Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reflections on Racism

I'm currently enrolled in a class called Multicultural Counseling. Initially, the fact I had to take this class annoyed me because almost every counseling course so far has mentioned an aspect of multiculturalism. I get it, I get it. We have differences, respect it, get to know it, moving on...

So far, however, I have learned a lot about myself. Despite the fact I consider myself progressive in how I approach others who act or believe differently than me, a recent assignment made me aware that I (believe it or not) have been an ageist. I actually had a subconsciousness social awkwardness to people over the age of 80. My reasoning? They felt completely foreign. I talked to them like I was talking to a child (old=feeble minded). I was surprised when they had liberal opinions (old=conservative). I didn't share all of my thoughts and feelings (old=closed-minded).

This got me thinking: What exactly makes someone prejudice? I have family members who use racist slang in private to describe bad characters, but when they come into contact with people of other nationalities, color, etc, they almost always judge the person by their actions. This I do not consider prejudice (albeit the language choice is foolish).

Then there are those who are politically correct, but when in the presence of certain differences, let those differences take precedence over getting to know the person themselves. They react defensively, do not listen to what the person is saying, do not give the benefit of the doubt. This, is prejudice. I am going to assume we have all done this from time to time.

Then there are those that both walk the nasty walk and talk the nasty talk.

Which led me to my next thought: What is the damage of prejudice? Why even care? For those who haven't experienced much of it (like myself) the impact may not be obvious, and from time to time the thought has crossed my mind that we all need to be strong in ourselves and not subject to public opinion. To an extent I think this is true, Jesus says "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come" but he followed it quickly with, "but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves" (Luke 17:2-3, NIV).

We read and hear about how hurtful it is, unkind, and demeaning. But there are particular illustrations that have brought the damage of prejudice to my heart and I wanted to share for reflection.Take these excerpts from a story Culture Identity: Life Stories for Counselors and Therapists. The woman's name is Julie, a 30-year old African American woman living in the United States:

"I often dreamed of traveling and seeing all the places White people came from. It's funny--visiting Africa never entered my mind until high school. During my search for an identity as a young girl, I remember hating to go get my hair done... I always felt I was being tortured and talked about. I have very thick, coily hair, and it was the topic of many discussions. My 'bad' hair was difficult and hard to manage, and I was often teased about cutting it off. Although I never said anything, this early experience made me feel I should have been born White." (p. 12)

"Did only White families have faithful husbands who took care of their families and loving and devoted wives? Was it a Black woman's fate to raise her children alone and to bear them outside of marriage (there sure were a lot of single female parents at church)? Why was I not considered beautiful, and because of my appearance, would I ever meet someone who would love me and think I was beautiful?" (p. 14)

"In some of my daydreams, my hair was a bouncy, wavy texture, and my skin was much lighter. I was considered beautiful, and all of the men--White and Black and everything else--thought I was the most beautiful woman they had ever met. See; I knew I was Black, but I hated everything about being Black. I hated the way Black people spoke, and I hated the way they laughed and drank and looked. I hated that they all didn't want to do better, wouldn't go to school, didn't find jobs, had unprotected sex, and so on. I didn't realize it, but I hated me." (p. 14-15)

The other exercise that touched me deeply was the following video we had to watch for class:

My point for sharing these is the hope that people (including myself) will think of the ripples we send out every time we speak. If you are one of those who carelessly use their words, please think about the small girl who wonders if anyone will ever find her beautiful. For those who unconsciously avoid people groups because of discomfort, challenge yourself, be the change you wish to see. For those who are hurt and want someone to blame, do not let superficial differences be your indicator, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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