Overcoming Apathy to Racism

Yesterday I came across an article on Diversity Inc. regarding a racist editorial cartoon that was run in a Pennsylvania newspaper that the editor later had to apologize for running (curiously, the cartoonist who drew the picture is not apologizing). I posted about it on Facebook, which resulted in the below:

Not that the post attracted a lot of attention or discussion, but it surprised me how the same problem can yield a different effect on people. Later on in the day, when the emotions had dissipated, I began to wonder…did I overreact? I spend a lot of time reading, writing and talking about racism…both formally and informally. It is unfair to even begin to assume that the vast majority of other people out there come even close. Many times, discussions of racism catch people by surprise. It isn’t a topic that pops up on their radar on a regular basis. The reason why is simple; it has little direct impact on your day to day life.

Even among Black Americans, racism is a dark cloud that constantly hangs over our head. But who goes through life, looking up at the ominous sky, ignoring what’s on the ground directly in front of you? Not many people. Which is why the “racism” that gets discussed…especially among intellectuals and the like, is a type of institutionalized, tertiary racism that comes into play after you deal with the basics of living such as working and taking care of your family. We all have our “bubbles” that we live in. For Black Americans, racism is always poking at our bubble. But rarely, thank G0d, does it have a direct impact on our security of life. Yes, police abuse and profiling is real…but in all honesty, we don’t have daily encounters with law enforcement. And yes, job discrimination is real. But as with anyone of any race or culture, we make due with what we have. We don’t forsake our families with pie in the sky dreams of “what-ifs”.
So if racism isn’t an issue that is talked or thought about daily by Black Americans, how can we expect White Americans to make this a priority. After all, as a member of the privileged majority, they can choose not to have any stake in the racism issue at all. Of course this is a misguided notion ultimately…but I won’t get into that here. But I will say that White Americans feel like they have enough to deal with on their plate, without taking on racism.
It’s from that foundation on non-relevance, that this cartoon manifests itself. Humor is personal and informal. It is also, many times, reliant on cultural contexts. Therefore when White people create something, it is not normally done with the reactions, opinions, thoughts or feelings that non-White people will have about their product. The exception being, if they are targeting a particular demographic.
It is very safe to assume that this cartoon, which is quite offensive to Black Americans in its trivialization of slavery, went from being drawn, colored, edited and published without a single minority ever being involved in the process. It wasn’t until it was published, and then seen by a much wider audience, that its offensiveness came to light. It is true that many White people immediately recognized the offense. They even speak up and say so. But this is defensive behavior; a reaction to an action that could have been prevented much earlier on. How exactly?
Well going back to the bubble…take a moment to go outside of it, either physically or mentally. Once a week, commit to looking into something or reading something or talking to someone who exists outside of your comfort zone. Go to a website targeted to the LGBT community, even if you are straight. Read an Ebony or Jet magazine in the doctor’s office, even if you are not Black. Go to a seminar on antisemitism, even if you aren’t Jewish. Invite your Hispanic co-worker to your informal office group lunch. Basically, you have to make an effort, no matter how small or private, to try to see things from another person’s perspective.
This is easier said than done…I understand. We all have very limited time and can hardly find the time to do the things that we want/need to do. But understand that without this knowledge, experience and exposure to cultures that are different from your own…you are basically a Chevy Aveo that is trying to compete in NASCAR; you can participate and you will get around the track. But you are not properly equipped for the race and ultimately your efforts will be fruitless and you’ve lost before you ever even began.
And if you are the type that absolutely needs to know, “What’s in it for me?” before they do something, I give you this: clearing away your apathy towards racism will prevent you having to make apologies and embarrassing yourself in the future.