Tackling Racism

Everybody is a little racist.

Avenue Q, an American satirical musical, made a good point about how “everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes”. The show is best defined as an adult version of Sesame Street. It addresses issues associated with entering adulthood.

One of the messages presented in the musical is that even though everyone might be a little racist, it does not mean they go around committing hate crimes.

Racism does not always mean we wish to harm someone who is different. It can be as subtle as a fleeting thought or assumption.

Racism is a complex issue and everyone is biased in one way or another.

It is our human nature to identify more with people who are like ourselves. People have a preference for the familiar.

However, we must not use “human nature” to dismiss it as not being problematic. Having preconceptions based on how people appear may not cause any immediate harm, but when this is compounded over time and by everyone in society, it can lead to much greater harm.

Admitting racism is not easy but it is an important step in tackling the issue.

The problem will never go away as long as we neglect to acknowledge it in both society and within ourselves.

This issue is especially important as evident with recent events.

Tim Wise, an American anti-racism activist and author, posted a reaction to the Zimmerman verdict. In a video posted on July 19, he asks his audience to consider an important question: “Does having black friends mean you’re free from racial bias?”

The answer is no. As stressed in the first sentence, everybody is a little racist.

It is also crucial that people understand the role the media plays.

According to Rem Rieder of USA Today, the media played a role in the Zimmerman case that cannot be ignored. Rieder suggested in this case, the media went after the best story rather than the truth.

The media perpetuates stereotypes. Therefore is of upmost importance for people to learn to understand the complex messages presented by the media.

In a previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Stereotypes, I discuss how photographs, film and video are used to perpetuate stereotypes. I explained how these images are used to present people of other races as “other” and establish them as inferior.

Such media messages perpetuate the idea of “us versus them”.

People need to be aware of how media messages influence them. They need to learn how to analyze those messages so they are not misled by false information.

People need to understand the importance of being media literate.

There needs to be a push for media literacy education.

It will help minimize the harm.

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One thought on “Tackling Racism

  1. This is great stuff, Ben! And I agree, all these hate fests on TV and the webs are due to the way the media works. It’s always about the best talking point, the most outrageous story, the conflict etc. In such an environment, no one’s ever going to admit that they’re not fundamentally different from each other and that we all harbor biases.

    I’ve also been thinking about how language misleads us in that process. E.g. that debate about “you can’t be a racist while having black friends” hinges on the noun “racist”. Labeling someone as “a racist” implies that racial bias is an overarching, defining characteristic of who they are, on par with their vocation, religion, nationality etc. Which isn’t the case for Zimmerman, nor probably for most people.

    But “not being a racist” is not the same thing as “not harboring racial biases”, as Mr. Wise points out. We all think in categories, that’s simply the way cognition and language work. Hence we’re all prone to seeing people as instances of a category instead of the unique person that they are. And to ascribing the traits we associate with that category to them. In that way, we’re all prone to racism. How to deal with that would be a much more important debate than whether or not someone is “a racist”.

    It’s time people started to realize the subtle ways in which language shapes their thinking and sparks pointless debates. Of course, that’s unlikely to happen in the current media landscape (see above)…

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