I am white, but I am not guilty of slave atrocities.
I am male in a patriarchal society. That does not mean I abuse women.
I am middle class. That does not mean I push others down to raise myself up.
I am of German descent. That does not make me a killer of Jews.
I am American. That does not mean I have supported every action by my government around the globe.
I am Christian. That does not mean that I have the same beliefs that have led others to terrible acts in the name of God.
I am heterosexual. That does not mean I have a phobia about the sexual preferences of others.
My political views may at times lean toward one party more than the other. That does not mean I stand on the same platform as extremists in that party.
I am a “fan”atic about my local sports teams. That does not mean your safety is in danger when you are with me at sporting events.
I eat meat. That does not mean I abuse animals.
I shoot a Canon camera, drive a Ford, listen to opera, have long hair, am self-employed, am married, have a dog, and have at times consumed large amounts of water from the garden hose. That does not mean I think less of you, your work, or your lifestyle if you have made different choices.
Having said ALL of that, I have to acknowledge that there are many prejudices in the world. There are left-overs in society today that hint of times when despicable things were acceptable. No one can deny that we live in a male dominated society, or that the ethnic cultures are still working their way out from inconceivable racial policies of the past. We have statues, street names, and sports team names that pay homage to people, language, and mind sets of the past that simply do not reflect the values of our modern society. There are words of the past that should never be spoken today. There are holidays that should not be celebrated. Even though I myself am not a person who wishes any harm on any other race, gender, or religion I have to admit that I have often felt uncomfortable with our differences – even fearful at times – and this has led me to want to erect protections around me and my little world of people just like me. Yes, at times I have racist thoughts, but I hate that character flaw in myself way more than I hate others, so I fervently challenge those thoughts. It’s an ongoing process.
I have to admit that as a white middle class male in America, I have most certainly had privilege and opportunity that has not been available to a large segment of minority Americans. It is through compassion that I resist being offended when a program is offered to give those people “special” opportunity at “my” cost as a tax payer. This is a necessary attempt to balance the scale, which realistically will never truly be balanced in America – especially if white people continue to see this effort as a hand out, or a hand down.
I have to realize that my Christian roots can be as offensive to some as a confederate heritage may be offensive to others. That shouldn’t mean we have to change who we are or deny our heritage. To get along we are going to have to make compassion and respect our top priority, and stop trying to use the Supreme Court to bolster sectarian ideals.
Racism is an issue in every culture around the world. There is also an attitude of protest against “racism” that is actually a reverse racism that feeds more racist attitudes, rather than bringing unity.
There are attitudes of denial toward the struggles of others. One might say of another, “you don’t have the right to be offended,” or “that was years ago, that does not affect us today,” or “America is the land of opportunity, so if you live in poverty it’s your own fault.” These attitudes will not make us better.
Where do we go with all of this? Yes, we can probably change some names. We can remove symbols of the past. We can change our language. We can pass laws to extend opportunities, or to protect rights. However, unity cannot be legislated! It must grow from the inside out, from inside our own hearts and minds.
Here is a very incomplete list of ideas to break down the prejudice in your own mind:
1. Get to know people who are different than you. Invite them into your home. Get to know the deeper side of them beyond that thing that makes you different. Call them by name, use their name often.
2. Celebrate the holidays of other cultures. So what if it’s not your thing. Unity is about joining in joy over what makes others happy!
3. Identify the principles taught in other religions that mirror yours, perhaps attend a special ceremony with someone you are building trust with. Learn to value authentic expressions of faith. Learn about WHY they believe, not just WHAT they believe.
4. Learn how to speak to others in their language. This might mean learning words in Spanish, or French. It could also mean learning about what someone else is interested in so you can have a conversation with them about hockey, or baking, or motorcycles, or antique collecting.
5. Hug. Yes, hug! There is an ice that is broken through human touch. I’m not talking about inappropriate touching, or being insensitive to people’s personal space. Maybe start out with a lingering hand shake, or a light hand on their shoulder, or a pat on the back. The more you can break down that barrier in a mutually acceptable way, the more endearing your relationship will become.
6. Pray for people suffering tragedy. This is easy for religious people, but prayer is not limited to religious form. It can just be thoughts or words of sorrow, empathy, and well-wishing that builds compassion in your heart. Making this emotional connection may even lead you to get involved!
7. Get involved in social programs. Give of your heart, not just your time or money. Allow someone else’s pain and struggle to touch your heart.
8. Watch your words. Refuse to use derogatory words towards others. Eliminate racial slurs from your vocabulary. Train your ear to identify any kind of talk that minimizes others. In doing this on a regular basis, you will be amazed at how subtle racism can be.
9. Try to use the word “we” instead of “they” whenever possible. Placing yourself in the same group as someone you perceive yourself to be different from will help you connect to ways that you are similar.
10. Really try to gain an understanding of the struggles a particular race or culture has encountered throughout history, and educate yourself in the ways that social policy may still (unknowingly) reinforce racist attitudes.
11. Discuss with your friends and family with the goal of building pacts to guard against racism in conversations whenever that group gets together.
12. When describing someone to someone else, try not to state their race. Find other defining qualities.
The greatness of a people is not built around a supreme race, or a Supreme Court but around supreme compassion.