(I’m changing the names in the story for the sake of privacy)
Earlier this year, I was sitting in my room around 1:30 am on an early Wednesday morning getting ready to go to bed. I heard a knock at my door and kept chatting with my roommate as I went to get the door. Much to my surprise, I saw a young, tall, black man and I let out a scream as I slammed the door. Realizing what I had just done, I opened the door and whispered, “Eric?” I had closed the door in the face of one of my friends. I had just been subconsciously terrified of one of my friends. I had revealed my prejudice against one of my friends.
I like to think that I’m not racist at all. I believe that there is systematic injustice toward Hispanics and African-Americans in the criminal justice system. I believe that this country was built on the backbones of human beings that were treated like chattel and that there is a serious debt to be paid to the descendants of slaves. I have met enough Asians to know that they are as diverse and unique as any other race. I have spent time learning about Palestinians and Jews and Afghanis and Colombians enough to know that white imperialism has done more harm than good. I believe that without a healthy and representative amount of Blacks, Whites, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific-Islanders in every tier of power and decision-making, we are doing ourselves an injustice by not listening to the very diversity of thought that makes our country so unique. These are the things I believe.
There are certain things that I was raised with, certain ideas about people that may not look or think like me. I was raised to consider different peoples opinions as essential to the growth and amelioration of my own, to respect differences and cultures, and to think critically about the world around me. These are the things I was taught.
But in that moment, I was faced with the reality that there is only so much you can do to prevent racism in a (sometimes subtly) racist society, and that IS what we live in, a racist society. Without the armor of reason, in that moment of pure instinct, my weakness, my fear, and my, (while I HATE HATE HATE to say it) racism and sexism were exposed. I don’t know how I would have reacted if I had seen a white male, all I can say is that I felt so horrible that that was the person I was. In that moment, I felt truly exposed and distraught about the way that I must have made Eric feel.
This is why we have a problem when we say Hollywood is white-washed. This is why we have a problem when we don’t see enough diversity in Congress. This is why we have a problem when churches are segregated between racial sections of religion (ex. black and white baptist churches).
We don’t see the good guys, all we see are the bad guys. For young black men, the stereotype that they should fear is the uneducated white cop. For young women, the stereotype that they should fear is the lingering black man. It’s the news stories and the subtle commentary that make a society racist. And the thing about a racist society is that it permeates everyone’s ideas and relationships, that’s why its called a racist society and not a racist person.
I genuinely don’t know how to address this problem in myself. I hope this class will be the first step as I try to find out.
SIDE NOTE: Harvard researchers created a study to see how you show implicit bias. If you’re curious about yourself, try it out.