PetiteSouer wrote a quite excellent blog post about contemporary racism, and I found that I had too much to say on the subject to fit it all in a comment box. So, I'm putting it here. I highly encourage you to read and comment on PetiteSoeur's post before reading what I wrote, because otherwise, it won't really make sense.
I remember being in second grade when a new girl moved to our school. It was during the winter, and the entire class had their coats hung up at the back of the room. At the end of her first day, I thought it would be a nice if I went and got her coat for her. You know, as a way of welcoming her. I had no idea that she would think that I was stealing the coat from her, and I certainly did not expect her to think that I was stealing her coat from her because she was black. But she did, and was extremely offended by the gesture. We were enemies after that, and there was very little I could do about it. As a kid, I drew the conclusion that no matter what I did, I was going to somehow be racist.
And I hated that about myself.
As PetiteSouer says in her post, race was not really something that was talked about in our home, because it really wasn't an issue. My Madre and Padre didn't care if the kids I brought home were white, black, or whatever. But I lived in a predominantly white area, so most of the kids who came over were white. That's just the way it was. The only times I ever really came in contact with racism in my home was when I would go into my parents' room and slip their South Pacific soundtrack into their CD player. I've always loved that music, but one song called "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" popped out to me, and I used to play it over and over again until I had it memorized. Here's the song, and the lyrics are as follows:
You've got to be taught to hate and fearYou've got to be taught from year to yearIt's got to be drummed in your dear little earYou've got to be carefully taught.You've got to be taught to be afraidOf people whose eyes are oddly madeAnd people whose skin is a different shadeYou've got to be carefully taughtYou've got to be taught before it's too lateBefore you are six or seven or eightTo hate all the people your relatives hateYou've got to be carefully taught.
I've listened to that song, literally, over a thousand times. I still listen to it, and sometimes hum it to myself while I do the dishes. This song and it's message of tolerance, is a very important part of my life.
During the same period of my life, I was exposed to two other songs that addressed the race issue, but this time, they were songs I sang in church. The first is called "We Are Different."
I know you and you know you know meWe are as different as the sun as the seaI know you and you know you know meAnd that's the way it is supposed to beI help you, and you help meWe learn from problems and we're starting to seeI help you, and you help meAnd that's the way it is supposed to beI love you, and you love meWe reach together for the best we can beI love you, and you love meAnd that's the way it is supposed to be
The other is "I'll Walk With You."
If you don't walk as some people doSome people walk away from youBut I won't, I won'tIf you don't talk as most people do,Some people talk and laugh at youBut I won't, I won'tI'll walk with you, I'll talk with youThat's how I'll show my love for youJesus walked away from noneHe gave His love to everyoneSo I will, I willJesus blessed all He could seeThen turned and said, "Come follow me"So I will, I willI will, I willI'll walk with you, I'll talk with youThat's how I'll show my love for you
Yes, they're cheesy, but they're for kids. And I realize that none of them talk directly about racism, but in my mind, that's always what it was about. Why? Because in the songbook, "We Are Different" is right below a picture of a black kid and a white kid playing together, and because a lot of people of other races talk differently than I do.
So, I guess you can say that I've been carefully taught, but to the opposite effect described by Rogers and Hammerstein. But that doesn't mean that it solved the problem of racism for me. It doesn't mean that some kid isn't going to think I'm stealing her coat, and that I don't still fear that all black people are going to hate me no matter what I do, or that sometimes, I want to avoid black people altogether so the issue will never come up. That's still something I have to grapple with.
Because it's true that racism is still around, just different. It comes from the natural impulse to stay away from what's unfamiliar. But I very much despise the idea that it only occurs in white people, and doesn't just affect people of different races. It affects people with disabilities, people who have "strange" beliefs, and etc. We have our own "tribe," and we naturally fear or try to avoid people who aren't in the tribe. This is all natural. It's a defense mechanism. We're programmed to avoid conflict, so exclusion is very human. It's the hate that has to be learned. Both have to be overcome. Of course, this all completely relative. It depends on where you grew up and what you consider your "tribe" to be. If you're like me, and you're a white girl who grew up with lot of Asian people, it's easy to consider Asian people as just part of the tribe. When I talk to Asian people, I don't have a constant dialogue in the back of my mind where I'm asking myself if the slightest slip of the tongue will make them hate me. I do have that in the back of my mind around black people until I get to know them.
In fact, I find that the best way to overcome racism is to find similarities with people in a group that you have an aversion to, and befriend them. It's amazing how well this works. When you overcome your fears and start to trust someone who comes from a background that's completely different from yours, your entire worldview changes. But you generally don't dare to try unless someone has taught you that you should.
And if you're like me, even if you've been carefully taught, you still have to continue to teach yourself how to be a better person.
Regards, best wishes, and a continuing education,