Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It takes a big person to open up

I got this letter from a friend of mine. He has never commented on the blog and his admission is a bit surprising to me. Only a bit, in that he is a pretty honest and sincere guy, and in that I’m sure he isn’t alone in his experience.
Here is an excerpt:

“My problem honestly isn't black vs. white (in fact I wish sometimes I was black, at least then I would have a heritage other than European no matter if slavery was part of that heritage it would be better) it's more like Latino vs. white. This comes from a very bad experience from a con man who took me for some money and through his shoddy workmanship almost killed me. Now why is it when a white person does that to me, which they have, do I not blame white people. Why do I have the tendency to blame another race when the individual that "robbed" me was from a race that was not my own. I don't remember my parents ever teaching me that. What is your thought on that? I honestly don't mean to do that, in fact just the thought that I subconsciously blame all Latinos for what that one man did, makes me sick and want to crawl under a rock. One thing though I try not to dwell on it or act on my strange feeling of I guess you can call it racism. Is racism a choice then? You know me, I try not to judge, so if racism is a choice, if I choose not to act racist, then am I racist even if I thought for one brief second I hate all Latinos? This might sound superficial but I wonder what your take is on that?”

My first thought here was, “wow you almost died? I wanna hear that story”.
Other than that, two main things here should be addressed.

Unfortunately this is one way racism can be born. I hesitate to say he is a racist, but these thoughts come from a view of someone else as the “other”. He doesn’t blame all whites because he is one, and that would mean blaming himself, his family, his close friends, and he knows they are not all cons. The wrongs done to him by other whites are balanced out by the good whites have done.
This in no way means Latinos are not capable of doing just as much good but rather shows where, or rather with whom, he is spending his time. Most feelings or thoughts that those not of our race are an “other” come from lack of meaningful experience with those we deem not like ourselves.
This is pervasive, I see it all over.
Black vs. white
White vs. Latino
Republican vs. Democrat
Since we don’t really know “them” we paint with a broad brush. We pick up things we have experienced or been told and that becomes the group. As a result we are occasionally correct in our assumptions and occasionally wrong. Whichever it is, it is never fair.
No one should be judged by what they are but rather who they are.

The author of this letter knows this, which leads to my second point.

Someone like this should not be condemned or labeled racist. This is someone realizing some personal tendencies toward racism, struggling to understand them, and working to correct them. This is exactly what more of us should do. This is exactly the person who is worth taking some time to help. Were a Latino to be reading this and happen to know this guy, I would hope that said Latino would reach out and help the guy work through this.

This sort of work is how we get past racism. Ignoring this guy, or even worse acting angrily, only pushes him back into his more insulated world and he will never conquer his problems… and that means neither will we.


Corbie said...

You hit it on the head when you described how we don't do this with our own race because it would mean blaming our own family, friends, etc. - the fact is that we know these people and we know that they aren't all bad. But, since we spend little time with 'other' people, we aren't as inclined to give them the same benefit of the doubt. I think, as has often been said, the trick is to spend more time with other races so we have a good frame of reference to fall back on when members of that race make poor decisions.

There is a book by Pema Chodron called 'When Things Fall Apart' and it talks a lot about how, when painful things happen to us, it is actually in our best interest to move toward the object of the pain, rather than away from it. Anyhow, this story reminded me of that book.

uglyblackjohn said...

Yeah, this is common in ALL perceived races.
I think that most racist people simply just don't know enough people to balance their perspective.

(ESPN says that the Utah teams should be pretty good this year)

SOILA. said...

I was thinking of doing a similar post. I wonder if as human beings we subconsciously get turned off people, places, items etc etc due to one bad experience that we may have had.

I've had people question the race preference I have for the guys I date. Some have concluded that because I gravitate to guys of that particular race, I must have something against the other races (as far as guys and dating). I had a nasty rape experience 6 years back and I have friends that try to reason that that experience turned me off the men of race that guy was from and that’s why I don’t date from said race. I don’t believe that to be true because I had my preference before the incident and, I have continued to have men of that race in my life even though not in the dating/romantic relationship sense. The rationale of my friend’s argument about my preference has led me to believe that as human beings, life experiences can indeed make us fearful of groups of people based on one bad experience with someone from said groups.

I think it takes a conscious decision to move past that fear and not to generalize members of the entire group. This is especially when it becomes important to treat and judge people as individuals. No one person is a representative of their family, clan, village, city, country, continent, religion or even race.

*Sorry for the haphazard long rant*

Anonymous said...

I am always checking myself to make sure I don't judge people based soley on race. It happens sometimes and I hate it when it does happen.I think it has to do with conditioning. Not necessarily from your parents,because my parents never taught me that this is white, black or hispanic behavior. Once you go outside the home even at a very young age, you can pick up on those attitudes and behaviors from people you hand out with and it has always made me uncomfortable. It has never felt right to me to be suspicious or racist because a person was different from me. I just keep trying to be fair in my thinking and behavior and just treat people the way I want to be treated. It makes life a little easier.


Joshua said...

I tend to agree that out of inexperience and intellectual laziness it is easier to just take isolated experiences and apply them to the group. I try very hard not to judge anything or anybody by an unrelated experience.

That said, all the negative experiences I have ever had in my life were committed by people of my race. I don't know if I agree with the familiarity with our own race makes us more forgiving argument. I don't trust someone I don't know well regardless of the race. I treat unfamiliar people like an approaching storm - wondering if they will merely pass by and grabbing my umbrella in case they don't.

Mr. Noface said...

I've caught myself painting another race or ethnicity with a broad brush many times in the past and everytime I had to reform my thinking and correct myself by saying "No, it's he/she that is *insert negative/positive attribute here* scumbag, not "they" who are *insert negative/positive stereotype here*. Seeing another group to which one does not belong, as the "other" is a human trait. We have all been guilty of it at one time or another.

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Che Che said...

Wow, I must admit that this is the first time that I've ever thought about whether or not I judge ppl by their racial group, as opposed to the individual. I do my best to not judge ppl by their race, because it's been done so often to me. I once wrote about how at my school, I often felt like ppl treated me as if I was "black until proven otherwise." I definitely agree that it takes conscious effort to stop this kind of judgment, and hopefully we can encourage this kind of open talk with our peers.