Yes, I know. All lives matter. Every human being that ever lived was created in the image of God, each of us unique. More than seven billion of us on this planet we call earth and no two of us exactly the same. Even identical twins are not identical. I get that. It is an excellent reminder to always treat people that way. However, that is not the point. And that is not the problem.
The term “aversive racism” was coined by Joel Kovel to describe a form of implicit racism in which a person’s unconscious negative evaluation of racial or ethnic minorities are realized by persistent avoidance of interaction with members of those groups. As opposed to traditional overt racism, which is characterized by obvious hatred for and discrimination against minorities, aversive racism is characterized by more complex, ambivalent expressions and attitudes. People who think and/or behave in an aversively racial way may profess egalitarian beliefs, while denying their racially motivated behavior; nevertheless, they often change their behavior when dealing with a member of another race.
While our most common association with racism in this country is white hooded Ku Klux Klansmen burning crosses, or neo-Nazis marching and chanting ugly slurs, the truth is racism is much more pervasive than we might like to think. Actually, racism is the belief that solely because of skin color, all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race so as to render one people inherently superior (or, alternatively inferior) to another. Further, it posits that a person’s social and moral traits are also pre-determined by their inborn biology or race; which is strange, because biologists agree that the color of one’s skin is, in scientific and genetic reality, truly a minor difference, determinant of practically nothing. In other words, on a genetic level, we are all pretty much the same. We are all hybrids and there is no such thing as purity of race. None!
I remember back in college, attending a lecture by Bobby Seale, then the leader of the Black Panthers. He was talking about the evils of “whitey” and I was nodding in agreement. Then it dawned on me, being one of the few light-skinned people in the room, “Was he talking about me?!” Growing up Jewish, even in New York City, I was taught that we were first and foremost Jews, strangers in a strange land, never to be fully comfortable with or accepted by White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society. We were always on guard for hints of anti-Semitism and discrimination against us. In that moment, way back then, I was being seen as “them”, not us. It was a shock to my system. To this day I check “other” when asked about my race.
White male privilege is woven into the very fabric of this nation. Our vaunted Constitution, the hallmark of our democracy, did not recognize women or people of color as fully human, let alone citizens with equal rights. We might like to forget that it took decades of courageous abolitionists risking their lives, the underground railroad, a bloody Civil War, Jim Crow laws, Constitutional amendments, a Civil Rights movement, and further federal legislation to right this wrong against our black and brown brothers and sisters. The on-going violence and police shootings especially aimed at young black men, the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, the so-called draconian war on drugs targeting minorities would indicate that full equality is still a work in progress. Though there needs to be wholesale reform, blaming the police is not the answer. As the last presidential election clearly demonstrated, there is a strong, fully armed minority of white supremacists that are doing their best to roll back the clock, to “make America great again!” As if!
In his Ted Talk, “Fixing Racism,” Dr. Gurdeep Parhar states that we need to “recognize that we all have subconscious bias, bring it to the forefront, and deal with it.” We ALL stereotype. Our brains automatically put things and people into neat categories. It is just what we humans do. And yet, people are not born with racist ideas or attitudes; it is taught and learned. And it can be, in fact, it must be unlearned as well. What Dr. Parhar, himself a victim of prejudice suggests is that this, in and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is we deny it.
In the Florida gubernatorial race of 2018, then candidate Ron DeSantis, running against an African American, Andrew Gillum, accused his opponent of “monkeying around” which offended the black community. DeSantis denied his words had any racial overtones which, in and of itself, is part of the problem. A black woman in the crowd challenged him, saying, “You do not get to tell us what is offensive or not; we decide what offends us, not the other way around.”
After decades of denial, it is essential that we own the history of racism in this nation as well as its on-going manifestation. We must ALL, each and every one of us, take responsibility for it. It is in this way, and this way only, that we can have the open and honest dialogue that can lead to both the internal and external changes that are essential to alter the future. Racism—the diminishment of an entire group of people leading to the destruction of human possibility—diminishes us all. If we are going to truly thrive as a nation, it cannot come at the expense of any other individual or group. Anything less, is a betrayal of our humanity.