Racism and prejudice starts at home. It is inbred not instinctual. It is the comments and editorials we make at home around our children. It is statements on how someone else is inferior, un-valuable, undesirabls. It is body language, verbal comments, and more blatant than we realize. Children are designed to learn unconsciously by watching the adults around them. If you are walking through a forest and notice a bear you will respond, a child may not be directly frightened by a bear but will instinctually respond to your response because you are there to protect them. You provide their needs, and you provide subconscious information about the environment. So even though you may not be saying you don’t trust or like a certain individual, your body is screaming that information to your children. And it may not be people of different colors or cultures that you are responding to. It could be income, body size, education, handicaps, accents, lifestyles, or other characteristics. And through that response, or belief, we are teaching our children about what we believe. Then your child watches the world around them and integrates the whole picture into a belief system about themselves and others, and begins to live it out. To beat racism and prejudices we must start by looking at ourselves and then teach our children.
Typically, inaccurate beliefs begin out of ignorance, a lack of understanding or education about the cultures of others. It is safe to say that identifying as an American tells us little about who we are. This country is full of different cultures and habits that are based on location, income, religion, education, so I have a very small chance of understanding you based on any of these influences alone. I need to get to know you, even a little to get any idea of who you are. And to truly judge someone we must know them at least a little bit.
Another influence on racism is the beliefs individuals hold on the value of others. I believe in innate value. In my mind anything that is alive is valuable period. It is impact that we can measure, or evaluate. You will have either positive or negative impact on your environment, rarely do we have neutral impact. We can control our impact, and we do have power over it to some extent. We may not be able to influence another person’s interpretations but we can pretty well decide whether to have positive or negative impact. So, if every living thing has value, then the difference between those living things is irrelevant. I need to treat a tree as though it has as much value as a person. One person has the same amount of value as another, however they may have a different impact. If everyone saw all people as valuable regardless of our differences it would impact how we treat others. But superiority seems to be an innate need. And that causes problems. I must survive, and the weakest gazelle is eaten by the lion. My reptilian brain is designed to keep me alive, and if I perceive a threat I will instinctually respond to survive. But are different cultures truly a threat to our survival, or an over-reaction from the brain that we need to control?
Neurology does play a role from the perspective of survival. But our brain is known to over-react in many ways. We as evolved humans should be able to apply our lobes and recognize true threats verses perceived threats. And perceived threats rarely kill us. To stop prejudice and racism we must realize that we are all created equal, regardless of all the influences that change us. Then we need to act as though we are all equal, all valuable in our own ways. Finally, we need to teach our kids to love and accept all others as they already naturally do. When I was little my parents hosted foreign students from Denver University. On a regular basis our house would be visited by people from exotic places, with wonderful languages, and beautiful appearances. And occasionally, to my delight, they would bring children with them. I did not care that we could not understand each other, we still played perfectly together. And when they moved back to their foreign homes, I was sad and missed them. Then in elementary school Denver Public Schools decided that our school was too white and we boarded buses for the other side of town. To us this was a treat, we got new friends, and missed part of our classroom time because we had to ride the bus. In middle school I was the minority both at school and church. By high school my brothers and I dated and made friends based on personality with little concern of appearance. So I was lucky, I was raised to see value in all, and know that differences were exciting not scary. And for me it started in childhood, modeled by my parents and lived out by their lives. But to say to you I am not prejudice is to lie. I found out in grad school I truly struggle with stupid people, ignorant individuals that want to come to a quick conclusion. Whether they are judging a handicapped child, a fat adult, or a baggy panted teenager. I struggle with judgers, so I am not prejudice free as much as I would like to believe I am. And did I pass that prejudice on to my own children, probably- I will have to ask them to see. But ignorance is a choice, being judgmental is a choice, to feel superior is a choice. Culture, color, size, upbringing are not choices. If we want to stop racism and prejudice, we MUST start at home, with our children. And if it is too late for that, get to know someone very different than yourself and see what happens to your judgements.