If you are following my blog, you know that I wrote my NativeAfrItalPuertoLankin post as part of the Multicultural Awareness Carnival hosted by Bicultural Mom. There are a lot of great posts written as part of this celebration of diversity but one stuck out at me in particular. It is titled Why I Am A Racist written by Amanda at Let’s Take The Metro.
Here is the link. Go read it now. I’ll wait.
So, how did that make you feel? Do you believe that you are a racist?
I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Ethnic Studies. This is probably not a major you hear very much about but trust me when I tell you that I am well versed in racism. I understand it deeply. And…Amanda Metro is not a racist. She is however, prejudice. We ALL are prejudice. But we are NOT all racists.
Let me break this down for you.
Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. More specifically, racism means supporting or being actively invested in the continuation of a racial hierarchy in which one’s own group dominates (think Nazi Germany). That has to be taught, or developed as a cultural ideology.
Prejudice is different. Prejudice is the pre-judging of a situation or person based upon less than all the facts. You can also define it as an assumption made about someone or something before having adequate knowledge to be able to do so with guaranteed accuracy. Prejudice is a survival mechanism. It initially developed as a means to keep us safe. Look at it like this – if you see a lion charging at you, you will automatically assume it is going to eat you. It may actually be coming up to lick your face, but our assumption is that a charging lion wants to eat us. This is prejudice, and it kept our distant ancestors on the African Savannah alive. In today’s world, prejudice is handed down through our families, our neighbors, our education system, our public safety system, our legal system, and the list goes on. Stereotypes develop and evolve and eventually become ingrained in us as prejudicial feelings against a certain “type” of person.
All racists are prejudice but not everyone with a prejudice is a racist. Sort of. This topic gets very complicated. See, a lot of Americans are still very invested in racial hierarchy, often without being aware of it. This makes them “sleeper” racists although they may tell you that they are not racist or only admit to having prejudices. So in fact, these prejudicial people are also racists by way of their subconscious but they are not true racists. Did I lose you? Hang in there…
Amanda admits to being a racist which by its definition means she is also prejudice. I buy the prejudice part but not the racist part in her case (based on what she wrote in her blog post). If she were truly a racist then she would A) likely not have more than one ethnicity running through her veins and B) be actively supporting world domination by a single ethic group. Amanda admits that she is at the very least biracial and proud of it. I did not read anything on her blog indicating that she is participating in or supporting domination by one of the ethnicities that make up her being. Amanda is simply someone who fell prey to the stereotypes we assign to people thereby making her prejudice.
Now, there could be the possibly that Amanda is one of the few people who falls under the category of being a racist but not really knowing it. This means that she would have to feel threatened by a certain ethnic group because she sensed that said ethnic group was taking away something from her and her ethnic group(s). You can be more than one ethnicity in this case. To illustrate – Amanda is Caucasian and Hispanic. Let’s pretend that she believes that the outsourcing of American jobs to India is threatening the way of life specific to Caucasians and Hispanics and believes that NO Indian person should be afforded the opportunity to work for an American company unless the jobs are offered to Caucasians and Hispanics first. Her views means that she feels that Caucasians and Hispanics are more worthy of a specific way of life than persons of Indian decent and therefore should be given the opportunity to work, earn an income, and maintain a certain standard of living. Persons of Indian decent should be left to suffer. This is clearly not a prejudicial view. This is a racist view because she believes that persons of Caucasian and Hispanic decent are superior to those of Indian decent. But it might not be a view that Amanda is aware of having as it manifests itself in fleeting thoughts and not a day to day way of living. What I mean is, she is not out there protesting against and attempting to eradicate persons of Indian decent. She may have an occasional dark thought about persons of Indian decent when she calls tech support and hears the familiar accent on the other end of the phone. But it might not be something that she is really aware of. Yet, it makes her a racist just the same.
Did I totally lose you yet? Ok –sorry. That second point is such a gray area that it is hard to explain without getting all convoluted and PhD dissertation-like.
Back to my more basic point.
In all honesty, we can’t divorce ourselves from the advantages of being a member of a certain ethnic group, gender, generation, etc. However, it is possible to renounce the structure and no longer invest in it thereby distancing ourselves from past and present racism. It is much harder to distance ourselves from our prejudices and this is what Amanda is really getting at in her post. Left in a vacuum, anyone will tend to form prejudices based upon easily identifiable characteristics. Without guidance to reinforce positive prejudice and discourage negative prejudice, such superficial prejudice will continue.
And this is where I go on a teensy, tiny rant. Good stuff…stay with me here.
For 5 years, I lived in one of the rougher areas of Sacramento. Many people would call it the ghetto. It was pretty bad but not as bad as Compton for example. I lived in this area by myself for three of those five years. Here are just a few of the things that I dealt with/witnessed on a regular basis:
Weekly drunken brawls between the father and son who lived directly across the street. They would try to kill each other after hours and hours of fighting that would literally wake me up from a dead sleep. The police were regulars at their house. The son had not been to school since he was in 5th grade. He was a teenager at that time. The father was a raging alcoholic and was typically unemployed.
Cock fighting, dog fighting, and general animal neglect and abuse happened all around me. (Which by the way led to me to have a house, basement, and yard full of desperate animals).
Gunshots within a one mile radius – daily.
The ghetto bird (police helicopter) flying over our neighborhood nightly. On the weekends, it pretty much stayed all night long.
Police sirens all day and all night.
Police chases – daily.
One of Sacramento’s most wanted bank robbers lived two doors down from me. I talked to him all the time. He was the neighborhood crack dealer and you did not want to get on his bad side. Better to say hello and be polite. Oh – and pretend that you didn’t see him bury his money in the park down the street. Did I mention he was a strong armed bank robber whose picture was on the news? All. The. Time. And guess what – I had no clue. You do not pay too much attention to who your neighbors are when you live where I did.
Gang violence. My next door neighbor was shot and killed in front of his house while I slept in my bed, yards away from flying bullets. Then there was all of the retaliation that went back and forth for a month.
“Small crimes” such as breaking and entering, petty theft, drug dealing, and the like. My own house was broken into one year and many of my possessions (including a firearm) were stolen. Then the perps pooped their pants and left those for me. Nice gift.
Prostitution – on my front lawn and in front of my house. Read carefully. On. My. Front. Lawn. AND In. Front. Of. My. House. The way my house was positioned made it a prime location for sexual exchanges. Pretty sweet to wake up to a yard full of condoms or better yet, a well to do businessman getting an early morning wakeup call in front of your house as you step outside to grab the newspaper.
A sexual offender database that would make your head spin. Ever been on the Megan’s Law website and checked to see who was living within a mile of your home? There were so many registered sex offenders in my neck of the woods that the map was completely filled with little red dots. I do not even want to imagine what that map would look like with all of the unregistered sex offenders that were most likely living in my area as well.
If you are not sure whether you believe all this, just ask my mom if what I am writing is true. She reads the blog. She will confirm it all.
So after reading all of that you are probably thinking that I have formed some rather prejudicial views. Quite the opposite. You see, the craziness that surrounded me for five years showed me that skin color, ethnicity, gender, age, size, shape, level of education, et al, has NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING to do with anything. The people who lived in my area could stand side by side and make a rainbow of color. There was not one dominant ethnic group committing any of these acts. My area was an area of equal opportunity badness. And no one was exempt from the direct effects of or peripheral repercussions of the violence that went on. These crimes were not directed any anyone because of the color of the skin. In my area, violence and crime were a means to an end – a survival mechanism. By witnessing everything that I outlined and more I actually completely let go of my prejudices. You will not catch me stereotyping people. I refrain from pigeonholing anyone into a category because of their cultural or ethnic affiliation. So see – it CAN be done. Each of us individually has the power to END stereotyping and prejudice. We just have to be willing to do it and have the strength and courage to help others do the same. It is not easy. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to live where I live, see what I see, and realize that anyone, anywhere, in any circumstance can act a certain way, live a certain life, be a victim of circumstances, or rise above the cards dealt to them.
So why do I believe that we will NEVER overcome being a prejudicial society? I think that there is a lot of valid prejudice in this world. Huh? What? Why? It comes down to what people chose to show the world. I guarantee that if a group of young men wearing saggy jeans, oversized sweatshirts with hoods and accompanied by a rather large and aggressive looking dog being led by a chain were walking towards you on the street, you would NOT engaged them in friendly conversation. In fact, my guess is that you would be looking for every conceivable escape route. If another group of young men, all wearing khakis and polo shirts walking a golden retriever were headed towards you, you would not only continue walking with your head held high but you would most likely say hello or offer some other pleasantry. The sad reality is that the first group of young men are choosing to show the world, by their outward appearance, that they could be “thugs”, looking for trouble. It is justifiable prejudice to be concerned about their potential actions based on their appearance but NOT by their skin color. My point is that even justifiable prejudice has nothing to do with someone’s skin. It has everything to do with the choices that individual makes in how he or she wants to present themselves to the rest of the world.
And now I have gone on far too long. What I hope you take away from this post is that:
1. I am 99.99% sure that Amanda Metro is NOT a racist.
2. I am 100% sure that Amanda Metro is prejudice.
3. I am 99% sure that those of you reading this are trying to decide whether or not to admit to being prejudice, racist, or both.
4. I am 100% sure that NONE of you believe that I have no prejudices. Well – I did in the past, but I do not have prejudices against people anymore.
5. I am 100% sure that I will lose a reader or two over this. At the very least, I may have opened a can of worms. Let me just add that I was also the Ethnic Studies Graduate of the Year so seriously, I PROMISE that I know what I am talking about here.
6. I am 100% hopeful that this post inspired you to take a good, hard look at your beliefs, your biases, the stereotypes imposed on you, the stereotypes you are imposing on your children, and the prejudicial viewpoints you have about people based on any number of factors, all of which are based on a lack of information about a specific person. I hope that you will then work towards eliminating all of the prejudices you have.