The Other Side of Racism

Fighting racism with racism can destroy people.

Posted Jun 30, 2018

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

In this past year, I became involved in a non-profit organization which helps immigrants and refugees from Mexico and South America seek safety, shelter and a better life in America. From providing legal services to migrants and dropping water and supplies on the migrant paths to building shelters and delivering community support, this organization does some pretty incredible things for migrants trying to seek a better life. The organization provides a lot of good in a very broken world, however, I have witnessed many racially charged comments against white people from this organization which made me dive deeper into the issue of racism in our communities. Throughout my time engaging and volunteering with this organization, I often heard racist driven words and phrases from select volunteer leaders of this organization that not only started to worry me but also started to upset me. Some of their leadership volunteers continued and still continue to use terms such as “white privilege”, “you should feel ashamed you were born white”, “white power”, and “U.S. border agents are pigs” on a regular basis, not only on social media but within large groups of individuals during their water drops. I began to question their motives and take a deeper look into what is driving their hate towards certain groups of individuals.  Racism works both ways and sadly some of these volunteer leaders suppress individuals solely based on their white skin. Is every single border patrol agent corrupt? Is every single white person racist? For an organization that is based on equality and compassion, I have to ask myself why are these individuals actively spreading hate and discrimination when they should be fighting against this across the entire race spectrum? Fighting racism with racism leads to further hate and division. The only difference between a migrant born in South America and myself is that I happened to be born on U.S. soil. I did not choose to be born on U.S. soil but somehow because I am white, these volunteer leaders will call you and I privileged, will bash every border patrol agent and will even go as far as saying that the immigration crisis we are having is due to white people. These are big, generalized statements that are in themselves, racist and are not doing any good for equality.

Generalizing an entire race in a negative manner is racist in itself. Bashing white people is not going to solve the problem. Screaming “racist” is not going to solve the problem. Spreading hate is not going to solve the problem. Are white people racist? Some of them, yes, and did white people start racism in the United States? Yes. But as an entire race, we should not be continuously blamed for something that occurred hundreds of years ago or for something that many of us are actually against. One thing I have learned over the years while working in the mental health industry is that we do not fight hate with hate and we do not fight racism with more racism. Just because a person is born with white skin on U.S. soil does not mean they are racist. Just because a person shows compassion and tries to educate individuals who are racist, does not deem them racist. Sadly we live in a race driven world on all sides. Whenever I hear a racist comment towards anyone, my first reaction is sadness followed by anger. I always ask myself, “Why?" “Why is this person so full of hate?" “What was their childhood like?" “Has not one person taught them the importance of inclusivity?"

Kristen Fuller
Source: Kristen Fuller

Compassion should not be confused with excusing racism

Racism symbolizes both hate and ignorance. Ignorance in a sense that some people grew up in homes that allowed for racism and sadly did not know any better. We, as a community, regardless of our skin color, need to teach these people about inclusivity, equality, and compassion. Compassion should never be confused with an excuse to act in a racist manner but instead of immediately showing hatred towards the person shouting racist remarks, we should take a step back, educate this person in a compassionate manner and then explain this behavior will not ever be tolerated. Racism should never be tolerated, but fighting racism with hate and verbal abuse is not the answer.

The history of racism and slavery

Nobody likes to talk about slavery but if you are going to discuss racism then you must discuss slavery. Although many individuals attribute racism in the United States back to slavery during the Civil War, slavery was introduced long before this. Slavery has existed around the world starting in 18th century BC with Babylonian slaves. From slavery in Greece, Rome, and the Mediterranean, to Portugal, West Indies, Africa and Peru, slavery is and has been part of a worldwide system ever since the time of civilization. Slavery in America came to be during the Civil War, sadly because of our American leaders.

“Before the idea of race emerged in the U.S. European scientist Carolus Linneaus published a classification system in System Naturale in 1758 that was applied to humans. Thomas Jefferson was among those who married the idea of race with a biological and social hierarchy. Jefferson, a Virginia slave owner who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later became President, was influential in promoting the idea of race that recognized whites as superior and Africans as inferior. Jefferson wrote in 1776 in Notes on the State of Virginia, "…blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind."

Racism still exists today and there are many schools of thought about why racism still exists

Upbringing

A lot of our attitudes are shaped when we are young. When our family members or friends express racist opinions, it’s common that we will take on those views ourselves. The problem is that, unless we do something about it, they can stay with us for a lifetime. If you grew up with a Caucasian dad who was racist or hung out with friends who excluded others because of their race, these beliefs and values can shape who you become as an adult. This is called ignorance and we must teach these people the importance of inclusivity, even if they are adults.

History

For blacks descended from slaves, slavery and racism may evoke feelings of shame and embarrassment associated with the humiliations of slavery. For whites whose lineage makes them complicit, there are feelings of guilt about a system that is dissimilar with the democratic ideals on which this country was founded. There is increasing evidence that repressing feelings associated with acts of white racism may be psychologically damaging and lay the foundation for future mental health problems and behaviors symptomatic of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

The dislike of deviancy

“Social prejudice may originate from our general dislike of deviancy, breaks in regularities and what we are accustomed to. If true, then how we think and feel about people who look different, or behave differently than the norm, should be analogous to how we think and feel about objects that break the overall regularity of our visual experience, the pencil that is slightly out of line in a row of pencils, the patch of paint on the bedroom wall that's just a shade darker than the rest of the room." This goes along with the kid in the classroom who looks different because he has a physical disability. The mere acts of looking “different than the majority” can drive inherit negative feelings but research has shown that we cannot conclude just yet that disliking broken patterns is a causal "root" of prejudice. What the research has shown is that some of the discomforts that most of us experience in response to social deviance, those negative gut feelings, is merely from seeing a social pattern being broken, nothing more.

The effects of racism on mental health

Racial trauma or race-related stress is not a new concept. Decades of research have examined the role of racism and discrimination on mental-health functioning. Racial trauma may result from racial harassment, witnessing racial violence, or experiencing institutional racism.

The trauma may result in experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability.

Standing against racism

Speak up (but speak for yourself). When you see racism rearing its head in your day-to-day life, say something. Too often, people of color are left holding all the responsibility for educating others and speaking up about racism, but racism is everyone’s issue. At the same time, avoid speaking for other groups of people (which can be inaccurate, reductionist, or even unintentionally condescending), and stick to sharing your own opinions and viewpoints.

Challenge the behavior, not the person. Accusing another person of being a racist automatically puts them on the defensive, shutting them down and ending the conversation. Encourage thoughtfulness and dialogue by addressing racist behaviors and language, without escalating into hostility and name-calling.

Be willing to make mistakes. When racism is part of the culture, we all absorb beliefs and attitudes that are shaped by that reality. Our actions will sometimes reflect this despite our best efforts, meaning that we all make mistakes from time to time, and can unwittingly cause anger or hurt. Don’t panic or despair. A willingness to genuinely listen, engage, and apologize when necessary, goes a long way.