Imagine one of your parents sends you an email, a ‘joke’ email regarding the nomenclature of hurricanes not being representative of all US cultures (a legitimate point which was brought before the US Congress in 2003). The tone of the ‘joke’ is derogatory & racist. Your parent didn’t write it. They just forwarded it from some other email or website (I don’t know). ‘Joke’ or no ‘joke’, the content of the email is endorsed by the sender when sent.
If you found the ‘joke’ funny, then you don’t really have a problem with your parents but with racial sensitivity & should probably stop reading here.
If you were upset about the email, then you probably found yourself with a little bit of a quandary. What do you do? (If you hope I have advice, you better stop reading here!)
I believe people demean themselves while degrading others. I don’t think ignorance can make anyone look anything other than stupid. Do you talk to them about your feelings? Talking to people about racism is similar to discussing their driving, insofar as no one believes they are a bad driver. They would almost certainly be upset that you could think such a thing about them. Do you ignore it and keep the peace? What kind of peace would you be keeping? Probably not your own.
In my mind, any kind of discord is total discord. There’s no such thing as a small problem. Everything is a seed waiting to bloom and prosper.
There’s a saying that goes something like, “You can’t reason irrational ideas out of people.” So, is all of this an exercise in futility? Is there a solution to racism other than fighting the problem within yourself?
I have my share of socialized preconceptions about various races. I’ve learned most of it through family, some through friends. I’ve spent the last thirteen years working on deprogramming myself. It’s not easy when you’re pretty much alone in the effort. I try to believe in the inherent goodness of people. I try to imagine myself as a solitary foreigner in distant parts of the world – downtown Calcutta, or driving alone in Hong Kong. Nothing would make sense to me. I can’t think of many situations in which I would feel lonelier. I don’t think many others would feel any different, but I can only speak for myself.
I love culture. I love different perspectives, ideas and realities. I can learn a lot about myself as I learn about you. And like the song says, ‘We are the world.’ For every person we don’t understand, there’s another who doesn’t understand us. There’s a lot to learn about. Yeah, there’s crap in the world – it’s a biological function, a byproduct of the body at large, but the body itself can still be beautiful.
I don’t think I should one’s race at fault for a flaw in their character. Simple fact – there are idiots everywhere. If we were all held accountable for the actions of all our idiotic predecessors, then we would live in a world very similar to the one we do!!
But this is the paradox – if you should treat everyone with kindness and respect, then you should address issues of disrespect or lack of kindness with an intent to reach a resolution. You need to upset the peace in order to acheive peace. You have to do so in such a way as to not be disrespectful yourself, as much as you might disrespect racism (or some other insensitivity). The idea is to get other people thinking. Awareness is half the battle.
I went to the dentist yesterday. He asked if I get a lot of headaches. I do. He told me I grind my teeth and it’s probably causing some of these headaches. I did not know I was grinding. I did not know it would contribute to my headaches. Now, I am aware. I am watching for it. I want to stop it. Most importantly, the dentist gave me evidence of my actions – the tops of my teeth are flattening.
Flip this example into our current dilemma. Take the racist email, deconstruct it and show how it is offensive. Ask your parent what they found amusing about it. It is possible a new consciousness will arise within them.
Words can heal or destroy the world. Kindness can save everyone from themselves.