Racism is conflict in one of its most nasty forms. I hate that it exists and fervently wish it didn’t. As recent news stories have made all too clear, however, racism is real and it remains a very potent factor in not getting along.
Whether you are white or a person of color, it is impossible to ignore skin coloration. Research has shown that we determine race within milliseconds of seeing someone and it can affect our day-to-day interactions more than our perceptions of financial status, social standing, and even gender. Racism doesn’t have to be loud and ugly, it can be silent and insidious.
So what can we do to reduce racism in our community? As always, since we can’t make other people change, we must start with ourselves. If we are successful in changing, people around us may note our example and decide to follow.
One of the first things we can do is to acknowledge how subtly our perceptions of race exert their influence, even if we don’t intend them to. For example, those of us who are white take many things for granted, like being able to go about our daily business free of the suspicions and fears that often cast a shadow over the actions of our neighbors who are African American, Native American, Latino/a, Middle-Eastern American, etc. Nobody questions our presence or good intentions in a supermarket. European Americans are rarely challenged about their citizenship.
We can also reach out to get to know community members of differing racial backgrounds. Our natural human tendency is to stick with those who are most like us. But if we want to take action to overcome the lingering weight of racism, another thing we can do is to seek out friends in new places.
If you are white and have friends or colleagues of color, you can invite them to tell you about racism in their lives and then listen to what they have to say. These conversations can be uncomfortable at first, just like anything new. Let your desire to have racism truly eradicated give you the gumption to move through the discomfort. As you begin to explore, however, remember that the playing field is not level. Take it upon yourself to be the one who issues the invitation and starts the conversation.
Often, when white people begin to learn about racism and the privileges of being part of the “normal” group, it brings up feelings of shame over how this could be happening right under our noses. That’s natural. So take your time. Think about it, reach out and talk about it with someone you trust, and then let it percolate for a bit. Decide what you can do and then do it. Don’t let shame hold you back – acknowledge the reality of what was and what is, and commit to doing all you can to create positive changes.
It’s up to each of us to raise these issues and act to make our society more equitable. It’s not about politics, red or blue. It’s about our common humanity. It takes courage, but working together we can do this. We will make mistakes and yet we will eventually get along so much better because of the effort.