Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Racism: Why are we so afraid to talk about it?

Racism has been a common topic of conversation on Facebook and the media in recent months.  I have seen it most recently in the case of Ahmed Mohamed: the boy who brought a clock he had made to school and was arrested.  Many notables spoke up in support of this student and to share their stories of being victims to racism.  Anyone who followed my Facebook posts will know that I believe that racism was involved because of the actions taken by the teachers, administrators, and police.  Their responses were not consistent with what is standard procedure for bomb threats.  Yes, we have to protect all of our children in the school; so I wonder why they didn't evacuate the building.  Since they didn't do that, I have to question why this student was treated in such an egregious manner.  In questioning, I have to look at many different reasons this could happen, and racism is one of those reasons.

In our time of instant, digital media, we are constantly receiving information about events in our world.  Many are quick to label actions by stating that someone's civil rights were violated due to their sex, sexual preference/orientation, faith, age, or race.  What I'm discovering is that we are more open to discussing the first items on that list, but we are often afraid to discuss race.  Disturbingly, I have found that the ones who are so afraid to have these discussions are white people.

Let me begin by saying that I am a white woman who has grown up with white privilege.  I am well aware of it, because I have had glimpses of the lives of those who are not so privileged.  While I am not an expert, my experiences as a teacher and my connection with my students have served to educate and inform me about life in poverty, having a different faith or skin color, or having a sexual orientation different than mine.  I am a product of a lifetime of experiences, and I view the world around me through the lens of those experiences.

My friends of all races may not agree with what I'm writing in this blog, but I feel compelled to write about my observations and beliefs in the hope that I can inspire others to let go of their fears.  I will not pretend to have all of the answers, but I do see a pattern.  Friends of color are talking about racism and do not shy away from the conversation.  However, many white people discount racism, sometimes to the point of denying its existence, and do not want to talk about it.  I'm convinced that it is fear: fear that they will say the wrong thing, fear that their world will change, perhaps even fear that they may be labeled racist.  These fears should not stop us from examining events for racism or having conversations to test these ideas.

It may be a surprise to some of you, but racism is not exclusive to the white demographic.  It can occur in all cultures throughout the world, but I think that whites in the United States have the mistaken idea that racism only refers to them.  It doesn't!  You will be able to find racism in all cultures if you look for it, but I think this is a major reason why whites are so afraid to talk about it.  That is tragic, in my opinion.

Whenever situations occur like the one in which Ahmed Mohamed was involved, we have to look at the facts and ask ourselves: did this happen because of his sex, sexual preference/orientation, age, faith, or race?  We have to set aside our fears and examine the potential causes.  If this was my child, I would want that for him.  I would want the same for your children.

I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.  So much was accomplished during those difficult times by very brave people who weren't afraid to shine a light on prejudice and racism.  We became a better country and better people as a result.  Unfortunately, racism did not go away.  Instead, it became hidden away.

Recent events are beginning to again shine the light on prejudice and racism.  I believe that is a very good thing.  It is how we will grow and change and evolve as caring people who support everyone's rights, and white people have to be part of that change.  We have to set aside our guilt and fears.  We have to join the conversation even when we don't agree.  When we hear people saying that something happened as a result of racism, we have to take a breath, admit that it is possible, examine the facts, join in the conversation, and express our opinion.  We won't all agree, but we will be better for having had the conversation. We might learn something we didn't know, begin to think in new ways, and will definitely be better prepared for the next time. So, let's start having these conversations with respect for one another in the hope that we can build a better world for our children and their children...for our future as a humane, caring, accepting world.

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