In March of 2016 I realized prejudice starts with me.
I’m standing in the Hua Lamphong train station in Bangkok, Thailand. Hundreds of travelers—speaking every language except mine—are waiting for their departure time. I sit amidst the commotion as a group of women dressed in full black burqas pass by. A few global terror incidents had happened recently and a thought flashes through my mind that haunts me for months to come.
“What if there’s a bomb under there?” I think.
A shot of adrenaline pumps through my bloodstream.
“That’s ridiculous, I know… but maybe I should move back a smidge just in case?”
In the next moment, I realize how stupid it was to make such a judgment. Nobody else in the room caused me concern. Hundreds of folks in the crowd could have terrorized the place that day, and back home I never stared at random white guys in public and thought, “I wonder if he’s a deranged shooter? Better get away.”
But there I was, disgusted at the dark prejudice my subconscious shot to the surface.
Recognizing my prejudice problem that day was the start of something great for me. Odds are good I’ll never be truly unprejudiced, but growth begins only after the problem is identified. The innocent women in the train station gave me a wonderful gift, their veils unmasked a problem I hadn’t before acknowledged.
As a white, southern, Christian, middle-class American man, I’m just starting to realize the depth of my own skewed racial perspective.
I cannot speak for everybody, but I know a thing or ten about being white. I know that most of us are 100% against racism in all forms. Our upbringing (yes, even in the South) was not bent towards white superiority. Society raised us to believe everybody is equal and race is no longer an issue. Everybody stands on an even playing field. Go live your life and move on. We’ve made it.
We were not raised racist.
We were raised color-blind.
My parents have actively fought against injustices all their lives. Mom has spent 31 years educating students in minority-majority public schools. Her passion for the underserved and disadvantaged population, regardless of background, is Nobel Prize worthy.
Dad led a rural church in the nineties who insisted he “fix the problem” he created after inviting a multi-racial couple to join the congregation one Sunday.
“Mixed marriage is against the Bible. We don’t want our kids to see that and think it is right.” They said.
After a bullet cut through the house window and their dog disappeared later that week, he moved Mom and the kids out for their safety and pressed on, refusing to break under the violent pressure of racist groupthink.
They raised us to fundamentally believe in equality and justice. They proved it in word and deed, for which I will forever be thankful.
Somewhere down the line, however, I fell victim to the lie that equality is reality.
Racism like what my parents experienced in the nineties died with the 20th century. I believed in the illusion of a post-racial society, where the correlation between skin color and success in the world is irrelevant.
The white society is an individualistic one. Everybody is on their own to accomplish or fail at whatever they’d like. As long as you work hard enough you can become anything you want. I naively thought this true across all Americans of all backgrounds.
Slavery is over. The Civil Rights Movement is over. It’s Morning In America and we all have the same shot. If I’m not successful in this world, I did not try hard enough. If a black person is not successful, he did not try hard enough.
I could not have communicated it at the time, but that was the foundation of my racial perspective.
Today, I see my post-racial worldview was wrong.
Well intentioned, but wrong.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 hit reset the racial conversation. What the Black, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern, Asian and Native American communities had known for so long, the White population slowly woke up to. The race conversation was not over.
It is not over.
Enter Donald Trump, and racism is handed a bullhorn.
A fear-based political foundation energized the extremist wings of society to a new level, and today we feel—as history could predict—the destructive results of that system. Injustice, Hatred and Violence, intoxicated by national publicity, march through city streets with embarrassing ferocity in 21st century America.
Are all Trump voters racist? Not at all. I know many white folks who supported Trump with honest, well-meaning rationales. Men and women who care deeply about the long-term effects of a conservative chair in the Supreme Court. Small business owners who intimately feel the benefits of conservative fiscal policy on the livelihood of their families. A faith-community whose hearts break over the tragedy of abortion.
These are good men and women. Most of the Trump supporters I know don’t like the guy, they made the best decision they could given the information and perspectives available to them.
Please don’t believe the lies of the false antagonist.
White people are not the enemy.
Trump voters are not the enemy.
Christianity is not the enemy.
Injustice is the enemy.
When white, southern and/or Christian men and women are blanketed as hopeless racists, we all lose. The same is true when the white population believes the lie of the angry black man. Knowing your true enemy, while refusing to believe cynical stereotypes, is essential.
Injustice, fueled by inequality and inaction, is the adversary.
Racial tensions in 2017 are at a crux of larger proportions than many would believe. This is the time to unite around justice in a country tortured by a dark history of the opposite because equality is not reality, yet.
My generation of white people must publicly fight for our minority brothers and sisters if equality is to become real in this world. We must speak against patterns of systemic racism and blatant discrimination. Many are in the game already, but more still stand on the sidelines, afraid to jump in or unsure of how to start.
How do we stand against such a complex problem in a noisy world that focuses on opinions over people? Examine your own prejudice, then do whatever you can to move towards justice.
Quit being friends exclusively with people that look like you. Engage in open discussion and friendship across racial, socioeconomic, religious and political barriers. Protest shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets when the time is right. Support organizations carrying the banner of justice in your community. Your entrance to the movement might be awkward or feel insignificant, but your invitation is here and your opportunity is profound.
Love between brothers and sisters united against injustice will win, always.
I have much to learn about racial justice in 2017.
To my friends from different backgrounds—give me patience with words which prove my insufficient knowledge and subconscious prejudice towards things I don’t completely understand. Please share your thoughts and perspectives. Give suggestions of books, podcasts, etc. to learn from. And, most important, let’s hang out and talk about it soon.)