It’s taken me two weeks to find the words to write this post because I learned unconscious racism exists in my very own family. I’ve witnessed overt racism in social media, the news, and from our very own President but to see it show up unconsciously for the first time so close to home hit me hard. Unfortunately, I have some family members who have shown up overtly racist due to their upbringing and the beliefs that were instilled in them. I do not bring this up as an excuse but to paint a picture that it’s one thing to stand up for a belief and a whole other issue to defend a belief that you think you know a lot about but in reality, you’re just poorly educated.
I realized unconscious racism can be so much more harmful than overt racism; you think you’re doing the right thing and you don’t hear how you’re hurting people due to that belief that you’re doing good. It’s a vicious cycle that’s hard to watch and see where one can help. This is why I continue to write these posts; I hope I can at least help one person re-educate themselves and rewire the learnings they’ve been taught as truth.
To help further my learning, I’m now reading “The Color of Law” to better understand how racism was perpetuated in the United States and supported by our own Supreme Court. I also hope I may build more empathy for those who are still unconscious to the privilege they have and so that I can find the right way to reframe their unconscious behavior to show the harm they are causing with their racist actions.
This week’s three biggest takeaways for me about racism:
- Unconscious racism exists everywhere and as much as I’d like to convert people to a new way of thinking, that’s not realistic. All I can do is share the real facts I know to be true and hope they will eventually listen.
- Unconscious racism will try to hide its ugly head in politics. It’s hard enough having a bipartisan system in this country.
- Unconscious racism even exists within people who are overtly racist. They do not realize that their actions are racist but rather see it as a normal way of life.
Racism is Not Something I Will Pass Down
Racism is not something I want to keep in the family. In fact, I’m going to make every effort to stop it in its tracks but it’s a lot easier said than done. I have to first digest the fact that there are racist individuals in my family and reflect on how they got to be there.
Being in an interracial relationship, I’ve spent the past 15 years learning about another culture that was very different from my own. I come from a caucasian and Jewish family that definitely had their fair share of struggles, such as my mother being a lonely female Network Engineer for many years and my aunt for being the first female Cantor in California. TLDR: lots of “She can do it!” was the foundation of my childhood.
Then meet my husband who is the second generation in the US after his parents moved from Japan to be with the rest of their family, who worked countless hours to be together in the land of opportunity. Fortunately, my husband’s family was quite successful and were able to build a name for themselves in Silicon Valley. Fast forward to present day where we are hearing his thirty-five year old cousin who is a Physician’s Assistant in New York share how she finds the statements about privilege not true because her family had to work hard to be successful in this country (mind you, her parents were not only able to pay for all of her education leaving her free of student debt but also supported her in buying her first condo in NYC as well as all of her housing her entire life). She goes on to tell my husband that she doesn’t understand the Black Lives Matter movement. Why can’t Black people be like the Nigerian doctors she works with?
This hit us hard, especially my husband. His cousin was like a sister to him and although they’ve disagreed in the past, this is something he cannot wrap his head around. How could such a loving, intelligent person be so cold and ignorant? It took a few days to digest and untangle what transpired but we eventually came to the fact that the coddling her parents provided her only shielded her from the truth. His cousin has no idea about the hurdles EVERY Black person has had to overcome to get to where they are and they’re not going to talk about it. She doesn’t understand the pain it incurs to unpack their baggage so instead, she ASSUMES it was the same process for her Black medical professional peers to get to where they both are today.
Although coming to this realization didn’t make it any easier for my husband to deal with the pain that his best friend is racist, it helped him see how this happened and why he sees things differently. My husband is a very strong man; he’s half Japanese and half Taiwanese but most folks think he is half white and half, well something else. Sadly, this had left him unaccepted by the Asian and White communities. This hard reality forced him out of his bubble to study history and dissect racism. Together we are both studying history (albeit not my favorite subject) and sharing the facts. We are not here to convince but rather educate so we can stop racism at this generation, at least in our family.
Politics: The Lesser of Two Evils
The November 2015 Election was a critical turning point in the United States. Not only did it show that the electoral vote process clearly has issues but it also magnified the issue that a bipartisan structure is too divisive. We now have two very extreme parties that at times, it’s hard to tell where I should stand or even want to stand. It’s as if we’re voting for the lesser of two evils.
And the silo has grown even further with social media sites like Parler. If you’re not familiar with Parler, think of it as a Twitter site for Republicans who are in denial of their racist thoughts and behaviors. It’s social media sites like these that create a further divide in our country making it extremely challenging to work together to break down the racist systems that exist internally in our country ranging from politics, to schools, and to the workplace. It’s unrealistic to assume we can change hundreds of years of racism overnight. But how can we ever make change a reality if there are only two extreme options and nothing in the middle that enables small, effective change over time?
Additionally, it makes it very hard for Republicans who do care about equity and providing fair opportunities to all to promote change. For many Republicans, their political stance is very different from those Republicans in office today so it’s hard for them to relate to any of the political figures that have the power to make change. And to make the drastic switch from Republican to Democrat, especially where the two parties stand currently, is also not a viable option for many. Lastly,even if an Independent party was someone more closely aligned to their values, why make the effort to change parties knowing it’s virtually impossible for them to get elected into a position of power in the United States. In the end, Republicans questioning their affiliation with their political party are left with the dilemma of do I stay Republican and risk promoting racist behaviors or change political stance but risk no real change actually transpiring?
“Normal” is a Perception
I used to think all overtly racist individuals were consciously aware of their harmful actions. But after observing people like this calling their neighbors the N word without any regard for their feelings,I understand upbringing is everything no matter the decade.
As a country, we are not even close to improving the internal systems and structure that continue to keep Black people from obtaining access to not only equitable opportunities as White people, but also fair treatment in general. Even in the 21st century and with the Black Lives Matter Movement finally receiving the attention it deserves, there are still people who believe the current state is normal. It’s normal to them because they receive fair treatment but mainly because it is all they know. Their normal is White privilege and it’s very hard to wake these people up. What makes this situation more challenging is they prevent other people from waking up because they perpetuate this way of normalizing what’s going on in our country.
It was extremely hard for my husband to come to the realization that his own cousin in racist so imagine how hard it must be for individuals to realize they themselves are racist? Again, I am not making an excuse but trying to get into the mind of racist folks in this country to build empathy and understand how I can help reframe the problem for them. I know we cannot convince but we can keep on educating until new perceptions are built.
This week’s lessons impact on me:
I cannot let my family, political stance, or upbringing define who I am. There is no power forcing me to continue believing or promoting something that doesn’t make sense. If something smells racist, it probably is and that’s my cue to stand up against it. But as I fight this fight, I must be patient. There are millions of people stuck in their bubble and comfortable lifestyle that cannot see things for the truth. This re-education process will take time and require information sharing.
I’m fortunate to be in a place in my life where I can stand up for myself and have people supporting me as I share my learnings. I understand not everyone is in this position but don’t let that stop you. If you don’t have the space to be yourself, what’s the point of living? Each person is on this planet for a unique purpose; what’s yours?