Racism Isn't About Hatred, It's About Ignorance
If you have a functional brain, then you have had a cognitive thought with respect to some kind of issue regarding race in America. It’s everywhere in the news and on social media sites. I grew up during Dr. Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement in the South, Cesar Chavez’s grape boycotts to help the Mexican farm workers in California, the Watts race riots in Los Angeles, Rodney King’s beating by white policemen in the 90’s, the backlash of Middle Eastern, racial profiling from the 911 massacre in New York; and recently, the heated debate about Mexican immigration. Racial tensions in America are embedded in the fabric of my life. So what is my point? Basically, if one has not had any first-hand knowledge of a different culture and/or race of people (yes, we are all the human race, but color still seems to be a defining factor to many), then one-dimensional stereotypes will continue to dominate his or her perceptions.
Last week, a clueless Paula Dean released a photo of her son in brown face to emulate Ricky Ricardo from a past Halloween event. The social media sites lit up, proclaiming Paula a rampant racist. However, the first thing that came to my mind was, “Paula obviously doesn’t know anything about Cubans.” Then I jumped from this thought to the outrageous Donald Trump comments that seem to lump a group of people into one judgmental statement which includes rape and crime. Logically, the next thing that came to my mind was, “Has Donald Trump spent any amount of time in a colonial or rural Mexican town with everyday Mexican citizens away from luxurious hotels along the Mexican Riviera?” Reason leads me to a definitive no regarding this question.
I’m not an expert regarding race, but my experiences in life have given me a pretty wide perspective. I grew up in a Mexican American town in California with a mother who is half Spanish. When my one quarter Pechanga Indian father left my mother, she married an Italian American whose daughters are half Mexican American. My husband is Japanese American; his stepfather, my father-in-law, is African American. My stepsisters married men from many nationalities, Syrian and Samoan to name a few. In short, I have never seen color because I know and love all these people up-close and personal. I am simply a typical Californian with the blood of many immigrants flowing through my veins.
I spent the last fourteen years of my teaching career in a primarily Mexican American elementary school. I fell in love with my roots again. In my thirty-six years as an educator across the state of California, it was the Mexican parents who appreciated me the most. In fact, I have immersed myself into the culture by learning Spanish and living in Mexico, summer after summer. No one forgets me in Mexico from year to year because I care enough to educate myself with respect to Mexico’s cultural expectations. It’s all about respect.
And this is where I want to make my point about hatred versus ignorance. Racism is a harsh ignorance because people who don’t understand a culture (because of never having had a firsthand experience with that culture) find it easier to label it from afar. As human beings, our brains want to categorize information, even if we don’t know anything about that information. Racists give generalized labels to one group of similar looking people so that the discomfort of not understanding is catalogued neatly in the thinking brain. For example, think back when you were in school and you took an immediate dislike to someone who looked or acted differently than you. Fear of the unknown dictated that you wouldn’t like someone who wasn’t like you, or who didn’t belong in your like-minded clique; but, in most cases, when you were thrown into the same class with that person, you found him or her to be pretty cool. In fact, you may have even become friends. Dislike becomes like when you have more information about a person to process and integrate into your own knowledge base- when you experience connecting commonalities.
I’m sure many of you are railing right now and saying things like, “What about extreme racism like the Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and thugs killing gay teens? How is using unabashed violence not hatred?” Ignorance can turn to hatred when one is immersed in ignorance to the point of hysteria. Hitler crafted hysteria to brain wash a nation against the Jews who did nothing wrong just so he could gain complete control; the Ku Klux Klan hides behind a white sheet to incite ignorance against innocent African Americans. Because of archaic notions about race from slave-owning forefathers, this organization has been passed on through the white race in certain areas of the Deep South. And, many children are raised to stay separate from people who are different until the separatism grows like a cancer, as in hatred of gays and transgender teens. In any society, there are always extreme cases of mental weakness; therefore, dictators are able to flourish, even in the modern world.
When I taught geography, I always gave the lesson about why human beings have different colored skin. People, such as Africans and Latin Americans, have lived along the Equator for centuries. They have developed skin that adapts to direct sunlight, hence, extra melatonin as a protective measure against raging skin cancers. Conversely, people of fairer complexions have had to survive in the polar extremes of the planet where sunlight is diminished and less available, as in the Nordic countries. Lighter skin allows for needed Vitamin D to penetrate the cellular structures of what one would call ‘white skin’ easier than it would in thicker, darker skin. Skin color is simply the result of adaptation. It is not a qualitative factor regarding the value of a human being or a race of people.
The readers of this piece are intelligent, resourceful people who already know that racism stems from ignorance. And you, my readers, also know that we have the responsibility to continue to educate others about what it means to live in a free and open society, room enough for everyone.