Next week I’m attending a seminar on defining racism.
Should be interesting because: 1) I’ve been living in the skin I’m in for nearly 43 years and I’d like to hear about any advancements on the topic; and 2) back in college, some class I took defined racism as movement, advancement or otherwise being prevented and/or restricted based upon race. Embedded in the definition was that racism took two parties – someone in power (the racist) and someone whose rights were being violated.
So according to that definition, racism is an action, not an attitude. One is a disabling trespass while the other is prejudice. I tend to agree.
It’s my belief that Martin Luther King and the thousands of civil rights fighters stood up against racism. They stood up against actions that prevented people from the pursuit of happiness – whether that meant voting, drinking from a common bubbler, or not ending up as Strange Fruit on a Poplar tree when all they wanted to do was get from Point A to Point B.
I don’t think these folks gave their reputations and in some cases, their lives, to stop prejudice. Prejudice is an attitude – it’s a heart thing. This doesn’t mean that I condone prejudice or racism; all I’m saying is that I think we’ve got to get this stuff straight or end up in perpetual litigation or always have our noses out of joint because someone looks cockeyed or says something offensive.
So, like my college course, I’ll administer a little test. Figure out whether the following scenarios are Racist or Prejudice. Here we go:
- You’re out with your biracial family and someone gives you an obvious disapproving glare. If you chose Prejudice: Ding-Ding-ding-ding, you’re right! The Glarer’s got a bug up his or her hiney. They’ve got a problem, and it’s not yours. Remember, you’re not here to change their heart (that’s God’s job). You’re here to be the best mate to your spouse and best parent to your child. Now move on…nothing to see here.
- You give a presentation and an attendee excitedly walks up to greet you afterward and says “You are so articulate!” No, no , no…it’s not racism. I’m not even sure if it’s truly Prejudice. The person probably just thought you wouldn’t look/act/sound like they thought you would. Take it as a compliment, and pat yourself on the back for opening someone’s eyes.
- You’re driving in one of Milwaukee’s swanky suburbs, knowing full well that no – and I mean no – black folks live around there. You get pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). Yup. It’s probably Racism. Here’s what you do: 1) Get your license and show it to the officer; 2) Get mad; 3) Get over it and drive off. It happens, but it really doesn’t stop you from “the pursuit of happiness” does it? Important: if it happens more than two times, get a name and call the police station to complain.
It’s racism when you’re a ten year old ballerina. You’ve taken lessons since first grade with the same people and they’re all advancing to Pointe’ and you’re not. It's goofy, so you tell your mom. She recognizes it as racism and she knows this is your first true encounter with it. She tells you to talk to the teacher about it, so you do. This is what the teacher tells you:
Black bodies weren’t meant for classical dance. The tendons in black people’s feet aren’t as long in the ones in white people’s feet. So there’s no way they’re able to point like they should for dancing on Pointe’.
You tell your mom. She doesn't file a lawsuit and she doesn’t contact the ACLU to close the place down. Instead, she asks if you believe any of what the teacher said. Through tears, you tell her “No.” She asks you about your part – your responsibility in reaching your goal. You know that you need to practice more and tell her so. You practice more, and three months later, you’re picking out Pointe’ shoes.
Prejudice is about attitudes, and God will change the people who want to be changed. Racism is about action. Some actions you let slide and you use the other actions for personal growth, or if they're grievous enough, you wave the red flag on 'em. Neither one is good, but that’s the reality.
I think MLK would want us to know the difference between the two…don’t you?