Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Who's the Most Racist? You? Me? Us?

We are all people. Flat thin line motivational poster against racism and discrimination. Many hands of different races in a circle facing each other. Vector Illustration

Turns out, nearly all of us carry within ourselves a lot of bigotry. So much that it appears eliminating it from the planet may well be impossible.

Your culture
You grew up in a certain household in a certain location at a certain time. You learned a language or two, heard a religious refrain, saw some politics in action. You became consciously and subconsciously influenced. You were acculturated. 

Your parents may have tried to shield you from it or force you into submission to it. In either case, you are touched by your culture. And all the mindsets within it. Even your language is part of that acculturation. You think in words and phrases created or interpreted by your culture.

Until you realize the high impact of that, you are not you; you are them.

My mother was born into a Native American tribal family. She herself was half white. But the culture touched her deeply. She used to tell me of the horrors of reservation life, how the 'feds' would come in and tell them they were about to lose more water or mineral rights, even land, for the 'good of the nation.' 

She also was racist to the core, scared to death of black and Latino people. She voiced it almost continually. And on the other side of her face, she'd bemoan the treatment of Native Peoples.

Just to make things even more interesting, she claimed to be a born again Christian.

Ah, the paradox.

As I grew older, I realized she had no idea she was living a paradoxical life. By the time I was ready to confront her, she had the gaul to die on me.

I tried to see and use her as an example of how NOT to be. Still, as I look back over my many years of life, I realize her prejudices touched me all along the way. And often without knowing it, I would express, in some small way, those prejudices in my own experience.

Cleaning it up didn't really start until I was able to admit that I was carrying a lot of my mother's prejudices and had made them my own. Though I thought of myself as a free thinker, tolerant, and fair, at times I found myself avoiding certain people of different racial backgrounds, or criticizing someone else's religious beliefs. 

It took some time to awaken, but I eventually did. Today, I know that all people are part of one human family, that no one should be excluded. And I back up my words and commitments with action.

(First step, dump the word 'tolerance.' It suggests a certain kind of superiority when we use that word.)

Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia... On some level, we all possess a little or a lot of each of them. Can we admit it, or continue to pretend we're not touched by all of that 'nastiness'?

Understanding our own prejudices, fears, and even hatreds is the first step in moving our world, our species, in a new and healthy direction. 

It can take courage to admit we're bigots. And to make the choice to open our hearts and minds to all people of the world. It won't be easy. There's the tendency to slip back into unhealthy habits. Coming clean to ourselves is one of the most daunting of all personal journeys.

It takes a daily re-commitment. 

As we face our inner demons, our own bits of ugliness, and become willing to release them, we create a new relationship with others, and ultimately, with our own culture.

Then, as Gandhi said, when there is peace in our hearts, it will find its way into the world. 

Each peace-filled heart helps to create a new culture. 

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