Indoctrination Into the Culture of Racism (and Clawing Our Way Back Out?)
Asking that old question: Am I racist (and what can be done about it if I am)?
Have I experienced my own personal indoctrination into the culture of racism? I'd like to think not. In fact, I'll be somewhat charitable to myself here and say that, where it counts the most, I don't think I have been particularly racist throughout my life. Then again, isn't that exactly what a defensive person would say? Also, I must accept that, ultimately, this determination is not solely mine to make. It is partly about how others perceive and interpret my words, actions, and general demeanor.
I might lack adequate understanding "of the psychological causes and emotional reality of racism as it appears in everyday life," to borrow some language from Beverly Daniel Tatum.
At the same time, I would need to accord myself some wiggle room to address any accusation of racism on my part, or any other conduct that could be deemed offensive. And really, wouldn't some be curious about how I feel about specifics problems, or that whole situation known as racism?
One of the great entry-level questions emerges: Is racism sort of a naturally occurring thing, does it result mostly from "brainwashing" over time, or is it some combination of both? Then one should ask how to specifically deal with issues like racism and white supremacy.
Obviously, these are not situations we could resolve overnight with a team of high-priced lawyers, as they involve complex belief systems, character flaws, erroneous information, superstitions, and categorical misunderstandings. There are enough micro-issues along the way to make one's head spin.
Where to Begin In My Self-Assessment?
First, although I’ve lived as a white person in a society considered to have a white supremacist culture, it seems I’ve never been brainwashed. Still, the evidence of white supremacy still hangs in the air. After four years of Donald Trump being openly racist in many ways, it's difficult for me to say these are just residual effects. They seem to be quite active, right now, today.
But does that mean I can say, in the simplest of terms, "When I was young, I was brainwashed into white supremacy" myself? That still doesn't sound right, as I have overwhelmingly rejected the violent ideology. At most, I can say I've probably said a few potentially offensive things in my life (especially at a young age), whether I remember them or not.
I could even say "My dad was a racist" (or homophobic, or sexist, or whatever) at such and such a moment. In high school, I was in an environment where some dumb kid white supremacists would talk about their views, casually saying some messed up things.
However, even at the time, I wouldn't say I absorbed that sort of thing like a sponge. In fact, I intentionally avoided hanging out with kids that I perceived as being overtly racist. I have also been anti-war, which means I'm not keen on supporting the imperialist-militarist elements of the US government.
So where does that leave me? It would be equally awkward to say I have never, ever said anything even remotely racist. Not only would that be untrue, but it would violate my previously stated point (that it's not solely my determination). So here's the compromise I have reached: There has to be a point where we can say, "This person is basically not racist, and that's probably good enough."
And maybe it's too self-serving to say I have reached that point, and I don't wish to be accused of wimping out in such a way. Suffice it to say that I'm reasonably close to that point, especially compared to much of what we've seen in human history.
I am probably not the very worst, most racist human being stalking the earth today. And that should probably count for something. Looking beyond just myself, what about those around me who could, at least hypothetically, rope me into becoming more racist over time? How do we deal with white supremacist society and racist individuals in general?
A Black Man Walks Into a Klan Rally...
That heading sounds like the start to some really bad, racist joke, right? Well, in the case of blues musician Daryl Davis, it's not a joke at all.
He has been the black man at a Klan rally and, surprisingly, he has successfully convinced at least 200 Klan members to hang up their robes. Don't believe me? Here is a TED talk of his, called "Why I, as a black man, attend KKK rallies."
After watching Davis's talk, I am reminded that organizations almost never function based around self-perceptions of being evil. Even though the KKK is terrible, even that organization is not solely based on racism. They almost are, of course, but not quite.
They have sort of an overarching ideology, a built-in system of self-justification, including tapping into a weird persecution complex. They often state they are simply trying to preserve the white race (whatever that even means), citing beliefs that non-white people are initiating a genocide against whitey. Of course, that never seems to arrive. I mean, I'm white and I'm not aware of any non-Jewish white people being put into extermination camps, right (and neo-Nazi/KKK types don't regard Jews as white anyway)?
What they really mean, however, is that they don't want "race-mixing," which is odd because really. aren't we supposed to be "the land of the free, home of the brave"? Shouldn't that hypothetically mean I'm free to potentially mate with any kind of person willing to have me? And shouldn't the "brave" part of that slogan entail people not being chickenshit about what color skin my hypothetical child would have?
It all gets very confusing, especially when many of these same people rail against big government (while embracing many of government's very worst features, of course).
Hate Comes From Fear and Ignorance
Behind all their terrible ideas, these racists are obviously fearful and uniting (to some degree) behind these fears. Whether they are race separatists or clinging to the so-called "White Man’s Burden" of imperialism and managing other people's cultures, it becomes obvious that there are some underlying assumptions regarding their crooked takes on those who look different. They want to feel important, special, a cut above.
In some cases, a person like Daryl Davis can challenge some of these assumptions, bring them closer to the understanding the idea that "All men are created equal." He is a disarming person, apparently. If someone seems like a good person, they tend to become harder to hate, and the more people challenge racist assumptions while being as respectful in tone as possible, the more likely we are to undermine racism.
Now, a lot of people will read that and say, "That's easy for you, white boy," and I get that. But make no mistake here: Even white people who have challenged racism down the ages have been targets for racist scorn, sometimes being violently attacked or even killed. In fact, some racists will even say they have more disdain for "race-traitors" than other races.
Absolutely no one is safe from what this prejudice brings, which is part of why it has such long-lasting effects. Ignorance is something that never totally goes away. At best we can sort of address it like a game of Whack-a-Mole.
My analysis here isn't perfect. In fact, even if I spent considerable more time gathering my thoughts and aggregating sources, this article would only scratch the surface of these issues. In fact, it (probably) gets even more complex when you break it down to the individual level.
To quote a line from a certain horror movie, "The mind is a labyrinth." Theoretically, some could even be unaware that the ideology of white supremacy, in general, is deeply racist, since they haven’t been taught that. Historian Donald Yacovone, author of "The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross," has examined textbooks that teach white supremacy.
The very presence of unchallenged racist ideas in a textbook might give them credence, especially to a young mind or anyone who lacks critical thinking skills.
Some people will scoff at this text I've crafted here. Hell, I've already seen some very harsh anti-racist critiques of Daryl Davis, simply because he engages with racists in relatively non-confrontational ways. If Davis has had some success, I would say that's a good thing, and there are probably lessons to be learned. At some point, intellectual culture needs to be more of a thing. Rewarding overt stupidity hasn't quite worked out for everyone.