The Great Northwest is seemingly mild compared to other parts of the country. The weather is never too extreme, our sports teams aren’t really the best or the worst, and the cost of living is far less than New York and far more than Houston. (And thank God for that because Houston looks like a giant slum).
Another thing that’s awfully moderate in these parts is racism. We don’t have segregated proms like some of the folks in Alabama and I’d hope that the Zimmerman-Martin situation would have played out a little differently up here. The folks in Oregon and Washington are known for being liberal, friendly and welcoming. But ask anyone who’s read the comments on a news story about people of color and you’ll discover we have a pretty high number of closet racists.
Racism is just one of those things. I know many of you cringe at the mere mention of the word. But it’s also as American as sliced bread. This country was built on it. If European settlers didn’t feel superior to the brown natives, things would be different. If the early Americans didn’t feel superior to the Africans they enslaved, things would be different. There’s really no denying that. And the fact that it’s so much a part of our culture is what makes it so scary.
When a lot of systems that are in place have racist practices and when the media perpetuates racist stereotypes, its hard to even tell the difference between racism and every day life. Many people are actually unaware that what they are doing or saying is even racist. Something as simple as saying “What up?” to a Black person, rather than the “Hello” you offer to white people may seem innocent, but it’s laced with racism. Assuming you’d have to address someone differently because of their skin color is a racist concept. Sure, you’re not a racist person, but the action is somewhat racist and many people will take offense to it.
Since a lot of the racist things that happen are simply done out of ignorance, the best way to eliminate racism it is to eliminate the ignorance surrounding it. With that said, I have two very simple tips for you so that you can do your part to end racism.
People of color are often put into situations where someone does something racist, but to avoid conflict they don’t say anything. When you’re the minority, you feel like you have to behave a certain way in order to be safe. You don’t want to be a rebel rouser or the source of office drama, so a lot of times you just grin and bear it. But nobody benefits from this. Speaking out against something racist, even if its done by a friend, is important.
Like I said before, many people don’t even realize what they’ve done is racist. You can say it as simple as this, “Hey, touching my hair makes me feel like an animal in a petting zoo and dehumanizes me. I understand you think its cool, but wouldn’t it be odd if someone randomly touched your hair like you were an exhibit rather than a person.” It may make both parties feel a little uncomfortable, but at least it offers a little bit of enlightenment and will probably prevent the person from doing that in the future.
On the flip side of that, people should be willing to listen to people of color voice their concerns about racism. Don’t shrug off what they’re saying and assume they’re making a big deal out of nothing. Don’t trivialize their experiences by trying to prove that you’ve experienced something just as bad or worse. You have to be open and listen, take in what they have to say, and make any changes that would help prevent that situation from happening again. You can’t undo racism and you can’t change other people’s mind, but you can make an effort to make the world a better place.
That leads me to my 2nd tip…
You know folks aren’t born racist. They learn it. So, teach your children and/or the children around you tolerance, acceptance, and understanding. Let them know that those Black and brown people they see on TV aren’t like every Black and brown person they may encounter. Don’t tell racist jokes around them. (We know you tell them. Some of them are actually pretty funny, but you don’t want kids thinking that’s ok.)
Racism is one of those things that may never end. We could pass a million laws to fight it, but laws don’t change people’s minds. But for those who aren’t chewing tobacco on porches in Mississippi waving confederate flags, change is possible. You can’t do a whole lot, but every little bit counts.
Now, let’s all hold hands and sing Cumbaya. DJ, drop that beat!