Why Racism Is Like Smoking

My father smoked four packs of cigarettes per day. The first five years of my life were lived in a smoke-filled environment. I was addicted to smoking before I ever became a smoker. Now I smoke socially – very little.

Donald Sterling was raised in a racist environment. So were most of the older rich white men in the USA. Because of social pressures (and common sense,) most are now only ‘social racists’ if at all. They probably wouldn’t deny visible minorities a job in their companies, but they would probably laugh at an off-colour joke at the country club. They might think twice if their daughter were to marry a black man.

I was raised in a household and a school and a town in which racism was never an issue. I had childhood friends of all sorts, and all were welcome in our house. Racism is as foreign to me as smoking is to the vast majority of people who don’t. I’ve told jokes, socially, which could be considered beyond the pale. I’m not trying to defend the practice, but nobody who knows me would consider me a biggot on any level.

The prevailing opinion is that one is either racist or not. This duality is rather ironic. There are many shades in between. Labelling people as racists because of an off-the-cuff remark or a bad joke would be akin to saying someone is an alcoholic for simply having had a drink.

We all have biases. We might think and have all said that our country is better, our gender is better, our sports team is better, our religious beliefs are better, or our political choices are better for any number of reasons. I find it disingenuous, from a purely philosophical perspective, to label people so quickly and so decisively, especially considering the long-term effects such a moniker can now have, given the pervasiveness of social media. Sadly, our definition of people as we see them (sometimes based only upon a snapshot in time) can over-ride all the good they have done. We are actually depriving ourselves of another acquaintance with much to teach, even if they have some things to learn.

“But it’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

Rachel Dawes – from Batman Begins

I’m not saying that injustices haven’t been committed, I’m not saying that there isn’t a privelege to being a majority (from which I have undoubtedly benefitted,) and I’m not saying that denigration due to skin tone is acceptable. I simply think we should lighten up (figuratively speaking) just a little bit.

 

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