Sunday, October 4, 2020

How to Overcome Racism and Bigotry? Exposure and Self-Experience as Medicine

Racism is learned behavior and most of us have the ability to overcome our backgrounds Raised primarily in a Caucasian family and surrounded by Caucasian people I didn't see a Black person until I was about 14 years old; we are a rural homogeneous location. As an older adult who has two mixed race children I realize how difficult it can be to overcome racism within your social networks. Decades later I've seen how racism destroys families, encourages criminal behavior, and in the end is destructive toward our communities and our children. 

I guess I'm not that smart because I don't know why race differences are so important to us 😕 People are pretty much the same even though they have different colors, interests, and cultures. I've met a lot of people from different backgrounds throughout the years and I can say that each of us are guided by the same root principles and values; despite having ideological differences. We are essentially the same species with the same core values no matter where we currently exist on the planet.

The issue of racism and bigotry moves beyond current Black-White dynamics (It can be any race, religion, or difference to another). It is my belief that racism, based in our need to categorize others, is rooted deeply in our tribal past and the need to determine different clans from each other. The more different someone looks from ourselves the more likely we are going to categorize them as foe more than friend. Power dynamics might be more important than race.

Observation: Categorization is primal but the interpretations of those meanings is culturally construed.

There are some values that appear to be universal and are integrated into each cultural background. For example, protecting children is a primal and global value but those who engage in bigotry often circumvent essential values adhered by most people.  I've seen this behavior manifested in theft, physical threats, intimidating children, leaving the kids out, rumor spreading, lying, and general destructive behavior. None of this has much to do with the targets and is a bigger statement about the beliefs of the perpetrators.

Observation: Hate is about projecting personal angst that has nothing to do with the targets!

In my observation such people that engage in these behaviors have problems and lots of them that they are hiding from the world. You can see it on their intense need to look perfect on the outside and the forced silence on problems inside their family. Everything is about power dynamics and who has power over whom. Image is everything and integrity means little.

Racism is often embedded in the language. What I have seen is that while the people who engaged in racism and bigotry use certain words to demean different races/religions they also regular engage in demeaning a lot of other people. If you listed closely to their essential message it is designed to put others down and raise themselves up.

Observation: Racism and bigotry are embedded in language to create perceptions of social order.

I guess I'm a little different. I'm very open minded and even as a child I enjoyed learning about people and places. When I was a young child I used to read the National Geographic at our local library and thought other people were kind of cool. Always had a little dream to travel and see the various cultures and what they believe. For the most part, I accomplished that goal and have come to see how life transcends culture.

Observation: "Openness" to other backgrounds reduces heuristic racism. 

I'm not a perfect person and I come with lots and lots of faults. I think I'm a pretty good person and often give up something to help someone. For the most part I see the good in others and seek not to harm those around me. The world is a tough place and if we don't help each other and work towards common goals then we are not going to progress as a society.  Empathy helps me think about how my actions impact others. I don't often see this empathy in bigots and racists.

Observation: Empathy of others reduces racism and bigotry. 

We don't live in a perfect world and there are many more wants in the world then there are resources to fulfill them. When we struggle with our own identity and our own needs it can be hard to connect with people who look or believe differently then ourselves. Our egos are not yet ready to handle the internal problems we are facing and thus we look for others to feel our pain. It takes reflection to understand our own behavior.

Observation: If we are not reflective or strong enough to handle our own problems we will find convenient targets based in a simple mindset. 

Of course the bigots and racists that I knew in my life seemed to compare themselves to other people a lot. Worse... sometimes they discount the value of life. While I understand that these problems are theirs and theirs alone that is not how it plays out in the real world. It often becomes someone else's problem. When someone discounted the value of my son's life I realized the need for distance and putting up a "stop sign". So I want to leave you with three observation pieces and three pieces of advice.

Observation and Advice: Racists and bigots are unlikely to self-reflect and change their behavior and often you have to enforce boundaries. Don't be afraid to do it legally if they can't do so with civility. It would be great if people could reverse course, apologize, return the things they took, undo the damage, etc.... Such people are not accustomed to viewing themselves as wrong and so you can't change that. They will be destructive every time they find a target.

Observation and Advice: What they say about you, your religion, your color, your choices, etc... is all about projection and an inability to overcome their own challenges. Take nothing a racist and bigot says about you to heart. It is part of a delusion of how one is worth more and one is worth less. Of course, their race and their needs are almost always more important than others.

Observation and Advice: Racism and bigotry is rooted in fear and the need to categorize so the more we can get people to engage with each other the more likely we will create new group norms and values.  That requires integration of people to get them to understand each other and develop shared identity. Race and religion are only a dressing but people facing problems don't have the capacity to look beyond the surface differences. 

I am a conservative and believe very much that the time for racism and bigotry should end. We have a responsibility to build a stronger nation with shared principles. I have been studying this issue for a long time and have been working toward climbing Mount Everest (maybe all the way maybe not) to raise the value of universal justice. I don't know if I will actually go but I have been working toward that before BLM movement and I think beyond that movement to a nation that can take the best of different people to create the most advanced nation at the center of the global commerce and intellectual thought.

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