Race. No matter who you are, you’re exposed to it just about every day. Whether it’s a controversial police shooting or Donald Trump’s latest speech, it’s a topic most have an opinion on (which few like to share). So let’s talk: what is this race thing and why are we talking about it?
So what is race? Well according to Merriam-Webster, race is “any one of the groups that human beings can be divided into based on shared distinctive physical traits, culture, or history.” In reality, it’s a socially formed construct we have used to divide ourselves as a species. Evolutionarily, we are all members of one species descending from shared ancestors. However, we
developed race as a way of associating ourselves with people that can make us feel comfortable. When you see someone you have a commonality with, you tend to feel safer, or at least more comfortable. This is why we have race.
Think back to your first day of college. If your first day was anything like mine, you didn’t know anyone and were just kind of wandering aimlessly around the quad hoping you’d hear or see someone you either knew from somewhere or share something in common that could potentially make them your first college friend. That’s kinda what race is: an association of people created to expand on similar traits. It’s an amalgamation of common features, common culture, common beliefs, and eventually, an extensive history that shapes your identity even before you are born.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “wait, so basically we’re all the same. So just love each other for who we are on the inside. Race doesn’t have to be a thing.” Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. The part about the “extensive history” is a major factor that most people overlook. Historic events that have shaped our society make our definition of race evolve constantly.
I’m a male black American. First hand, I’ve experienced racism probably every day of my life without immediately noticing it. From being called the n-word in high school because it was a running gag, to the looks people give me when I approach them about an event on campus that I’m promoting, I can see how much race has an impact on daily life. And in most cases, I can’t blame the individuals. In America, the value of black life has been an idea that’s been tossed and twisted until it’s been settled by law as one thing and recognized in society as another. When people make these preconceived notions about me based on my skin color, I believe in most cases it’s something they’re unaware of. For example, think about your favorite superhero movie. There’s a good chance the main character is either white or a supporting character of a white hero. It may not seem like much, but imagine a 5-year-old looking for a costume to wear on Halloween but realizing how scarce their options are. How does that make them feel? What kinds of damage does that cause?
This stuff may seem small but it’s huge at the same time pic.twitter.com/ujFprQyTRI
— J. Sanchez (@imJSanch) December 30, 2015
There are many other examples we can cover (which will come up in future posts), but I want to get back to the original question: Are you racist? For most of the people reading this, the answer is probably to some degree yes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad person. It means you’re playing your role in a socially & racially divisive system that has been bred over hundreds of years, created by self-righteousness and fueled by ignorance. If you’re aware of what your place is in this system but choose to play that role for your own convenience and comfort, then yes you’re a bad person who’s purposefully fueling that fire. But if you can ask yourself that question every day, your habits will start to change from fulfilling that role to using your own moral scope to make counter-current decisions (“staying woke,” as the kids say). “Would I have crossed the street to avoid that man if he was white? Why is it that when I hear an Indian or Chinese accent I laugh, but the English accent is one of sophistication? Am I judging the intelligence of my group member because he was not born in this country? Are these feelings racially charged? Am I being racist right now?”
I know that was a lot to take in. My goal with this blog is to turn your head to the often hidden forms of racial (and overall social) injustice in our world, but the above is your homework. Change the way you think so you can start to notice these things for yourself.