Racism: It’s Far from Over
Donald Sterling’s racist rant last April about African Americans has led Adam Silver to ban him for life from the National Basketball Association and forced the sale of the Los Angeles Clippers. Racist taunts against soccer players in Spain, England, and other countries have become increasingly common. Unfortunately, similar incidents occur in the United States at all levels of sport competition and in many other parts of daily life.
People sometimes try to mask racist behavior by claiming that they are simply plainspoken or telling it like it is. But are they?
Hiding behind Political Correctness
Racists claim that all members of some ethnic group reflect certain positive characteristics or negative traits. Even though we may rarely say, “They’re all like that,” all too often that’s the spirit behind our words. We can praise Swiss compassion or excoriate Chinese greed as though either group has a monopoly on those traits.
“This may not be politically correct, but . . . ,” we hear people say—or may even say ourselves. That same disclaimer can disguise intolerance based on race, religion, gender, social status, or sexual identity. None of this reflects the fact the speaker and the individuals so carelessly lumped together are, in fact, women or men individually made in the image and likeness of God—and loved by God.
The deck can easily be stacked against some group after others assume that all decent people never act as members of the targeted group do. Evil thrives by creating a socially acceptable cloak of “this action or attitude is no big deal. I’m simply being realistic.”
Systemic evils such as racism always claim to be more realistic than any challenges to their favored status quo, but they never are. Only an illusory bubble can prop them up or try to make them look respectable within a constantly shrinking comfort zone.
Respecting Each Person
Although the signers of our Declaration of Independence affirmed the “inalienable right” to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” we know those men did not mean that slaves, women, or poor people possessed these same rights. In fact, a few of those signers helped 11 years later to write the US Constitution, which banned for 20 years any interference in the international slave trade. Furthermore, they agreed to count every five male slaves as though they were three white men in order to elect white men to the US House of Representatives. That’s all very normal according to that text.
Let’s admit that no ethnic group or individual has perfectly clean hands. People deserve a certain respect simply for being human beings. They don’t have to earn it each day by meeting someone else’s standard of what is required for respect.
These five suggestions will help challenge racism wherever any of us encounters it:
• Watch your own language. Do not feed the fires of bigotry. “We have met the enemy and they is us,” said a character in the Pogo comic strip.
• Question sweeping generalizations about what “they” always do or never do.
• Support organizations that oppose efforts to demonize people because of their race or for a similar reason.
• Oppose any actions within organizations to which you belong if those actions reflect a racist attitude—no matter how genteel or normal it may seem.
• Work on common projects with men and women of other ethnic groups.
Racism has the last word only if it remains unchallenged.