This has been a historic time for all of us. First we are subjected to a pandemic. Isolation, quarantine and new normal are all we can talk about. Every night we are bombarded on the evening news with the daily statistics and every story leads right back to the pandemic. We try to escape it through social media with creative ideas and clever stories of how we are spending our quarantine time. These social media efforts are at least humorous and help us to relieve the stress but the reality lies thinly hidden behind those clever posts and tweets.
And then the next shoe drops. Through the unfathomable decision by one individual, the ugly reality of racism is thrown in the mix. The reaction is predictable but the scope still takes us all by surprise. But it shouldn’t have. We have spent lifetimes trying first to justify it, then denying it and eventually pretending to not accept racism. While there are those who openly demonstrate their bigotry, the majority of people falsely believe, that though it exists, it certainly doesn’t exist in them. We desperately want to believe that we not only have no biases, but that we are supportive and have worked to reduce the effects of racism in our culture. And yet???? Why do we still unconsciously stereotype black people?
I am one of those and feel the need to confess. Anyone who knows me, knows that I believe in equality among all humans, no matter race, gender or religion. And yet, I was reminded just the other day that I am not so innocent. We were watching a show focused on Black Lives Matter. One of the segments was an interview of a black pro athlete who was speaking of a program designed to answer the ‘uncomfortable questions’. As the interview proceeded, I turned to my wife and said “He certainly is articulate.” I was immediately called out by my daughter. “Why would I have felt he wouldn’t be”, she asked? Because he was a football player? Or was it because he was black? Or worse yet, because he was a black athlete? My first response was to quantify what I had said. But as I began to formulate my excuse, the reality of the situation hit me. That and the fact that I was not the politically correct, unbiased supportive person I wanted to believe I was. I started hearing myself saying “I have several black friends.” Why did I need to attach the adjective?
We all see and recognize the racism when it is blatant. We all wonder how anyone can feel that way? Some of us even take up the charge and march alongside other supporters as they protest the total inequity of the treatment. But change won’t take place if we simply succeed in silencing the racists, a task that is anything but simple. Change needs to be systemic. We need to look at ourselves and ask how can I drop the stereotyping and change the narrative. In many ways, it is the day to day narrative, the unintentional stereotyping and the acceptance of the black person’s plight that cuts the deepest and creates the environment we so desperately need to repair. Why go out of our way to identify someone as my black friend, or a black athlete or a black titan of industry. Why can’t we simply drop the adjective and acknowledge the individual for who they are and not what they are. Until we do that, we continue to give room for the racist to breathe their message of hate and for society to fail at honoring our Declaration of Independence, “All men (people) are created equal.” But not until we treat them as such.