Racism. It’s a hot button issue. It’s real and it still exists. It surfaces to our awareness every time social injustice or hatred or manifestations of societal ills emerge. It’s not a new phenomenon though. It’s been around for generations, and it doesn’t only exist in the United States of America. It’s seen in every country and in all time periods throughout history.
Years ago, I attended a lecture of a sociology professor from Sudan, Abdullahi Gallab, who spoke about the burdens and cost of racism. It was quite fascinating.
He stated that the basic idea is that “anytime you see others as savages, heathen, or backwards, it is a manifestation of a racist ideology.” He continued on to say that “anytime we use identity as a shield from the world because of beliefs of superiority or fear of change, that becomes a racist ideology.”
Make no mistake about it, as Professor Gallab stated, “Racism is not a physical, racial, or even biological distinction–it’s an ideology.” He proposed that all economies, local and international, suffer because of racism as well as the moral costs that come because of these ideologies.
Most statements of negative judgement could then probably be classified as racist, according to Gallab, and while you may or may not totally agree with his broad definition of racism (and even if you even reject it altogether), it’s a good explanation for why it’s not merely a black and white issue.
You cannot ignore his compelling challenge to examine your own ideologies. If the root of racism is your ideas, ideals, values, and beliefs, where do they come from?
A myriad of places. For starters, they come from history, society, your family, traditions, your culture, socioeconomic status, politics, personal conflicts and struggles, and your religion. We all hold certain biases even if we don’t want to admit it. A question, which people of faith in particular, have to grapple with is one asked by Professor Gallab.
How do we appreciate and maintain our identity (cultural and religious) without that becoming a racist ideology?
First, you have to recognize how your values and beliefs create bias tendencies and then shift them, if necessary. There will always be that great pull inside you on how to mesh ideals with true principles yet steer clear of categorizing separatist ideologies.
Second, you have to identify the roots of racism and maintain your awareness. The roots of racism live in your mind and in your heart. They are embedded in your conscious and unconscious mindsets and beliefs–which is why it’s so difficult to identify in others and why hearing those sweeping generalizations about others may make you cringe. You can’t see into people’s minds and hearts, although sometimes their actions and words clearly denote the state of their heart, but many times they do not.
Now this doesn’t excuse any of us from improving social issues and revising policies, but the hard truth is that combating racism comes from fighting it within and then trying to educate others to examine their own biases.
Here are 3 practical ways you can identify some of those racist beliefs that may be lurking inside you in order to root them out.
- Fight objectification
One of the new forms of racism is that of objectification, which is when we label, classify, and categorize others. I won’t even get on my soapbox about the objectification of women and children in our society, but it bothers me to no end. Pornography is one of the grossest offenders.
One of my favorite books, “Bonds That Make Us Free” states that anytime we see others as objects instead of as people, we will subconsciously put ourselves “in the box of self betrayal” and will ultimately blame others or find fault in them to justify our behavior of not treating them the way our heart and conscience dictates we need to treat them. That describes, in essence, objectification.
For example, the blanket statements of “cops hate minorities” or “white people don’t understand discrimination” or “Hispanics bring gangs,” and “Muslims are terrorists” are obviously racist statements, but you’ll notice that in each of these, it objectifies people and dehumanizes entire groups of individuals.
Some of those statements may be true of individuals, but once you lump everyone together into this broad general category, it makes it easier to vilify entire ethnicities or religions. Unfortunately, there are a lot of these objectification statements tossed around, particularly after a tragedy.
Anytime you stop careful introspection of your ideologies and fail to make decisions based on true principles, it can set the stage for deranged ones to creep in and influence. There are ideologies which are skewed, evil, and damaging to individuals and societies. You can spot these harmful ideologies quickly because they thrive on objectification. Their intent is to strip away individual humanity to justify depravity. They promote senseless violence, take away life and freedom, and promote injury to body and soul.
- Curb your separatist tendencies
It is your inherited nature to want to belong. Amy McCreedy, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, said that for all of us, particularly children, we each have an essential need for belonging and significance. It is part of what brings us joy and fulfillment. We crave to be around people with our same beliefs and values contributing in meaningful ways. Birds of a feather flock together, right?
You need the support and encouragement of those who understand you, and there is great value in connecting with those you relate to, but you also need to be acutely aware of this fallen human tendency to segregate, which happens by choice now–not so much by law.
While you naturally gravitate to those you feel comfortable with, intuition should send you a bone chilling red light if you ever start purposely blocking out interactions with others because of those differences.
You may not agree with others belief systems–and may even adamantly disagree–but when you deliberately isolate yourself or them because of it, that is your cue to stop and dissect the state of your heart. Any time you intentionally separate yourself from other groups of people for any reason be it their gender, economic status, skin color, religion, etc., you should examine your intentions and reasons for doing that.
Empathy and compassion are damaged when the mindset is an “us versus them” mentality. If only we could teach politicians that. You are the only one who can change a separatist mindset. Your conscience (or the Spirit, in my vocabulary) is pretty good at prompting you to make incremental positive changes, and at times, it is only when you rely on a Higher Power (again, God and Jesus Christ, in my belief system) that your heart can be softened and you become more inclusive.
- Freely spread the “benefit of the doubt”
We live in a society that is connected without being tuned in. In saying “the benefit of doubt,” it does not suggest that you turn a blind eye to evil plans or illegal actions, but it does suggest that anytime someone calls you out for doing something wrong, you work to pause your defense mechanisms. If there is truth in it, what does that mean for you? If there isn’t, discard it. Ignore it. No one can actually force you to get angry or become upset. It’s the thoughts you have about that person or event that create those emotions within you.
It seems teaching appropriate social cues, self-control, and norms went right out the window along with home economic skills like cooking and cleaning. What would happen if you gave people the benefit of the doubt first before freaking out about something they did or said? What if you could hold your tongue instead of quickly lashing back?
What is that highly effective habit coined by Stephen Covey? Oh yes, seek first to understand–then to be understood.
Hard–yes. Impossible–no. It’s hard because it takes humility, a quality that has, again, sadly degraded in our modern society. Teaching appropriate social behavior and interaction is only going to intensify as we continue on this path toward greater technology and less human interaction, and it doesn’t help that the world we live in is polarizing, but you can choose to give others the benefit of doubt before immediately reacting to your strong emotions.
Let us each decide today to combat racism in society by combating it in our own hearts first. That is something you can control. You can be aware of your own biased beliefs, fight objectification, seek understanding and inclusion, and learn to give people the benefit of the doubt before judgement.
Now those are ideologies that could change the world for the better.