Racism – Admitting That There is a Problem

GoldenRule

Painting by Norman Rockwell

One of the big problems with racism in America is that a lot of people, white people, only think of it in extremes.  They will admit that there are still some racist people around, but not a lot, except, possibly, in places like Mississippi.  That is, except for people in Mississippi, who say Mississippi is not racist, maybe it exists elsewhere, not here.  Not in America.   I mean, sure, there are some Klansmen running around, but everyone hates them, right?  I mean, I hate the KKK, so I can’t be racist.   That is how people see it – if there are no extremes, there is no racism.

Uhm, no.

It is easy to find many types of racism at many levels.

At work there are those people who think they are well meaning but might say some insensitive things here and there, not realizing that it makes some of their team members feel unwanted.  And then there is that hiring person who doesn’t realize that for some reason they call a person named James much quicker than Jamel, that they hire someone, who coincidentally is white, because they will fit in with the group better than the other candidate, who just happens to be black.  Study after study shows this happens all of the time.  It is the rule, not the exception.

And then there are the issues with our criminal justice system.  Not just cases of institutionalized racism in some police departments, but the very laws we have on the books, as well as how they are treated, are often racist.  Hint, things that rich people do that totally destroy lives and wreck the economy are not crimes, but little things that poor people do that really don’t hurt anybody else, are crimes, crimes that black people have been killed by cops for committing.

And, of course, the economic injustices in our system are awful.  Read this article from the BBC.  So, pay disparity between blacks and whites remain unchanged since 1960.  Whites have, on average, accumulated a lot of wealth, while blacks haven’t.  Poverty, jobs, college, housing, etc., our system works against first poor people and second black people.  The poor black get a double whammy.  Despite decades of giving lip service of doing it, we have not leveled the playing field.

There is a problem, despite what many of my Facebook friends seem to think. A problem exists.

To fix a problem, no matter how small or big, from a burnt-out light bulb to a geo-political situation, you need to recognize that there is a problem.

Let me say that again, it is important: the first step of solving a problem is recognizing, admitting, that there is a problem.

To solve racism, we have to, HAVE to admit that it exists and that we are part of the problem.

Think of it like an AA meeting where the first thing you do is admit you have a problem by telling everyone that you are an alcoholic, even if it has been 35 years since your last drink.  Here we say, “Hello.  My name is Trent and I am a racist, even though I haven’t knowingly said or done something racist in 35 years.”  People may look at me, smile and shake their head.  No, not Trent.  But unless I take a deep and truthful (painful) look in the mirror, I cannot change and improve.  I can’t grow.

Part of that is admitting mistakes.  We all make mistakes.  We have to admit them and try to change them.  I have said insensitive things.  Did I make someone feel bad or unwelcome?  I hope not, but since I admit that I did it, I can work to change it so hopefully I won’t hurt someone in the future.

As with AA, it is lifetime burden we have to work on every day.

Even if you can’t think of one thing you have ever done that is racist, not one thing you said or thought, still take a look and try to learn.  You might not see anything, but realize that there may be something there that you can’t see. In fact, error with caution and assume there is a problem.

The first thing, after admitting that there is a problem, is to educate yourself.

First, listen.  Yes, you occasionally see the black person who says that racism doesn’t exist, that there are just some cry-babies in the black community, but don’t listen to them.  Ignore that person and listen to all of the others.

I have heard top politicians (including a black Republican congressman, so not just Dems), generals, industry leaders, etc. who talk about daily things they put up with, and possibly one or two huge, scary stories.  And then there are black professionals, from teachers and lawyers to top scientists, who give example after example.  And then, just common folk who talk about daily ordeals.  This isn’t just an issue inner city or poor black people put up with, it is every walk of life.  Listen.  Learn.

These people and others may have ideas beyond their personal experience.  Listen.  Learn.

Racism in America is a problem, a problem we need to try to solve.

Those are the first steps on the road to the solution: admitting that there really is a problem, that you might be a part of the problem, and then trying to learn the shape and dimension of the problem.  If we do not do this, the problem cannot be solved.

But if we do this, admit America has a problem, listen to those who are talking, and learn, then perhaps, together we can find a solution.

*

(Below are a few notes that “explain” some of my comments and go deeper on others.  These aren’t part of the post, but I hope you read it.)

First, let me say that most racism is a subtle thing.  It isn’t just those huge acts of violence.  Typically, a person doing something racist has no idea he or she just did something racist.  If you point it out, the first statement would be, “I’m not racist!  I have black friends and coworkers!  Ask them…”  Most of the racism is deeply ingrained, part of our culture, our upbringing, and often even part of our religion.  It is a prejudice, where we think we know.  It is those little bits of folklore or stereotypes.  It is seeing someone doing something and expanding it to all.  For most people (there are obvious exceptions!) it is the little forms that are there, the ones that are hard to see and so hard to correct.  Things like saying insensitive comments that we use all of the time which unintentionally belittle people.

OK, we all say insensitive things without meaning harm.  We’re human.  We say them to all types of people.  We just need to try understand that we do it and try to correct it, particularly those bits of “low hanging fruit”, the little untruths or half truths people say all of the time without understanding the impact, the history or the deeper meaning.  A little education goes a long way.  Remember that an insensitive comment can be taken as a hurtful comment, and a hurtful comment can come across as hateful.  We need to be careful with our language, and try to learn.  If someone says something bothers them, believe it, and perhaps try to find out why it bothers them.

In that last paragraph I talked about believing people.  That is a huge one.  There are people telling you truths about their lives every day, and yet so many people discount these truths.  “It isn’t really that bad, or at least not all of the time.  I never do anything like that.”  Maybe you don’t, but still, listen!  When I talk about insensitive and hurtful comments, that is a great example.  It may seem innocent to you, but it tells people that you do not value their experience.  It tells them they are not believed.  They are seen as less.

I am a white person.  In my everyday life I rarely see racism.  If I see a black person in the store, he or she is like anybody else, and I barely take notice.  That does not mean that that person didn’t experience racism in that store while I was there, I just didn’t see it.  If they come up to me later and tell me it happened, do I believe them?

I know, I have been repetitive with this, but for a reason. That is the place that I feel most well-meaning whites are at their most racist – not believing, discounting, finding excuses, etc.  No, it isn’t cross burning, but it is another burden, it belittles, make people feel undervalued.  Unwanted.  Less than. It is part of racism, and the most stubborn part, the part that is almost impossible to root up.

Another similar phrase to, “it isn’t that bad,” that I hear all of the time is, “I’m not racist, but…”  This is usually followed by some generality that comes across as hateful.

First, when the person says, “I’m not racist,” they believe it 100% because they see racism as this awful, cross-burning, lynching thing, not as the subtle prejudice that it often is.  The term “racist” has super-ugly connotations because we only see the extreme.  Stop, don’t be afraid of that word, and look to the subtle meaning of “racist” and “racism”.

People are so binary.  When I say not believing is racist, I am not saying it is on the same level as beating someone to death for their color.  There are a million levels and a million subtleties on each level.  That is another issue – painting it all with the same brush.

And if you are about to say, “I’m not racist, but…”, look at what comes after “but” and try to find out the truth behind your thought.  Often you don’t understand the history or the culture.  Or your information might be wrong, usually in the form of one person did it, so you blame the entire “race”.  Or there might be something else in there. You might be repeating something someone who has a an agenda said.  Or an outright racist said.  Try to find our before saying something hateful.

We need to look a little beyond the surface.  Some racism is buried deep.  It is a whisper, a misdirection, a hint,a look in the eye, a smile for the wrong reason.

And going the other way, not everything that seems racist on the surface is true racism.  I did call misunderstanding “racism”, mostly because it causes people to sit up and hopefully learn.  but is it? Maybe, maybe not. In ways it depends on intention and how it was received.  Pay attention and fix it. And perhaps other things aren’t racist, even when they maybe called racist.

I do understand that white people can, and do, feel uncomfortable around black people.  What do I say? How do I act?  It can happen to anybody when tossed in with a group of people they are not familiar with.  It is not necessarily a racist thing.  I feel uncomfortable in many situations with different people.  It is human.  Becoming familiar with different people, different cultures, and such is a good thing. As long as we try and learn from it.

Living is learning, learning is living.

Oh, I just want to repeat one more time, if someone says something bothers them, believe it, and perhaps try to find out why it bothers them.  Listening and learning is perhaps the most respectful thing you can do.  Admit there is a problem, and listen.

And, yes, I agree:

Black Lives Matter

37 thoughts on “Racism – Admitting That There is a Problem

  1. Pingback: Racism Part 2 -What Are You Willing to Give Up? | Trent's World (the Blog)

  2. Pingback: Political Digressions? | Trent's World (the Blog)

  3. Alexis Chateau

    I don’t remember ever seeing you tackle politics and social problems on your blog but you nailed this one. You summarized what White Americans don’t want to admit to themselves, and worse, to others.

    My favourite line: To solve racism, we have to, HAVE to admit that it exists and that we are part of the problem.

    I will also add that we’re all part of the problem, but naturally, the group of oppressors take a much bigger hand in the blame and the solution, especially when POC voices (especially Blacks) are so often either silenced or ignored.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      You are right, I very rarely take on political or social issues, but this year I just can’t sit back. I did a couple on wearing masks, and the idea of racism has been running through my mind for weeks, as I’m sure it has been for most people! I just didn’t know where to start on this enormous topic until I saw some people denying it. That triggered it, which, of course, formed the idea/line that you like – we, everyone, but white people in particular, need to admit that we have a problem and that we are part of the problem. It is very hard to think of your self as part of the group of oppressors, but, yeah, we (white people) do have to own it if we want to fix it. We will all have to work together to make it work. I just have three major fears – first, a lot of people who are upset and want to do something now won’t be in for the long run. Second, that when it is time to make sacrifices for the general good, some people won’t be willing to cross that line. And third, that despite the grassroots support of a lot of people, the people who are in charge, the ultra rich, the owners of huge companies, etc., won’t be willing to do more than give lip service to true and lasting change.

      Anyway, as the year goes on, I am sure I will get involved in more social and political issues on my blog, including racism. This is a time in history when it is no longer optional.

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      1. Alexis Chateau

        I have the same three fears you do and have seen them in action. Too many people refuse to take any accountability and until they do, it’s very hard for the grassroots movement to gain traction. Like you said, the wealthy pay lip service but don’t actually push the values they claim to espouse.

        I think the succeeding generations will be better, but there will always be a pocket of entitled White people (particularly men) who believe they deserve superiority for no other reason but the colour of their skin and the country of their birth. Ascribed status is so contrary to how capitalism works that you really have to wonder if they have any common sense at all to want to have both. 🤦🏽

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I do hope it will get better this time. Every few years it seems like it is finally happening, and then… Yes, there will always be the people who are unapologetically racist and those who are but just don’t get it, but I am hoping most people do work for a better solution for everyone. And, yeah, I get the point about capitalism supposedly being a meritocracy, not an artificial- class based system.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks. It has been on my mind (everyone’s minds!) for a few months, but it is such a giant topic, I had nowhere to start until I read some Facebook posts denying it…. You are right, racism is a huge problem for everyone, even those who don’t experience it. It is like a cancer on society, making the entire body of a nation sick. Of course, those who don’t experience it can easily turn that blind eye of ignorance, but even they will get some negative fallout. If I remember correctly, you are in Canada. I know there are issues there as well, but I believe, I hope, it’s better than here…

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  4. SHL2

    I believe racism is a very big problem I think we all need to show compassion and love for all of humanity. I have an issue with destruction of property during a protest for racism. Being mad and wanting to protest is one thing but burning down a business is just a criminal act. I think police officers need compassion classes and classes on racism and profiling. No one should be treated any different. I think there are so many people who were brought up in a racist family but you can be the change this world need with the next generations.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      There are a lot of things we need to do, and compassion and love for all of humanity are great places to begin. A good dialog where everyone listens instead of finger pointing si also needed. If we all do our part to help, hopefully it will get better. We just need to be sure we pay attention for the long term, not just a short crisis.

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  5. fakeflamenco

    I like your comparison of racism to alcoholism. We do need examine our actions and be very open to feedback. Perhaps we all need a sponsor. I think the baseline is to think about if we treat Black people differently (not as well) and to renew our dedication to do simple acts of kindness. I plan to go out of my way to do things like stop and wait for a Black pedestrian, let an elderly Black woman go before me in line when we arrive at the same time, find ways to show respect. Thanks, Trent. Important conversations.

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  6. D. Wallace Peach

    Excellent post, Trent. The more we ask and listen, the clearer our vision of how incredibly pervasive racism is in our country. Finally, there is a groundswell of energy to address this horrible legacy. Millions of people who don’t want to live in a racist country are making the effort to educate themselves and make a difference. We have a long long road ahead, and it starts with every one of us. Yes, black is beautiful, and black lives matter!

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Thanks, Diana. I remember as a kid thinking we had solved the problem, that we were leveling the playing field. A lot of old laws were done away with a new laws put in place. And then the 80s happened… Hopefully this time we will keep the momentum happening. (My next post on racism is going to be about those memories and how we need to sustain it this time.)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      Very cool. I read a book about Norman Rockwell and his views on race a few years ago – I always liked him, but more than respected him after reading the stories about some of his paintings, including this one. I had no idea what picture to use, and then remember this.
      Thanks.

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  7. rts - Facing the Challenges of Mental Health

    I totally agree with you. Being raised across the river from Detroit gave me the opportunity to understanding Black people. When I started driving and had a car Detroit was like my second home. I would go to all Black Churches and felt completely comfortable there.
    I understand now that the problem of racism now extends to other cultures.
    Those who are Islamic, those who are from a background from those who are East Indian.
    Drive through any large city if you are keen you will see and realize how white people shun those who does not have the same color of skin.
    Several of my doctors are from the Islamic culture. With one of them I sit and talk about our faiths. I love asking questions about the Hajj. His reaction when I knew about it the first conversation. I asked if he had made the journey. He asked me how I knew about it. I told I love to study and learn about all faiths.
    So, I feel that to solve some racists views is to learn and understand about all cultures, backgrounds, faiths.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      It is interesting how it has shifted from palce to place and era to era – when I was a kid, and listening to music from Detroit (funny, but the Motown station was from your neighborhood (I guess) in Canada), it seemed that racism was on its way out. And then things changed… Yeah, there are many targets of racism, not just people of African origin. Islamophobia is a huge deal, one that has always been here (I remember as a kid people using the term “sand-n-word”), but made much worse after 9/11. People from India get a little more respect in the US, but there is still racism there as well. We have to do better with all of them, but it makes sense to start with people of African origin since they have been the target for so long and are still at the forefront of the issue. Hopefully when that issue is fixed 9as best as can be), the other forms of racism will die out (we can hope!).

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    2. trentpmcd Post author

      And I forgot to mention – the painting at the top is actually about living in harmony with people from different cultures, “races” and religions, so, yeah, part of your point :)

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  8. dawnkinster

    This is an important post. I have been thinking about many of these issues for several weeks now (and before that, when things got dicey here in the States) but I admit I never used to think about it at all. I have come to the conclusion that I probably am racist, not intentionally, but mostly due to inattention. Listening and believing are important in this issue just like they are in women’s issues. I get the woman thing. I should get the racist thing too.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      I’ve been thinking about a post for a long time, but everything I start, I go down the rabbit hole and find that there is no end to the directions it can go! So with all of the denial I see, well…
      I remember my wife arguing with an older gay friend (he was in his late 60s/early 70s in the late 1990s when this took place) where she was comparing women’s rights to gay rights, but he couldn’t see it. He didn’t see women’s issues as a big deal, it wasn’t a problem at all… So, yeah, I can see the analogy – women’s rights issues aren’t the same as racist issues, yet they are similar in many ways. And for both, it is about listening and believing.

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