Putting more colors in the issue of racism
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 00:09
In a melting pot of all different races, the common thread is racism. It is good to start from a point of agreement: thinking anything about anyone based solely on their skin tone is idiotic, lazy and hypocritical. That being said, we all do it no matter how open-minded we fancy ourselves to be.
To give you an idea of my perspective, I am Mexican-American, born in America and raised in Pittsburgh, which, according to an article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is second only to Scranton, Pa. for lack of diversity in the United States.
Many may object to the notion that we all participate in racism, but the truth is that we make snap-judgments about people upon first sight. We are biased, whether we like it or not, and it usually stems from what we know about people with similar complexions. People tend to organize people into categories based on race or ethnicity, which can be helpful to start conversation, but should not override our opinions about a person. We use a framework built off of previous interactions with similar people whenever we meet someone new. Sometimes we can’t help but base our actions on assumptions made about the other person.
A tired and overused example of racist assumption is the white woman who crosses the street to avoid the young black man. Everyone has seen that at least once. But how about the methods used to find a new home? People often look for neighborhoods with other people like them, or without certain types of people. Every major city has neighborhoods that are defined by race or ethnicity because people are afraid of mixing.
There is a difference between a quick assumption and outright hate, and most people are not hateful, but there is a lot more hate than we would like to acknowledge.
Racism is typically assumed to be simply black or white and often excludes many other minority groups. America’s beloved pastime – sports – is no exception.
When a black athlete, like footballers Vince Young, Warren Sapp or Lawrence Taylor, or basketball player Latrell Sprewell, goes broke, people tear it apart, look at all the financial documents and laugh at them. Conversely when a white athlete goes broke, like Mark Brunell, in football, or the Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings NBA team, people will sometimes tend to excuse their behavior, feel sorry for them or ignore their situation completely.
There is no denying that the strongest rivalry is between black and white, despite the fact those two groups don’t cover even half of society’s color spectrum. It was never more apparent to me than when I was recently in the company of several white friends, who proceeded to spew venomous hate towards black people. Once one guy had identified his hate, he welcomed the others to proclaim theirs as well.
My black friends are no exception, as they take every opportunity to talk about their hate for white people who do wrong by them. The key to this continuous hate is that neither race has a lot of public aggression towards the other. This racism-in-the-shadows and public smiles make life easier for everyone, but it doesn’t fix a long-standing issue.
As a Mexican-American I have heard my share of racist remarks, but I have come to understand that even the worst attacks can’t hurt me because it’s not really me, but rather my ethnicity, that is being attacked. Those who offer up these racist and ethnic slurs are thinking of some fictional character that wears a Mexican flag, doesn’t speak English, steals jobs, is lazy or just hopped the border illegally – basically whatever stereotype best describes their uneducated and hateful bias. My skin color is the only part of me that fits any of these stereotypes, as I am a U.S. citizen, speak English very well and have never stolen a job from anyone, but that doesn’t stop people from assuming the worst about me.
It would be nice to think that people like Martin Luther King, Jr. made a difference in the world with his campaigns against racism and universal acceptance. The fact is, though, that the problem hasn’t gone away. Racism has just changed into a private hate instead of a public display of aggression. We know it happens so we cannot feign ignorance anymore. We must own up to what we see around us and address it. This is a social issue now; we cannot just remain stagnant and hope the government will intervene anymore. The only way this can change is to stop the hate from spreading.
The way I handle race in my life makes things much easier for me. I don’t close myself off to anyone outside of a few outliers in their shared race, because if I did there would be no race I could trust. I try to judge a person based on the information presented to me, not just the color of their skin. I never allow anyone near me to continue a conversation that is negative towards another race. Most importantly, I remind myself that I never want to be judged based on a stereotype and that no one else wants to be just part of a stereotype.
Can a 21 year-old college student really make a difference? Probably not, but I can rip away the blanket of blissful ignorance and shine the light of insight into your eyes. If you choose not to wake up after that? Fine. The world could do without a few more slurs and derogatory comments.
Saúl Berríos-Thomas is a junior political science major and can be reached at email@example.com.