7/27/09

Racism

Like a thermostat, racism has been on the rise this summer. Or at least the media has been reporting more incidents of it. It’s been brought to the forefront of our attention spans and seemed to with begin with the drama surrounding Sotomayor, then moved to the kids in New England that were banned from the pool, and now our President and the Ivy League professor. As a twenty-something, I don’t get it. Even though we briefly studied racism in America in high school and college, I don’t understand why it still exists today. I hate racism, slander, supremacy, or any word or action that puts someone else down. I love ethnicity because it’s fun, it challenges us, and it gives us perspective. If we were all alike, life wouldn’t be enjoyable. We need all 32 Baskin Robins flavors, because not everyone likes, vanilla, chocolate, or bubble gum! When I worked at Macaroni Grill, I had to take over tables from an African American on two occasions, because of the guest’s complaint to the manager. One of them even went home afterwards and sent an email to the corporate headquarters writing, “we do not come here to be served by ‘those kind of people.’” I was shocked! For a while she and I didn’t get along that well because of personality differences, even though she always had the most happiest and cheerful dispositions. On those two occasions though, I remember watching the happiness and the cheerfulness disappear from her disposition like the fading of a rainbow. I could tell that it wasn’t the first time and that it wouldn’t be the last. After those occasions, I made a conscious change and decision on my part to get along and befriend her. At times it was really a challenge for me; and not because of race, but whenever our personalities clashed, I had to remind myself what her face looked like when I had to take over her tables. That single reminder helped me understand that while we’ve all come a long way, we still have a far way to go, and we all have a part to play I was in a small little town in the bush of Madagascar and I walked into what I can only equate to being the general store. I stood there patiently in line to give them my order, even though the locals kept jumping ahead of me, and especially starring at me. It was quite the experience. After a while though, I just pushed my way forward and asked for a bar of soap in the native language. They gave it to me and hurriedly too! I later found out that they were all afraid of me! I couldn’t believe it…I was the only white guy in a room full of Africans; they outnumbered me by 10 to 1. It was such a weird experience to be on the receiving end of racism. But a lot of my ignorance on the subject was removed… I leave you with these two thoughts. The first is from Yoda, “Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to Suffering.” The second is from 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” I wonder how many of our actions whether they have the best of intentions or not are based in fear. Maybe Sotomayor lived in fear all of her life, maybe the pool supervisors acted in fear. This summer though doesn’t have to remain one burdened with racism, let’s operate in love and not let fear lead to suffering for anyone.

3 comments:

frieling said...

Justin
Thank you for your blog on Racism. It shed some light on the confusions i've had on it. I have to agree with your reflection on the root of racism being one of fear. My wife is in the middle of many situations where the tone of racism is clearly there but very hard to work through. It's like we've surrounded ourselves with it and it's become a fad. Media thrives on it, social injustice groups are a trend and we're more comfortable living with racism as a scape goat than we are facing the uncomfortable work of dealing with the fear.

Justin Steinhart said...

Totally Paul, it's the mess of having to leave our comfort zones to deal with real emotions and fears.

C.Moore said...

Hi Steiny. Googling for something else, but your post came up and intrigued me. Thank you for being intentional about being out of your comfort zone. Racism still exists today because sin exists today. Also, understanding its history (at least in this country) helps us understand why it still plagues this country. The egregious sins committed during the last 300 years have caused deep scars that do not go away easily.
I would be curious to know how many African-Americans or other minorities that may have a different viewpoint of a racialized society were in your classes when you "briefly studied racism in America". You get a much fuller understanding when you have experienced something or at least can interact with someone else who has. I do appreciate you thinking through your experience in Madagascar, but I doubt it really compares with the hatred your co-worker experienced. Yes, it was a form of prejudice, but it may also have been a factor of them not being sure what they should do with you since you were not participating in the cultural norm of pushing forward. I'm not trying to discount the experience, I'm just encouraging you to not stop here in feeling like you have an understanding.
I think the position of not understanding is exactly the humbling position that is helpful to us. The danger is when white Americans get the idea that they DO understand and since they do not experience themselves or witness glaring injustices to others, they conclude that there is no problem. That is when the statements like, "Just move on already!" or "People are making a problem out of nothing" come. The more you turn a perceptive and objective eye to the "normal" practices of our society, the more you see that our society is very racialized and though at times very subtly, institutional racism does exist.
Thank you for working through this and keep going! I am on a journey myself. I believe that as we humble ourselves and are willing to roll up our sleeves and get our a hands a little messy, that God can change hearts. As hearts are changed, there is a stronger and more united voice that can fight the institutional practices that are now preserving the problem. frieling is right that it usually is uncomfortable, but ask Justin's co-worker about being uncomfortable.