Events involving racism are painful for society. In those events, you would think that communities are brought closer together to heal. Yet the tragedy is that they are often torn further apart.
Let’s set aside the extremists for a second – the white nationalists, the Nazis, the KKK. Dealing with them is a whole separate issue.
Aside from them, the rest of society, regardless of political affiliation, should be united in solidarity against racism. But unfortunately, there seems to be an even greater divide.
If most people’s desire is for a more free, peaceful, and just society (that might be too wild of an assumption) then shouldn’t this be an easy thing to agree on?
I think we all want the same thing, and to an extent we even agree on the same things. But our own pride, emotions, arrogance, and blind political loyalty drive us towards communicating in horrible ways.
The most important thing in fighting racism isn’t in denouncing the extremists – it’s in addressing and talking about the subtle racism that affects the mainstream majority, who don’t think of themselves as racist. That’s us.
We’re all on a spectrum of racism
I think we all agree that racism is bad. Except the racists.
But everyone has trouble admitting that we’re all racist and prejudiced to some extent. There’s no clear dividing line between racism and non-racism. Whether it’s more overt or unconscious, we all hold stereotypes towards certain ethnicities, religions, cultures, social classes, neighborhoods, etc.
For those who protest against racism, good for you. But be careful that your passion doesn’t become ignorant arrogance. There’s a tendency to feel like you’re so “woke” and above racism that you lash out at everyone who doesn’t agree with you and label them as racist. You then embody this hypocritical self-righteousness, because let’s be honest, you were never this outspoken about racism until it became popular, and you’ve probably been racist to some extent in the past.
For those who oppose the anti-racism crowd but claim to not be racist… there’s a bit of a problem here. Sure, in any other context, you probably have good counter points that you bring up – violence from extreme groups on the left, protection of free speech for everyone, preservation of cultural heritage. But in events like Charlottesville, it’s the wrong time. Here’s why.
Most people, especially minorities who have all experienced racism at some point in their lives, want something very simple. They want an acknowledgment that racism exists, and a statement that it is bad. That’s it, and nothing more. But the extreme lengths that you go to in trying to defend the president’s remarks or your emphatic obsession with Black Lives Matter and AntiFa make you seem quite racist, and may be a signal that perhaps you are (remember, we’re ALL racist to some extent). It’s not that you don’t have the freedom to bring it up, it’s that you can’t empathize with minorities who simply want to know that you don’t judge them for the color of their skin. Yet every time you bring up the “But what about…” tagline, it undermines any claim you have that you’re against racism, which should be a simple, self-contained statement without any “but what abouts.”
Provide space for honest questions and conversations
Humility brings us together; pride tears us apart.
It seems like having the right argument is more important than doing the right thing. For either group, there doesn’t even seem to be an incentive in winning an argument, much less trying to come to an agreement. Both groups defend their views with an arrogant self-righteousness, mass-label everyone as, and stoop to adolescent insults to try and degrade each other. These opposing groups don’t seem to care about winning or losing, they just want to keep fighting.
Maybe you really do believe you’re fighting for a just cause, but may not even realize that your aggressive nature weakens your position and doesn’t actually convince anyone – it just drives them further away. Here are some things to consider if you actually want some progress.
If you oppose anti-racist groups, have you taken the time to ask why they feel so strongly about this issue? First, strip away the BLM/AntiFa/Leftist/Socialist/Liberal jargon for just a little bit. Just stop for a second and recognize that racism exists, and it sucks for people who have to experience it. I’m a minority, and I’ve experienced racism several times in my life, both overt and subtle, from whites and from other minority groups.
Understand that when someone treats you as less than human, it hurts and it makes you angry. And when you see a group of people publicly shouting that message, you would want to protest against that. Stop with the excuses, stop with the comparisons, stop with the counter-arguments. This isn’t some mass liberal attack. It’s individuals who feel real pain from being judged for the color of their skin. And if you think it’s in over exaggeration, then you most likely have never experienced racism in your life, and now might be a good time to learn about it.
If you oppose people who you think are racist, are you giving them the opportunity to explain why they hold certain beliefs, or to ask exploratory questions? First, let’s stop pretending that you’re some kind of guru on race relations and a champion of equality. If you only talk about this when there’s a police shooting or Nazi riot, it doesn’t make you more enlightened than everyone else. That mentality makes you see everyone who doesn’t live up to your standard of racial righteousness (one that you don’t even meet yourself) as an enemy, and you treat them as such. You’re not really promoting the end goal of racial equality, you’re promoting yourself as being more socially aware than other people.
To truly move towards racial equality, you need people on the other side of the political aisle and those you think are slightly racist or even mildly racist to stand with you against racism. That won’t happen if you blanket-label anyone who is a conservative as a racist, or attack anyone who brings up any counter points. When you shame and shun anyone who doesn’t approach racism the same way you do, you end up sabotaging the very cause you claim to be for. Some well-meaning people may not even be aware of their own internal prejudices or their language. Give them the grace to make mistakes, to ask uncomfortable questions, and to be honest about their feelings. Give them the same respect that you demand for everyone else, and stop requiring the perfection that can’t attain yourself.
Addressing racism is complicated, but talking about it shouldn’t be
The next time a race related conversation comes up, whether in person or online, and you feel your blood start to boil, think through these simple steps.
Treat people as individuals, not as part of some mass political group. It may not be racism, but it’s just another form of prejudice.
Ask them what they believe (rather than assume you know what they believe) and dig into the reasons why and the feelings they have.
Affirm them in their feelings, even if you disagree with the reason for those feelings. Find the one thing you agree on, no matter how small, and move forward from there.
I know this is sounds a lot easier than it actually is. We’re human, and our pride and emotions tend to get the best of us. But being human, we also all want to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect, and hopefully that mutual goal is more important than our pride.