How to Discriminate with Your Eyes Closed
by William Schmidt
Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Like a pigeon's droppings, this simple fact sullies the marble monument Americans reserve in their hearts for the father of Democracy.
"How," we ask ourselves, basking in our own self-righteousness, "Could such a great man not see slavery as evil?" As we gleefully pass judgement on Jefferson, we often forget that in Jefferson's day, popular culture embraced slavery. True, plenty of enlightened men and women criticized the slave trade, but the echoing blasts of revolutionary cannons followed by joyous shouts of independence drowned out their softhearted shouts. And so, Jefferson and his brethren used society's silence to quell their protesting consciences and exploited the racist injustice of American culture to the fullest. Slavery eventually crumbled. Prejudice and ignorance did not. We are, after all, our forefather's children.
Some try to tell me that racism no longer exists. Nonsense. The thorny vines of racism thrive in the souls of countless Americans. Unlike the past, however, our noses now recognize the ghastly stench emanating from racism's blossom. Like a disease, our foreknowledge of racism allows us to anticipate its existence and combat it with whatever medicines our justice system prescribes us. Sometimes the treatment works, sometimes it fails, but unlike the indomitable AIDS and cancer, it is possible to triumph over racism.
So it took a few hundred years, but we finally diagnosed racism as the affliction
it is. Yet something sinister rides on the coattails of this marvelous achievement.
When you hear word "prejudice," what other word does your mind automatically
link it to? Racism. We feverishly swat at one hornet while ignoring the nest
above our heads. How often do you discriminate against people, prejudge others,
or use hateful language without even realizing it? If you caught your best male
friend trying on a pair of tights, could you resist calling him "gay," or a
you've referred to one of your more cowardly friends as a "pussy?" Do you even realize that with each utterance of these words you add another brick to the monumental wall of institutionalized stereotypes in America? Probably not. But wait, this all gets worse.
Though we try not to judge people based solely on their race, we often unconsciously do it just the same. Don't you automatically assume the black basketball players are superior to the whites? Humans posses far less control over their psyches than they like to admit. So imagine, then, how often we unconsciously discriminate against people for characteristics we don't instinctively red flag as "traditional areas of prejudice." In other words, we discriminate without even realizing our potential to do so.
Admit it. When that girl prances into the gym, the one's that so much thinner
than you are and in ten times better shape, your mind automatically quips "anorexic."
Or when that quiet, funny looking-kind sitting in the
back of your class gets a better grade than you do, you comfort yourself by muttering "at least I know how to have fun on a Saturday night." Not only do we not realize that we make these assumptions, we fail even to realize
that these unconscious reactions are actual forms of prejudice.
Do you think I exaggerate the severity of this practice? Consider an example from my own life. As an avid runner, virtually every morning, rain or shine, I trot outdoors to pound out a few miles. I figured the students that glimpsed me each day considered me ever so slightly insane, but gave the matter little more thought than that. Then I bumped into someone at a party that recognized me as "that kid who's always running." He looked dead into my eyes and told me "you seem okay, but man. I used to hate you." "Why" I stammered, utterly confused. "I don't know," he replied "I just saw you every morning and hated you because you were so weird." I never thought abhorrence could be so shallow.
As we desperately try to drive through the torrential downpour of racism, we
often fail to notice the floodwaters pooling at our feet. Racism is a horrible,
ghastly, and ignorant practice, but is more atrocious than any other form of
prejudice? On our quest for enlightenment, Americans must look deep into their
souls and see what black and grained spots exist there. So if this article persuades
you to write this magazine proclaiming me a racist, rest your pen for just a
moment. I'll save you the trouble. You see, I am a racist. I'm also prejudice
people, short people, bio majors, people more and less attractive than me, and a whole school of others. There. I admitted it. Can you? Admitting the truth is one step closer to the solution.
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