I started to write about racism several times before, motivated each time by some sad, horrific, race-creed-religion-motivated hate crime, police brutality, act-of-war, or terrorism. However, the posts remained in my drafts, unpublished, because each time, the horrific event that inspired me to write, was too quickly followed by another, then another, then many more, in my own country and around the world. It was impossible for me to finish processing and writing about one event, before I was forced to deal with, and feel my way through yet another new atrocity, in a relentless, inexorable flow of atrocities.
But, after this last nightmarish week in America, a week in which we witnessed the murders of two innocent men by police in Louisiana (Alton Sterling) and Minnesota (Philando Castile), followed by the murders of five innocent police officers (and wounding of 7-10+ more) in Dallas, I had to express my views, add my voice to the outcry, and join the discourse that’s going on. As I read many articles and posts about these deaths, related events, emotional rants, anger, sadness, and proposed solutions from people of ALL races, backgrounds, beliefs and points-of-view, two main things gelled in my mind: (1) what racism is (and isn’t), and (2) that it needs to be somehow driven out of the hearts of those who are racist. Here are my views of racism, a working definition of it, some ideas about how to unlock the hearts of racists, and what might replace the racism in their hearts…
My Background & POV: to frame my words and thoughts, you should know my perspective, and where I come from. I am a White, Anglo-Saxon, of Protestant (non-practicing) religious background — yes, you guessed it — I’m a WASP! I am also a blue-eyed redhead person, which is the rarest genetic combination on the planet (look it up, it’s true!), which makes me a virtual “micro-minority” within the shrinking white majority of my country. Born in 1961, I was nearly seven years old when Martin Luther King was assassinated, raised by my father and German stepmother to be unprejudiced, and ferociously anti-racism. Throughout my life, most of my friends have been black, while most of my neighbors, co-workers, and employees have been white. Numerous times in my life, I have been the only white person at parties, church gatherings, and weddings of friends. I have continually seen, experienced, and felt pain on behalf of my friends who were the targets and victims of racism, argued often with, and fought (physically) many times with racists who abused my non-white friends.
Also, you should know that, unlike many who profess to be (and may in fact be) non-racist, who often try to ignore, and claim to not see or acknowledge the differences between peoples, I LOVE and celebrate our racial, cultural, and spiritual differences! I know, I know, we’re all people, all humans, our differences shouldn’t matter, and all that, but…I actually revel in, enjoy learning about, love to discuss, and explore the differences in and between us all! Our differences — including our appearance, our culture, and beliefs — are key to our uniqueness, our individuality, and our life experiences, including how those who are/were different from us, reacted to us over time.
Like many other (naive?) non-racist white people, I thought racism had decreased somewhat since my childhood in the 60’s, because I heard and saw less of it over the years, but now I suspect it never really went away, just went into hiding (where I couldn’t see it) for a while…
As I felt my way through the events of last week, these words formed in my mind, initially as a short poem, which kept changing as I tried to make sense of it all:
“Racism is fear.
Fear is ignorance.
Ignorance is a lack of knowledge.
Knowledge is power.
Power is peace.
Peace is love.
Love is good.”
These simple words and ideas, became the basis for the rest of my writing below…
What Creates & Feeds Racism?
Racism comes from a sense of self, and value, based on comfort with only people like yourself. Racism is ignorance, fear of the unknown, discomfort with unfamiliar people, those who are different. Racism is a feeling of power and superiority over others, based on the FALSE “knowledge” — what you’ve been told by others like you, or believe due to a lack of experience with people unlike you — that people like you are somehow better, and your lives are worth more than those of people who are different from you. Racism is a way of thinking, feeling, and reacting, based on not knowing how else to think feel and react.
Being ignorant, not knowing, can only be changed and replaced by knowledge and knowing. Knowledge comes from learning, and knowing comes from experience. So the only things which can change and replace racism, are learning and experience. Learning and experience take effort over time, which requires ongoing, lifelong commitment and investment in something outside yourself, a higher purpose than self, the greater good.
How do we learn about and experience more of others, those who are different from ourselves, who are unlike us? It happens easily and naturally if you are fortunate enough to live or work in a diverse, multi-racial, multicultural environment (as I was, from preschool, through high-school). It’s not so easy or natural if your neighborhood, school, or workplace was/is homogeneous, with little or no diversity, populated by people who mostly look/think like, and/or believe what you do.
One big lesson we learn as we experience life with an open mind and heart, is that there are good and bad people in every culture, of every skin color, of every religious and political belief, but we are all part of one human race. Science tells us that all our seemingly vast — visual, physical, skin-deep — differences actually comprise less than 1% of bio- and genetic-diversity between ALL humans on the planet today! Therefore, we are virtually the same, which makes racism actually a form of self-hatred. To hate your self and your own race is…well…illogical, self-destructive, and potentially harmful to others, to say the least. Racism and self-hate indicate a lack of respect for human life (yours and others), and may be evidence of other emotional and/or psychological conditions, for which treatment and counseling should be sought. Therefore, racism, self-hate, and lack of respect for human life may also be reasonable reasons for racist individuals (dare I say it?) to be denied access to guns, to protect themselves (suicide), and others (murder). But this rant of mine today is not about guns (I’m a pro-gun/pro-gun-control, liberal Democrat, and that’s another rant), it’s about racism, and how to replace it…
Unlocking the Heart (and Mind)
Racism is a fear of the unknown, but it is more than that. Anyone who can only feel good about themselves by saying bad things about others, to raise themselves up by putting others down, to feel strong by hurting others, is a bully. And we all know a bully is actually weak, insecure and afraid, lashing out and creating fear in others, in order to create a false sense of strength and power in themselves. A bully has no self-love, no self-respect, and is therefore incapable of love or respect of others. Choosing whom to pick on, whom to hate, whom to demean, and whom to think of as less-than-worthy, as less human than you, is what a bully must do to feel better about themselves.
The easiest way for the racist bully to select a target for hatred, at which to fire fear and shoot ignorance, is to pick on those who are different, and unfamiliar, unlike themselves. The bully picks on those who are smaller, weaker, who don’t stand up for themselves, don’t push back, resist, or defend themselves. The racist picks on and hates those who look, act, or believe differently. The bully, and the racist like easy targets, until the day one or more victims of bullying or hate push back, resist, join together with other victims and good people! That’s when the bully starts crying and runs away, when the racists’ delusions of grandeur, of superiority, crash down on them. It’s an opportunity for the bully/racist to change, to learn and grow, or (more often) to hide for a while, for hatred to fester, seethe, and grow again, until it finds a new expression, new (or the same) targets.
Yes, racists are bullies; ignorant, weak, insecure, and afraid. Racism is an ugly expression of low self-esteem, a fear of failure, an emotional act of desperation. Minds and hearts filled with fear, desperation, and hate, have no room for learning, understanding, respect, or love. A closed mind and locked heart keep the ignorance and hate inside. An open mind and heart let in knowledge and experience. Fear and hate cannot coexist with knowledge and love. One pushes out and replaces the other.
Replacing Racism With What, and How?
Racism is a mindset of fear and hate, growing out of inability to love oneself, or others. Therefore the only way to make racism lessen, or go away, is to replace it with its opposite. Fear-hate must be pushed out of the minds-hearts of racists by knowledge-experience. A racist cannot say, “I will stop being racist” unless they also say, “I will begin to love!” Racism cannot just leave on its own — creating a vacuum, an empty space — it must be asked, or forced to leave by knowledge and experience. Hate won’t leave the room, until love enters it.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described the fundamental, humanist, peaceful solution to racism, in his brilliant, insightful way:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Last week, in response to the seven murders, I saw friends and acquaintances posting about Dr. King’s words, and many who responded by saying we must “love the haters” to stop racism. At first, numbly, reflexively, I agreed. Then I thought more carefully, consciously about it, and was troubled by my suspicion, that to “love” hateful people, in a manner akin to God’s purportedly perfect, unconditional love for all of us, is impossible for mere mortals! And, simply loving the haters, would likely not produce the desired result of driving out racism from their hearts anyway. But to be loving, and join with other good, loving people, in solidarity, made sense to me. And, maybe, like the Buddha, we should be compassionate, loving, and by the example of our love, be a shining light to drive out the darkness, the hate.
So I posted the quote (above) from Dr. King, and added these words as preface:
Yes, but it’s not simply loving hateful people; it is loving their humanity, which we all share. Focusing on, and loving the good in them, to drive out the darkness and hate…and at the same time embracing, loving, and standing with good people, in unity, and in strength…
Then I came across a video of Australian comic, Jim Jefferies, who said it another way, and nailed it, combining the essence of Dr. King’s brilliant words, with the harsh realities of human behavior:
“The only thing that can beat hate, is love. But love doesn’t always beat hate, does it, but it does do something. Think about your own personal life; think about a person that hates you, and you hate them. From now on, just show that person nothing but love. Now I’m not saying for a second that person will start loving you, they’ll probably still f___ing hate you. But one thing will happen, eventually, everyone will see them as the asshole! Don’t be the asshole…”
So, love is in fact the only thing, which can drive out, and ultimately replace hate. Only knowledge and experience can drive out and replace the ignorance and fear, which fuels racism. Only light can replace darkness. I guess all good, non-racist people had better stock up on the highest-wattage light bulbs, plus all the solar panels and batteries we can get our hands on, for the loving, light-shining, driving-out-the-racism battle ahead!
As they say in the gospel children’s song:
“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”
— Russ Murray —