I’ve often thought that the biggest obstacle to getting rid of racism in the United States is our country’s condemnation of it.
Basically no one wants to think of themselves as racist.
That’s understandable because being racist isn’t a good thing. That being said, what’s racism? I don’t mean the definition, but what racism is composed of. It’s a bunch of ideas. That’s all.
Society passes along the ideas not just as deliberate, conscious things but also as unconscious assumptions. Since the Civil Rights movement, very few people deliberately tell their children that minorities are not as good as they are, but it’s easy to pass along that message in subtle ways.
The effect being that people can intellectually believe that no race is better than another, but still get more nervous if they see a bunch of black teenagers walking down the street behind them than they would if they see white teenagers.
In short, we might all be a little racist.
Seriously, Jesse Jackson talked about feeling a little nervous about seeing a few black teens walking on the street.
The trouble is, no one wants to think of themselves that way.
People don’t have gradations of racism. People seem to have a “good vs. evil” sense of what racism is. If you’re not racist, you’re normal. If you are, you’ve got a similar perspective on life to Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan.
I’d suggest a more realistic and more useful perspective might be that almost everybody has an unquestioned racist assumption (or more) hanging out in their minds. For the most part, this doesn’t mean that they’re evil, just normal.
Bringing the level of condemnation down a notch or two might actually allow people to talk about their beliefs and notice when they’re making racist assumptions.
By contrast, I’d argue, the current situation, in which we notice someone’s said something slightly racist, and then criticize them endlessly probably results in them justifying it to themselves, and, not changing anybody’s mind at all.