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Concerning Racism

Some issues go away gradually, some are resolved quickly and then there are those that seem to possess a perpetual life. Racism is one such issue.  Why? I say it’s because we won’t let it go away, or maybe we don’t want it to go away. 

There are several reasons why racism is a disease that keeps festering.  First of all, we keep picking at it.  It begins at home -- in homes of every color and nationality.  Our children hear us talk and they see the way we behave.  And, as children, they imitate what they see and repeat what they hear.  They mimic our attitudes and while they might not understand the meaning of our conversation, our words become their words, our attitudes, their attitudes. Indoctrination at an early age is a powerful behavioral influence for most of our lives.  Consciously or unconsciously we are impacted by what we learned or observed when we were children.  A child is like a blank page, innocent and without prejudice.  So, this is where it begins.  The initial burden of curing the malady of racism is on us, the parents of this new generation.

The second culprit in the promulgation of racism is our educational system. Culture, customs and traditions are important when kept in perspective. Learning about these aspects of history inspire us to be proud of who we are based on where we have come from. Events, too, are a part of our history and they can be useful when studying the challenges that our ancestors faced. Historical information is valuable when analyzing how situations and conditions should be handled so we can avoid making the same mistakes that occurred in the past.  However, history is history. We might be proud of the past or we might be embarrassed by it, but the past is the past.  Customs change as cultures assimilate one with another and the new customs of today become the traditions of tomorrow.  The unfortunate history that drives much of the resentment and hostility between whites and blacks today is, of course, slavery.  Obviously, there was a great imbalance in fairness at that time. However, in some textbooks there is an inordinate amount of space dedicated to the subject of slavery, and it is presented in many schools in such a way as to spark conflict between the races represented in the classroom. The issue of slavery continues to resurface and spawn resentment and anger. Fortunately, times changed. Perhaps not as quickly as some would have hoped, but lasting, extreme change always takes time. First came the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War with whites fighting alongside blacks to end slavery.  Fairness began to have a chance.  Then came the 14th Amendment, blacks were made citizens and the 15th Amendment gave blacks the right to vote; fairness became a possibility.  A few years later came the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1968. With each passing of legislation, supported by the majority of Americans, white and black, the opportunity for fairness grew.  Integration guaranteed that, over time, American freedom of education and opportunity would be available to all people.  Slavery is in the past.  It must not be forgotten, always a reminder of what should not be, but conversely, it should not be used as a stimulus for hatred or resentment. 

I was a child in the 1950’s and a teenager in the 1960’s.  I don’t remember slavery.  I didn’t have a slave, nor did my family. I am not responsible for the actions of my ancestors, nor am I responsible for the recompense of their conduct. When my sons were very young they had a best friend who was black and who had the same first name as my older son, Bryan.  There were a lot of other boys about the same age in our neighborhood.  The other children called my son white Bryan and his friend, black Bryan. Neither boy was offended by this designation.  It seemed an obvious way to distinguish between the two.  However, we adults were shocked when we heard how they addressed each other.  After a good laugh from both parents, we explained to the children that there might be a better way to distinguish between the two Bryans.  To them, color was nothing more than a physical thing.  It had nothing to do with fairness or racism.  But then, through hearing the story of slavery and how black slaves were treated by white masters, the seed of resentment was sown. I wonder how it will affect a young black child upon hearing about slavery for the first time?  Will they feel inferior because they had uneducated, subservient ancestors?  Will they feel resentment and anger toward whites because of the mistreatment of their ancestors?  Whatever the result, I cannot imagine any positive feelings being inspired by hearing about such historical atrocities.  The story of slavery would certainly have less of a negative impact if the message were told in the context of examples of slavery around the world. Sometimes we forget that America was not the only country where slavery existed and blacks were not the only victims.  In his report on “The Irish Slave Trade – The Forgotten White Slaves”, John Martin says,

“The Irish slave trade began when James II sold 30,000 Irish prisoners as slaves to the New World. His Proclamation of 1625 required Irish political prisoners be sent overseas and sold to English settlers in the West Indies. By the mid 1600s, the Irish were the main slaves sold to Antigua and Montserrat. At that time, 70% of the total population of Montserrat were Irish slaves.
Ireland quickly became the biggest source of human livestock for English merchants. The majority of the early slaves to the New World were actually white.
From 1641 to 1652, over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 were sold as slaves. Ireland’s population fell from about 1,500,000 to 600,000 in one single decade. Families were ripped apart as the British did not allow Irish dads to take their wives and children with them across the Atlantic. This led to a helpless population of homeless women and children. Britain’s solution was to auction them off as well.” (Global Research, January 27, 2013).

The moral lesson of slavery is that slavery is unjust, not because any of us are too good to be slaves, but because no one is good enough to be a master. 

Again, in our schools we observe Black History Month.  Certainly, we should all be proud of those who have contributed to our rich history.  But, once again, why not incorporate those black individuals along with all of the other men and women, black and white, red and green, whose influence has been significant.  By placing special emphasis on those of color rather than integrating them into the overall story of history we are implying that we do not expect people of color to make a contribution so we pay homage to those few on an occasion of special recognition. Why draw a distinction as if they must be segregated from the rest due to their color?  Once again, we are marginalizing people on the basis of color and doing an injustice to unity and fairness.

In spite of the proclamation from every political platform to eradicate racism, the government, itself, is one of the main causes of continued resentment.  Government endorsed programs like Affirmative Action imply that minorities aren’t capable or qualified to get good jobs without the aid of pressure on businesses.  This preferential treatment causes resentment by those who feel that qualified individuals are losing jobs to unqualified applicants that are given an unfair advantage.  This implication that blacks aren’t qualified is outdated. Today there is a record number of blacks graduating from college. Many of those now hold executive positions in companies around the globe.  We have even had a black president.  This program, along with other entitlement programs instigated by our government is stifling the progress of fairness.  The answer is knowledge and understanding. Perhaps the solution is an increase in vocational training programs rather than entitlement programs.  Whatever action is proposed, it is the responsibility of both Republicans and Democrats to instigate and support these initiatives. One ethnic group can help the other to progress but the other must be willing to help themselves in the process.
Broadcast television is a catalyst for racism.  Programs like Miss Black America, Blackish, Black Entertainment Television and networks targeting blacks all contribute to the distance between whites and blacks and promote racism. There is no Miss White America and no awards programs that are exclusively for or about whites.  If there were, the outcry from blacks would be immediate and thunderous.  Double standards are unacceptable in a society that struggles with racism.
And lastly, many people simply do not want to see the end of racism.  A young black child is immediately alienated from his peers when he is labeled as an Afro-American.  The implication is that he is neither 100% African nor 100% American.  He has no real identity; no country he can claim as his own.  My ancestors came from Ireland.  I could consider myself Irish-American but since I, myself, am not from Ireland, nor have I spent any time in that country; and since I was born in America, as were my parents, I am an American.  This is my country.  I do not split my allegiance between two countries.  My loyalty is with America, my birthplace.  A black child should understand that they are part of the American story, not separate from it.  They should recognize that the Civil War was fought by men of all cultures and backgrounds, whites fighting side-by-side with black soldiers for the purpose of freeing the oppressed.  We would have done the same for any ethnic group.  It is the American way.  Every American child is part of that amazing story.

Playing the “racist” card is a cop-out, an excuse for avoiding responsibility.  It creates a racist attitude where none might exist. We have all become so sensitive to color that it has stifled our ability to interact and effectively communicate with each other. Relationships will never be mended until we can speak openly and honestly with each other concerning any and all issues without being accused of being racist. In doing so, some might be offended.  Some always will be.  If a person is expecting to be offended sooner of later they will be.
In conclusion, racism is not hereditary it is an attitude.  Until we are willing to change our attitudes concerning race in the media, in education, in business, in government, and in our homes racism will not be eradicated.

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