Do we ever stop being racist?
Undoing the damage done to us by society.
The Racist, Revealed
It happened again. I was reading something written by someone I deem a member of [ethnic group], and I found myself making assumptions based on stereotypes of [that ethnic group].
Dammit! I thought I was past this! I’m all enlightened now, right? Woke, and with it, and activist. Heck, my writings on bigotry get used by other people to teach lessons about this stuff.
I’m done, right? I can put my “not a racist” trophy on the shelf next to my Responsible Adult trophy and my Totally Not Afraid Of Lightning service award. Hall of fame! I’ve won the non-racist award! I’ll never have to think about this again!
Sadly, no. It’s not that easy to unlearn decades of lessons from — well, from pretty much everywhere.
There are stories that we are forced to hear over and over again, stories with a gender or an ethnicity or a religion or a region attached. I’m not going to repeat them, but they all sound like this. We hear them, over and over, like that idiotic song with the four notes that play over and over again until the damn ring-tone music is stuck in your ear.
That’s what you’re fighting against. And it’s constant, ubiquitous, pervasive.
Armor up, Sensors out
And so our defenses must be the same: constant, ubiquitous, pervasive. It’s not like bigotry is on the decline; it’s not like racism is defeated, the way I naively really hoped it would be, early in the 90s.
Psychologists talk about “lived experiences” as the antidote to “relived experiences”, for trauma survivors: having the opportunity to redo something the right way is invaluable to getting out of the loop of old, bad experiences.
And these are bad experiences, bordering on abuse. I can’t count the number of times, growing up, when I was punished for rebelling against stereotypes. By teachers; by parents and caregivers; by my peers; by random people on the street. Don’t be friends with them. Don’t talk to that person. Oh, they are all stupid (or more insidiously, they are all brilliant). Why aren’t you picking on them with us?
Practicing the good
So — have some good lived experiences. Engage that person, and engage them as a person, rather than as “one of them”. (One of my favorite sightings was at a con, where an acquaintance had a shirt that said “I am not your magical black person. Knowing me will not make you cool.” Quite.) Do life stuff, whatever that is. It might be things you associate with those people, it might not. Let yourself be surprised, and go into it with a questioning, open mind set.
And then, on your own time, in private, review. Because you have to undo the damage. Feel their otherness, and couple it with the good of the experience itself. Unlearn.
Just remember, hang in there. We’re all in this together, no matter what those people say.