Martin Luther King Jr. was assasinated for trying to end segregation. Rodney King was beaten in the streets because he was black. These are just a couple examples of hate crimes caused by race.
Racism is really another word for ignorance. It’s another way of saying that nature should have had only one type of flower or tree. It’s another way of looking at the world with your eyes closed to diversity and change. Racism is another word for fear.
Fear of the unknown is understandable, of course, and for many of us those of different races and creeds are the great unknown. Most of us are brought up in a particular environment with a particular type of people. We may come in contact with those of other races but we are too busy or perhaps too unconcerned to know them as people like ourselves. For many of us there is the uneasy feeling that they are different, maybe somehow inferior. The easiest option is to close our eyes not to their existence but to their entitlements, to their needs.
Often we do not put those thoughts into words. We simply, as it were, stick to our own. We are comfortable there and it is where we belong. We often repeat our parents’ philosophy on race and that too is understandable. They set our standards and we often, unthinkingly, adopt them. Some of us may be more aggressive in our attitude, of course, but generally we are just unthinking.
Today I would challenge you to look at other races with open eyes rather than a closed mind. I would challenge you to be honest about your beliefs. I would suggest that you ask yourself what makes you feel the way you do about race. Is it an experience you have had? Is it something you have learnt at home? Can you give logical reasons for your feelings? To do this you must ask yourself are your fears justified? Are races really different? Does culture really matter? All these are intertwined questions and ones that we must answer before we can tackle the vexed problem of racism.
Basically we are all the same human beings. We have the same number of hands and legs. We are born and we die the same way. It is what happens in between that determines our place in society and our relationship with one another. If we think about it is the fact that we are born in Africa or in Augusta really important? Could the real problem lie in the fact that an African lives in America?
Facing racism means facing your fears. They may be fears for your safety, for your family, for your culture or for your beliefs. It can mean being afraid of losing your job or of your house being devalued. Facing racism can be difficult but it can be done. That is not to say we should not be afraid but we should recognize that one race does not have the monopoly of evil or that culture has to mean the same thing to all people. We have to be prepared to listen to other views and, even more difficult, to allow that such views may be relevant. Most religions are about respecting the rights of others. We cannot claim to have a religion and yet close our eyes to racism
Truly religious people know that we should reach out across the racial divide. Truly tolerant people know that skin tones do not matter. They know that what is important is what is inside the packaging.
They know that we can all learn from each other and that we can contribute to each other’s welfare. They know that whatever the color of our skin we can all be afraid, we can all be happy, we are all people with all that implies.
Yet stereotypes are there and cannot be ignored. We know that in certain areas there are high incidences of crime for example. We often tend to blame that on color rather than on the real causes of poverty and deprivation. When a person of one race is attacked by a person of another race we tend to protect our own, to offer excuses such as provocation. What we should really be doing of course is tackling the fact that one human being attacks another regardless of color or creed.
The fact that we automatically protect our own is the kernel of the problem. It is an instinctive reaction rather than a logical progression of thought. It is very like a mother who automatically says that her Johnny would not hit a ball through her neighbor’s window. That is despite the fact that the window is broken and that two witnesses have actually seen him throw the ball!
War has proven that all men bleed and that the blood is red whatever the color of their skin. We should not need war, though, to tell us that we share the same feelings of love and hate. We should not need war to tell us that an African American mother loves her baby as much as her pale skinned English counterpart. We should not need war to tell us that most people want what is best for their families regardless of race. We should not need war to tell us that both sides of the divide have their historical reasons for being afraid of each other. Perhaps the best way to tackle fear is to tackle it face on, whatever the color of the person opposite. Maybe we should sit in the dark and talk to each other as people who share the same problems, the same hopes. Who knows, if we do we may find a kindred soul, a meeting of minds or even a new friend!