Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fighting our inner racist

The title of the blog post should surprise no one. We are still a very racist society. Sadly, much current racism is not seen as such.

Chris Matthews was so moved with glee at Obama's state of the union address that he proudly proclaimed that "I forgot he was black." This statement can only mean one thing, Matthews does not associate great intellect and articulate vocabulary with black people.

Yes, I am sure that Matthews is not an "old-time bigot." I am sure he believes in civil rights, and thinks of himself as anti-racist. I have no doubt that in some ways he is. But his remark has brought to the surface a truth that we all must face: racism lives in us still.

It is not merely that our society still has racists in it. We are often racist in ways we do not perceive. Sadly those we are racist against perceive it, and it hurts and offends this.

This was brought home for me with great force. One of my courses is equally dividing between African-American and Caucasian students. I showed them the following clip from The Daily Show:


The Caucasian students found the clip to be a humorous look at race. The African-Americans felt otherwise. They were deeply offended by this clip and did NOT find it the least bit funny. These students were wounded afresh by Matthews' foolish remarks and thought that The Daily Show made matters far worse by turning it into a joke.

For African-American students, who have experienced a great deal of discrimination and unjust treatment all their lives, there is nothing but pain and sorrow in racism. It is not a matter to jest about.

This experience has caused me to think. Those who experience oppression, discrimination, exploitation, are wounded and offended in ways that I cannot even dream of. I am a white male, with all the privilege and immunity that brings with it. I cannot fathom their pain.

We who are from groups which do no experience this discrimination are often shocked to learn that words, gestures, and actions that we think harmless are received with great offence and pain and anger from groups that are oppressed.

We had better learn to look more closely. We had better seek to understand our wounded fellows. We had better become more aware of the many ways that racism still lives, unconscious but all too real, in each of us.

I cannot ever really understand what African-Americans go through. But I can reach out to be sensitive to their sorrows and do all in my power to learn from and truly open myself to their perspective.

This black history month let us all promise to try and look more deeply and our unconscious racism and see if we can change some of it.

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