Racism Ends with Me

I’ve spent a busy week working at my company’s office in the East Village in New York City. There’s something about being in such a vibrant place that makes you feel alive. I don’t really fit in here, as it seems like it’s all young, affluent hipsters, but I have enjoyed walking down the street and soaking in the sights, sounds, tastes, and even smells of the city. (I apologize to my friends in the city for not getting together, but I’ve been booked solid all week, day and night.)

NYC

The view from my hotel in New York.

Then I read about Dylann Roof, a deranged white supremacist who looks like that kid from Home Alone but with a haircut that would shame even a Mormon apologist. The photo of a glaring loser with a superfluous ‘n’ in his name and the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia stitched on his jacket is both appalling and ridiculous because you don’t imagine a pathetic figure like that could be capable of causing so much pain to so many people. My heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones because of this evil act.

It’s easy to call this a senseless or random act, but it’s neither. What happened in Charleston was a deliberate act of hatred based on racial prejudice. So many people in the US have worked to overcome the racism that has been a pervasive and persistent element of our republican democracy, but one double-n Dylan reminds us again that it’s still with us and will likely remain for a long time to come. Surely we should be well beyond this narrow bigotry, and yet we aren’t.

I used to think that racism was born of ignorance, that it was difficult to be prejudiced against people you knew at work and in your neighborhoods. My father-in-law was in many ways a gentle man, but he had an almost casual attitude of prejudice against black people. To him, what I called Brazil nuts were “nigger toes,” and a lazy job performance was “nigger work.” I was appalled, but I figured that, being a potato farmer from Idaho, he had very little interaction with African Americans. He didn’t know better.

But the Dylann Roofs of the world live and work in a multiracial society. South Carolina, after all, is 28% African American, which is more than twice the national average. Newspaper articles quote Roof’s black friends. Sure, they say, he told racist jokes and talked about starting a race-based civil war, but no one took it seriously.

Maybe that’s the problem. We see racism as something from the past, and even though we recognize overt examples of racism, such as several well-known police shootings recently, we ignore the casual racism. Even when we organize and protest, we generally focus on egregious acts of prejudice or hatred, but we don’t notice what’s going on around us every day. We think that racism is that something that happens to other people, and it’s caused by nutjobs and criminals, not us.

If we are going to reduce acts of subtle and overt racism, it has to be us. We have to be active and vigilant in eliminating the racism we see around us. In my childhood, we sang a very simple Primary song:

I want to be kind to everyone,
For that is right, you see.
So I say to myself, “Remember this:
Kindness beings with me.”

Perhaps we need to resolve that racism ends with us. We may not have the power individually or even collectively to erase prejudice and hatred, which seem to be basic human traits, but we can work to make our own surroundings and environments more tolerant and less racist. They say that when someone does something kind for you, you should “pay it forward.” It’s time to start paying forward tolerance, respect, and inclusion, as well as kindness.

Am I naive? Of course. No one believes there’s an easy solution to these problems, but I am determined that, at least in my own life, racism ends with me.

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13 Responses to Racism Ends with Me

  1. CAB says:

    I am a racist, I know I am. but I was raised to be (white and delightsome, anyone?). Being honest about that helps me to slowly whittle away at the racist attitudes and unconscious beliefs I still harbor. I hope that before I die I will have completely dismantled them all, but in the meantime, I must remain vigilant against the behaviors of racism.

    • runtu says:

      I like to think I’m not a racist, but I too was raised to discriminate and catch myself every so often. Like you said, vigilance is what matters.

      • CAB says:

        Racism CAN end with me!
        My 2nd son’s closest friend is a Black man so I feel that my vigilance is paying off. At least my children are far less burdened with the racist attitudes with which I was raised. For that I am grateful.
        I think it is possible to unlearn racism, but it takes some personal honesty to do that.

  2. Have you considered being more compassionate?

    The young man, terrible though his actions were, is still little more than a child with parents, family, and friends trying to come to terms with his actions. Do you think he made these actions in a vacuum? Are those who dismiss him as a “glaring loser with a superfluous ‘n’ in his name” really so morally superior? It is not even like he could choose his name either, your superiority in mocking a characteristic over which he had no control is certainly evidence of your enlightened stance? And while you decry prejudice, you somehow find a way to feed your own prejudices by inserting Mormon apologists into the mix, a non sequitur that is glaring in its absurdity, but you can see the prejudice in others but not in yourself?

    Also, I would love to hear about the society you think this young man grew up in, I think that would be interesting.

    Where did he grow up, specifically?

    • runtu says:

      Sigh. Compassion has nothing to do with it. I feel for his family. But for you to pick out two tiny bits of snark about names and haircuts (the latter a long-running inside joke that my friends understand) as somehow being indicative of my sense of moral superiority and prejudice is, frankly, bizarre. You know, Joseph, if I didn’t know you personally, I would wonder how you arrive at your strange conclusions about me and what I think, not to mention why you find it necessary to bring up my alleged mental instability and things like that.

      My point, which you seem to have missed, is that I’m not morally superior. I struggle all the time with my own prejudices (though prejudice against Mormon apologists with bad haircuts isn’t one of them), and I wonder how I can make a difference for the better.

      Either way, I don’t confuse compassion and empathy with rationalizing the evil people do.

      • Pick out two bits of snark?

        You don’t get it. You’re just so fake. You say “I sometimes think I suffer from a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related to my 40 years of activity in The Church” but you don’t know what real PTSD is, you could, Walter Reed desperately needs people to volunteer there, but you don’t care that your comments are completely absurd or insulting to those with real PTSD, it is only important that you feed your perceived victim status. But you could actually help if you really cared. You just don’t.

        Following the shootings in France, you imagined a world where the consequences of marginalization and discrimination did not have consequences and refused to recognize the problems inherent in the region. But moral superiority does not need this sort of thing.

        Now, we have you mocking a child because his name has too many N’s in it, and feeding your own prejudice into the mix by somehow equating it with Mormon apologists.

        I offer you the same offer, do you want to come to this young man’s home town and work with the troubled youth? Would you like to fight the racism that is so ingrained in the society that you can see it in the brick work? It needs it. It needs it desperately, and honestly the town failed this young man, and will fail many more young men.

        You say “But the Dylann Roofs of the world live and work in a multiracial society. South Carolina, after all, is 28% African American, which is more than twice the national average.”

        The young man is from Lexington County, South Carolina.

        When you get there, stop by Rush’s at the corner of Highway 1 and 378. They have some of the best fast food in town. There used to be a Wolf’s Camera in the parking lot behind it, they had some great shots of the tornado that ripped through town in…it must have been August of 1994? You could also hit Lake Murray, but don’t go to the traditional beaches, get a teenager to take you to “Sandy Beach” off of Old Corley Mill road, down a back road. You will need a pickup, but that is one of the best beaches, but watch out for the beer bottles the teenagers leave behind. Sometimes they heat them up in the fire until they are hot and then toss them into the lake to explode.

        The town needs people to fight racism, it needs it more than you could possibly imagine, it is wildly racist. Most of those opposed to racism couldn’t take it and simply left town when they graduated. Perhaps it is our fault, but if you want to put your moral superiority where your mouth is, you could move down and help out. The Jeffcoats are good realtors, and a few are members of the Church. You might even meet a few Roofs, they are a very large, largely Lutheran family (they attend the old stone church behind where Sessions used to be), who are all grieving terribly.

      • runtu says:

        I’m sorry you think I’m fake. Can’t help that. As usual, you’ve mischaracterized what I’ve said and what I think. I do have personal experience with PTSD, so please don’t lecture me on what I know. For whatever reason, you choose to condemn me, no matter what. Oh, well. I can’t help that, but I can forgive.

      • “I do have personal experience with PTSD, so please don’t lecture me on what I know.”

        Like I said, you could visit Walter Reed.

        Also, lecturing people on what they know…

        “But the Dylann Roofs of the world live and work in a multiracial society. South Carolina, after all, is 28% African American, which is more than twice the national average.”

        I’d love to hear you lecture me about what you know.

      • runtu says:

        I don’t know much of anything. I certainly can’t fix racism or tell anyone how to do so. I can only try to do better myself. Apparently, that’s a terrible thing to say in your book. Oh, well.

      • “I don’t know much of anything. I certainly can’t fix racism or tell anyone how to do so.”

        I agree, you can’t. Others can. As I said, sitting on your butt spouting nonsense catchphrases is not going to do much of anything. Getting out in the community and getting involved is FAR more important than empty lip service, but unless you are willing to put your feet where your mouth is, you will never fix or accomplish anything.

        Have you ever been to an AME Church? You might start just by visiting one.

  3. sideon says:

    Joseph, have you considered being more compassionate? I ask, because from reading your comments and responses, you sound like a troll or a total douche. I can’t quite decide which is worse.

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