Every time you sit a group of people down to confront them about racism, several groups surface.
One group is overly eager to agree and cosign, enthusiastically. “Yes, the world is so racist and it’s so wrong.”
Another vehemently insists that in this day and age racism is not a problem. “I’m not racist, but…”
Another group of people sit there feeling unjustly accused, thinking “I understand.”
The last group is the minorities who spend the whole time thinking “None of you understands”
And those same groups formed amongst you, our readers, as soon as you read the title.
When I first got to the US, I didn’t even make it past the airport before encountering my first bit of ignorance. “Oh my God, where did you learn to speak English?”
I stared back blankly and walked off.
As the years have gone by, I’ve come to terms with what ‘ignorance’ really means. By definition it’s the lack of knowledge and awareness; but its implications are further reaching than that. In the US, it’s well documented that this ignorance stems from a very faulty and segregated socialization process coupled with a lacking – quite possibly, the most lacking – educational system on this side of Jupiter. So much so that the majority of people can’t name half the states in their own country. Most of them haven’t left the state they were born in. The majority won’t. And these are the people you expect to know that a Kenyan speaks English? Tall order, buddy.
And the racism there is also a little bit of a different story. It’s not only a byproduct of this aimless tag of war between ALREADY ignorant and brainwashed people, but also one soaked in blood, sweat, tears and gasoline. Volatile, slippery knot to tug at.
But while people will always pick random stands on the race discussion, there’s a clear racial divide. The Caucasians fall into 3 of the assigned groups above and the minorities fall into the last one. Yet all of them are racist.
It’s no better in Kenya, either. I was at Village Market giving blood the other day, sitting next to a nice guy of Pakistani descent. He was a talkative bloke who rambled on and on about how good it is to give blood in Kenya. He belonged to the ‘I understand’ group. And this is how he revealed it. While explaining that he plays Rugby, he said “I once tackled this guy, ya, an African Kenyan, ya, and he bled, ya, red like me. Just like me. I was shocked.” i.e. “I’m not racist, because I give blood..but that black guys blood wasn’t…black?”
As I entertained his banter and had my equally red blood drained, a Caucasian lady walked up to the sign up sheet. She’d been coaxed there by her husband and had walked up with a smile and enthuse. Until she looked over at the chairs and saw an Indian looking dude and myself and decided that she better be precautious: she proceeded to carry a complete health and safety inspection before walking off claiming that it was a ‘health risk’ of some sort. She’d fall into the ‘I’m not racist but..’ group. “I’m not racist, but I don’t think that something that is safe enough for them, is safe enough for me.” Call it lack of faith in the medical craft or fear of AIDS, the motive was still racial. Put it this way, an all-white staff would’ve yielded a better turnout. And the fact that you’re ashamed to acknowledge that is kind of the problem.
It all boils down to the 4 aforementioned groups sitting on one of two extremes. Either they are overly eager to classify themselves as anything but racist, or overly proud of their supremacist desires. Neither group accepts that racism as an institution is the problem and furthermore, that their attitude completely subscribes to it.
So one ends up in a situation where one writes a blog trying to let everyone know that we are all racist (All of us. Yes, you too. And you.) but knowing that until people make the conscious decision to accept this fact and embrace their biases in order to ensure that it does not lead them to subconsciously act on their prejudices or inadvertently propagate their beliefs to the younger generations, we’re screwed.
That was a long sentence.
The point I’m making, I guess, is that acting like we know is the reason we’re all ignorant. Accepting that we’ll never understand is the only way we will get over it.
I’ll never know what being anything but Black feels like, just like ex-patriots should quit pretending like they understand Africa’s strife. But even with our failure to understand, the more we’re educated, the more we’ll be prone to justify our ignorance. And that is why I even thought I was qualified enough to write this.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, that one.
But seeing as we’re not a species that’s particularly good at learning lessons, let’s chalk this up as a lost battle.