Monday, January 24, 2011

We Must Eradicate Even Subtly Racist Messages

I have a couple of black sons, and much of my reaction to the issue of racism is influenced by my experiences when they lived with us. I know a single, black mother who attends church regularly and has shared some of her concerns with me. I hope, somehow, some of this will help explain why we need to be aware of even subtle racial messages - especially when they appear among us:

1) When you are the only black face in a congregation of white faces, you already feel isolated and alone in a very real way. You already are hyper-aware of and sensitive to racial issues. After all, some well-meaning members automatically start playing match-maker every, single time there is a black man with the missionaries on Sunday - (without fail and without exception).

2) Being "color-blind" is an illusion when the 6'7" young man sitting amid the short, pale, white family is dark black. As my son says, "You don't see color, you blind."

3) When you see a good young man cringe and reflexively look for an escape route every time he hears a police siren - simply because he has spent his entire life from the age of ten being targeted as a potential trouble maker as a large, black man . . .

4) When you hear a school teacher say, the very first time he meets you, not to worry about your son in his classroom - because, "I know how to handle these kids" . . .

5) It is eye-opening when you realize how you would react if someone told you that being white is fine for this life, since righteous white people will be black in the hereafter.

I could go on and on for hours - and my repertoire of examples comes primarily from only 18 months of raising a black teenager.
I understand that racism is charged in instances where it doesn't exist, and I also understand that it is very possible to be overly-sensitive to possible racist statements, but I just don't accept any statement at all that says we don't need to do all we can to be aware of and eliminate anything that would cause reasonable people of any color to be offended by something that has racist undertones - intentional or not. I believe the tone we take must be civil and meek to be most effective, but this is one area where I believe we owe it to our children and others to eradicate one of the worst results of the Fall - the judging and belittling of our brothers and sisters based solely on race - even if we need to be vocal and confrontational to do so.


Richard Alger said...

On Martin Luther King Day, We talked to our kids about his contribution to our society. One of my kids said something to the effect that he was glad that we live today where racism is gone. I struggled with my response because I am glad with so much progress we have had in the last decades in and out of the LDS church.

I said we all have prejudices that we are not aware of enough.

SilverRain said...

I have thought about this, and wondered.

I was largely unaware of racial issues until I moved back to the States. For awhile, I became hyper-sensitive, hyper-aware and worried about making some comment that would be misconstrued. In a twisted way, it created a level of racism in me that wasn't there before.

Would it not be best, rather than focusing on "eradicating racist messages" to focus on "radiating love"?

Dane said...

SilverRain, how about if we focus on radiating love through eradicating racist messages? What I mean is, "radiating love" doesn't take place in a vacuum. We radiate love through our words and actions. To me there's no contradiction (and perhaps no distinction) between "radiating love" and "eradicating racist messages".

Papa D said...

I agree with you, Silver Rain, in principle about how WE need to act toward those of other races and ethnicities (and even toward those who express racist viewpoints) - but I also agree with Dane's comment. Let me try to explain:

On an individual level, we need to radiate love. However, there are some things many people do who think they are "radiating love" that actually are racist. Take two of my specific examples.

Nobody who tries to hook up my friend with every single-adult black man who attends church considers those attempts to be racist - but they are. Every one of those people loves this sister, and they view their concern as a manifestation of "radiating love" - since, after all in their minds, why wouldn't a single-adult black woman in the Church be interested in a single-adult black man in the Church?

What I'm saying is that, aside from the fact that it's none of their business in the first place, the thought that she might be attracted to and interested in a single-adult WHITE man never crosses their minds - nor do they understand that she might NOT be attracted to or interested every single-adult black man.

That alone is worth pondering - and if it isn't addressed directly and openly, it's not going to change. Nobody can fix what they don't realize is broken.

Next, the idea that it's ok to be black in this life because you'll be white in the next life is repugnant and deeply racist. Again, if that isn't challenged openly and directly (with love radiating as it's addressed), it isn't going to be recognized as racist; hence, it won't change.

Sometimes, in some cases, silence is tacit acceptance and is seen as approval and agreement. That is important to those who say these things, but it is JUST as important for the younger generations to hear us old people stand against such garbage - since too many of them leave if they perceive us as being accepting of such attitudes.

Some things simply are wrong enough that they can't be "ignored" and/or "excused" - and racism, even subtle manifestations of it, are that wrong, imo.

SilverRain said...

I don't disagree with anything you've said, Ray. I just think that we have to be careful not to get so worried about being racist that we become racist.

Papa D said...

I agree with that, Silver Rain.

jen said...

Thank you for writing this. I completely agree. With love and compassion and a desire to change things, we'll change things.

Matsby said...

Amen, Pappa D!

alaskaboy19 said...

Great words of wisdom. As you mentioned racial police profiling, I realize how so much racist feelings subconsciously come into peoples' minds. A color-blind society is a challenging goal, but worth it if we're willing to make the sacrifice of rigorously teaching or children tolerance and love.