A Few Thoughts About Racism

There is a lot of talk about race these days—and rightfully so. It seems that change is needed—a recovery of sorts. What I mean by recovery is the thoughtful application of the principles of change to a dysfunctional situation to arrive at a more functional one. In an individual the disfunction might be physical or mental illness, an addiction or even financial distress. While broad change across society may be more complex, it really boils down to individuals looking at themselves and changing dysfunctional attitudes.

I will use myself as an example. Like many people, I was taught by my parents that all people are created equal. However, I can remember my father expounding on the large number of black athletes in professional sports. Though this was a decidedly racist notion, Dad would have been deeply offended if anyone called him racist.  Furthermore, I can remember using the “N” word when referencing African Americans, though without derogatory intent. Of course, there were jokes about people of all races which were funny primarily because they played on racial stereotypes. Though we didn’t think of these as derogatory, they really were. Mostly, we were good people; just uninformed.

I grew up in rural Minnesota where there were very few African Americans—none in my hometown. I rarely thought about it, but when I did, I considered myself to be non-racist. Then one fine day I found myself walking down the street in Minneapolis and saw some black kids playing in an alley. As I walked past, I realized I was scared of them. I fought the urge to walk faster and started wondering why. Was it the stereotypes from the jokes or TV and movies—that black people are violent and dangerous? Maybe. Was it because there were several of them and only one of me? Maybe that was part of it too.

The point here is that most of us have at one time or another held racist notions—not because we are bad people, but because we hadn’t looked at those thoughts close enough to see what they really are. I believe that the way to move forward with easing the racial tensions is for people to talk about things the way they really are. We are all human beings who have been taught bogus things. The only way I see to change that is to examine those bogus things and let them go. This is how recovery works. Recovery is about change—about letting go of false beliefs and replacing them with acceptance of reality.

The reality is that we are all equal under God and under the law. The reality is that our society has always had a racial bias and that needs to change. If you want to change a society, you have to change the individuals in that society.

If, like many people, you have extra time on your hands, perhaps you could take some time to look inside and see if you, like me, have some old ideas that need to be let go.

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