Racial Bias and Prejudice is a Bad Thing, But What Can I do?
By: Joel Gardner, Executive Director - Whitewashed USA
Here is one for the world shakers, for anyone who has seen the nasty results that come from a society that turns its nose up on those labeled as different, weird, or in any way less than “normal people”. This is for you, who want to stand up and say “This is wrong” but are not sure how or when to do it so that it will make an impact. I am specifically speaking to white America, if there was such a thing as whiteness or a way to classify it. However, by common usage we know who we are.
First we need to understand what we are trying to change.
Racial bias can take on many forms, however for this discussion I would like to focus specifically on racial bias as negative or preferential behavior of individuals based on perceived race. The negative action of a person towards another person based on how the other person appears, especially actions from those here in the United States we call “white” directed at those generically referred to as “black” or African American. This kind of racial bias has been recognized and fought for millennia by governments and groups that recognize the real damage it causes to a society as a whole.
This battle has often taken on the form of laws, policies and in some cases police or military interference. While these measures can, and do, impact those negative behaviors, they can at best only control some behaviors and do not change the underlying cause of the problem. To address the cause, the real root of the issue, we need to understand that negative behaviors are the outward expression of an internal negative attitude, those attitudes are the product of an individual’s perception, and that perception comes directly from the life experience and history of that person.
So how can you, as an individual make a difference?You could grab someone and make them behave differently…. But that would not affect their attitudes, and you would probably be arrested for trying. You could tell someone they have a bad attitude and ask them to change it… but this would most likely cause resistance since the attitude is only a product of perception. You could try to force your perception on to them… but without giving them your life experiences along with it the perception would not mean anything. This leaves us with the last and ultimate option for change: Changing the life experience of another human being by stepping into that experience and making it different.
Every time we interact with someone else in our community, we shape the experience of that person in a small way. Once we become aware that racial bias exists, we can change our own behavior and discuss those changes with those around us. These conversations help set the social norms for what is, and is not OK in our society. When we have a firm grasp on the kind of behavior that is acceptable around us we can recognize and point out when someone is acting in a way that is unfair or shows bias. You might be thinking that someone who feels repressed or treated unfairly should speak up for themselves, and this is true. However, when it comes to interactions that shape perspectives and change people, they will most likely come from someone perceived as a peer, not from someone the person is already disrespecting.
This means that we need to open our mouths, if it seems like someone is getting treated worse than you, they probably are. Say something. It’s alright to point out in a non confrontational way that it’s not fair, not OK and not how we treat people here in _____ fill in the blank. The important thing is to step in and change that experience for everyone involved so that the next time the situation comes up that past experience will have hopefully improved that person’s perspective, which will change their attitudes, which will ultimately change their behavior. With this in mind, that small moment when you say something, is exactly the world changing event that is needed right now.
For those of you interested in changing the world, I will give you five simple steps to get you started. From there I expect you to find your own way to make a positive difference in yourself and the people around you. Let’s get started with one of those cool diagrams:
Here is how it works:
Step 1:Pay Attention: Look at what is happening to other people in the world and put yourself in their shoes.
Step 2:Broadcast: when you hear of something happening that is not right, make the people in your contact circles aware of it.
Step 3: Discuss: with those people whether this is a behavior or attitude we want in our society.
Step 4: Be aware: when you are at the store, movies, church and you see that behavior or attitude.
Step 5:Speak up: it’s alright to tell someone “That’s not OK” or “Not cool”. You don’t need to attack, just educate about what is acceptable.
This is heavy, it involves changing the human heart at its core and impacting the world around you in ways that often cannot be undone, so use this power wisely and go shake it up!