“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you recognize that your liberation and mine are bound up together, we can walk together.” – Lila Watson. 

Have you been surprised by the lack of tolerance and the rise in racism in 2020?

Were you shocked to learn the personal beliefs of people you once thought you knew?

If nothing else, 2020 has taught us that racism is very much alive, and when stress is high, many people’s tolerance for difference will plummet and hit an unbelievable low.  This week, in our third Video in honor of Black History Month, we explore two myths that keep racism alive.

Myth 1: I don’t see color.

A well-intentioned person most often declares this phrase to reassure friends, colleagues, or acquaintances that all people are equal. Consider that these four simple words allow for the avoidance of the feelings of discomfort evoked by the topic of race.  Declaiming it is as if to say, “let’s pretend race is not an issue by not acknowledging it as one.”  Regardless of the heart behind the comment, what many people of color hear is a contradiction that has much more impact than just four simple words.

I don’t see color; it is to say, “I don’t see you.”  It is to dismiss the reality of inequality or injustice that is a result of color.  Not seeing color fails to acknowledge a person’s identity, disregarding their distinct beauty. 

While not seeing color sounds good in theory, it is a contradiction.  The reality is that our current situation results from our difficulty acknowledging, respecting and embracing that which is different. 

Myth 2: Racism is a product of mean-spirited people.

When people think about racism, they often think about the extreme and negative situations that make headlines.  Seldom are jokes, nursery rhymes, catchphrases, and long-lasting rituals ever really considered.  The reality is, we are all biased, and we all discriminate.  Although we don’t necessarily do so deliberately and our prejudices aren’t always wilful, we live in a society with conditioned beliefs about race. Racism, oppression and exclusion are systemic problems embedded in our culture.  

Can anyone be free of conditioning passed on from one generation to another for more than 400 years?  Think of the tradition of hanging Christmas ornaments on a tree.  We enjoy the activity, but how many of us know why the ceremony exists.  Similarly, please think of the words we use; how often have you been surprised to learn their origin.  We pass on issues related to power, privilege, and oppression in the same manner.  Somehow we believe it is ok to accept and tolerate inequalities that have been passed on for generations.  Imagine what would become available if we learned and celebrated our differences.

The common belief is that racism is a product of our past, and we need to move on.  Moving on requires that we each take responsibility for the conditioned thoughts and behavior that still exist today.  It is to do the personal reflection needed to unearth years of conditioning.  Only then will we begin to see our similarities and respect and enjoy our differences.

Ask yourself what you can begin to do to invite experiences that bridge the gap and foster a relationship between you and someone from another culture.