In his Sunday New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof reports: “To my horror, I turn out to be a racist.”
Kristof had just taken an on-line test called “The Policeman’s Dilemma” from the University of Chicago in which the participant has to decide whether to shoot 100 black or white men who are sometimes holding a gun and sometimes holding a cell phone. He reports he shot armed black men more quickly and holstered his gun more quickly when facing unarmed whites. Whites and many blacks who take the test show similar bias, he added.
He then discusses Harvard’s “implicit attitude tests,” which reveal “a stunningly large proportion of people who honestly believe themselves to be egalitarian unconsciously associate good with white and bad with black.”
Kristof then goes on to discuss gender and race bias, and suggests gender bias might be harder to overcome.
I don’t wish to argue that point, but I do want to expand the context beyond what Kristof covered. The tests Kristof reported on reveal something about individual bias, but from whence comes individual bias? From our society and culture. Racism in America is systemic. It’s been built in since earliest colonial times. It took America’s bloodiest war and the often bloody Civil Rights Movement to weaken the structure of racism. Though no longer the mighty edifice it once was, racism still stands. We can and must change individual attitudes, but only as part of the larger goal of dismantling the system.
5 responses to “How Racist am I/are We?”
Everybody is a racist. That is why I don’t get offended when somebody tells me that I have done or said something that was racist. Instead of getting offended, I think to myself, “Self, you may have gone about this one the wrong way this time. How might I go about this in a better way next time?” This does not bother me because I know that everybody is racist, so I am not horrified when I realize that I have made yet another racist error in judgement along my travels in life. But what I think is especially troubling and disturbing is these binary thinkers who think that you are either completely racist or completely not racist, like these people on Fox News. They think they are the most righteous creatures who have every walked the face of the earth, and if you try to tell them that they have ever said anything racist, they get extremely offended and huffy and puffy and all high and mighty and indignant, and they proclaim, “I most certainly am not racist. I am a perfectly decent person who has done everything in my power to do what is right my entire life so it is impossible for me to do or say anything that is racist, so I am going to defend everything I have ever said to the death, instead of admitting that I may have possibly said something on Fox News that was racist. Us Fox News Anchors don’t ever say anything racist, because we are perfect. That is how we got hired here. They only hire perfect people to work here on Fox News.”
I’m married to a black woman, and there are still racist things about me. It’s in the air, almost literally. It’s like a disease: I’m not responsible for getting the disease — it happens — but once I know I have it, I am responsible for doing something about it. If we understand that we live in a racist society/culture, I think we can become less defensive on a personal level. The big step is: How deep am I willing to go? How much risk am I willing to take to address racism, because it is risky. You will alienate and anger people. Personally, I believe God demands it of me.
To say that everyone is racist is rather binary. I am not saying that everyone is perfectly not racist either. Is it not preferable to say BOTH AND instead of EITHER OR? Racist or stereotypical attitudes abound. As V.K. says, “it is in the air”, it is in the very culture in which we live. Each of us must realize that despite how hard we may try, we still harbor these attitudes, even if we don’t recognize it ourselves. Because of this, we must strive to purge it from ourselves, each day become more and more informed of our own character and more and more refined. To pick just one example, Black must help Whites and Whites must help Black. In this cooperative and dynamic way we will work towards its abolition.
I believe that paradigms cause good intentioned people to be racist. We studied paradigms in my engineering ethics class at Mercer University. If everybody you know has always done things a certain way, and you consider everybody you know to be a good intentioned person, then it takes an abnormal level of open minded thinking to try to imagine how there might be bigotry and bias involved. The American Civil War is probably one of the best examples of this. The Confederacy was not filled with a bunch of horrible people. These white slave owners were not guilty of having bad intentions. Instead, they were guilty of not being able to think far enough outside of the paradigms which had enslaved them.
A.H.H. has something. An historical example: In the early 20th century, some white American Baha’is thought having segregated meetings was okay. Even though they knew they had been commanded by God to end prejudice and unite humanity, some Baha’is had trouble understanding that they couldn’t do this while maintaining segregation. So pervasive was racism, and the segregation it maintained, even enlightened people were affected by it. Even many people of various beliefs who supported equality weren’t very sanguine aboue integration. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and then the head of the Faith, did allow segregated meetings for a limited time solely for the purpose of preparing for an integrated Faith. We have been thoroughly desegregated for nearly a century.