and the events that followed. It serves to shine a spotlight on some of the most basic problems with race relations in the United States. As such, You should read it in an attempt to understand the problems that the United States faces as well as some fundamental strategies that we can all use to move forward.
“I speak for a lot of unspoken people,” he told me. “Maybe millions of white people who are afraid to admit” their racial fears and prejudices. “They’re not bad people. They just don’t know how to behave and how to interact” with people of different races.
It is difficult to admit that we are prejudice, that we are either afraid or unknowledgeable of how to interact with people who differ from us by their skin color. Oh, sure; it isn’t too difficult if ‘they’ go through all the trouble to act like ‘us’, but when ‘they’ don’t change to emulate our expectations, we often have no tools to bridge the gap between us.
I have admitted that I am prejudice a long time ago. Being prejudice isn’t something to be ashamed of in-and-of itself. What we choose to do about it determines whether we should be ashamed of ourselves of not.
Many of us can’t help being prejudice. We were born into a system that was prejudice. We were taught the system before we had the tools to evaluate it. It wasn’t just that we considered the system ‘normal,’ it was the only system that we knew existed. We were surrounded by the system. It was presented to us on television, on the playground at school, around our holiday tables, and reflected in our friendships. No, we didn’t do this to ourselves, it was done to us.
After our childhood was spent processing prejudice as ‘normal,’ we carried it with us like an irrational fear of the dark that we just can’t quite shake no matter how rational we try to be about it.
With Mr. Trump headed to the White House, my now-friendship with the “racist caller” on C-Span seems like a glimpse of a path not taken. Garry makes me believe that even though a man endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan won the majority of white support, people can change. He told me he now notices his own stereotypes and is eager to replace them with something more generous and true about his fellow Americans.
We need conversations like mine and Garry’s to happen across the country, outside of politics. Societies that have been through traumas have embarked on racial reconciliation processes; South Africa’s is the most famous, but there are dozens more. There’s no reason we can’t do that here.
Not only is there no reason why we can’t do that here, it is incumbent on each and every one of us to do the work necessary to see that the system that instilled racism in us isn’t perpetuated. We owe it to people of color that still struggle to be seen as humans instead of stereotypes. We owe it to the white people who have been coerced and polluted by a damaging ideology, and we owe it to our children to save them through the unnecessary torments that we all must suffer through regardless of our race. After all, we are all victims of the same corrupt system. Some of us have suffered more under that corrupt system, but we are all suffering.