Chances are you’ve probably said something racist… stereotypical or offensive in some way. Or you’ve been around someone who has said something that you considered offensive.
If you said something wrong you probably had no idea why it was hurtful unless the person or people you hurt took time to explain it to you. That’s because your experiences will dictate your perception about life.
It’s frustrating for people to have to explain some of their negative experiences only to have someone else stand up and say that what they are experiencing is not real. It might be frustrating for you as well to be told over and over again that you just don’t get it. A great key to be able to see something from someone else’s point of view is to listen. I know it’s hard. I always find myself wanting to defend and explain myself but I’ve learned that sometimes it’s good to just listen. So here are some reasons why you may not even realize that something is racist. Since I’m a black woman I’m going to speak from that perspective.
1. Media Bias
We are living in a generation where propaganda is getting easier to spread via social media. The news and people’s opinions are an easy way to taint how someone feels about something. I’m sure you’ve all noticed the negative angles designed to get a rise out of the most people. So don’t be surprised if they play off of stereotypes and fear mongering. Then there is always the fake news that seems to be spreading all the time. Be attentive and pay attention to when something sounds off. Don’t just assume it’s true because it agrees with something you already believe.
A good litmus test would be to flip the script and put yourself or another people into the story for a moment. You might be confused by what I mean so let me give you an example. Last year there were black men that were killed or shot at by the police. After they were killed there were stories circulating that basically disrespecting their memory. Stories implying that these men in some way each deserved to die because they had allegedly done something wrong, were disrespecting police or breaking the law. They didn’t blatantly say these men deserved to die but the online coverage casted doubt on whether the shootings were based on prejudice and racism. If these men had been unarmed criminals would it then have been okay that they were shot and killed before trial? No that would still be wrong. So why were these men deaths justified? Further, these men weren’t criminals some of them were just men being pulled over for traffic stops like I’m sure some of you have been pulled over.
Some of the men that have died in the past decade were on their way to school, home or some other normal event that had nothing to do with breaking the law. I was surprised to see well meaning people hitting share to these disrespecting stories. People felt that it was better to justify the deaths of these men rather than acknowledge that just maybe a few police officers had done the wrong thing. On the other hand there were many police officers that were also murdered last year. There are many stories of police officers being killed and shot at that never make it into the news. However, for those police officers there is a level of respect given to those that died. Even president Obama attended a memorial in honour of police officers that were targeted and killed senselessly. I didn’t see one post or article looking for the dirt on these dead officers or anyone trying to prove that they deserved to die. I’m sure right now you’re thinking of course not that would be sick…I mean they died! But that same respect was not given to the black men that were gunned down in cold blood. It’s socially acceptable to make up stories about men that have been shot at if they are black. Some of the stories of men being shot at were just ridiculous… like this one
Part of the reason so many black men are killed by police and feared by society is because there is an emphasis of criminalizing black people on T.V. shows, movies, and in the news. Some black actors take on stereotypical roles with no real intent on breaking the stereotypes. It has seeped so far into the subconscious of our society that people think it’s okay to fear someone because their skin is darker. Yes, some black men are criminals but so are people from every other race. Yes some people are in gangs but again this is not unique to black people. This stereotype about black people is so prevalent it affects many black youth. Some black people play into stereotypes like it is their true identity and might ridicule someone that in their opinion is stepping out of the stereotype and question their “blackness”. I hope to say more on this topic one day. There are so many reasons for this that go deep and far back into slavery times and I am not ready to tackle that mammoth right now.
If you want to know if this mentality has affected you ask yourself some questions. Are you surprised when you meet and educated and well spoken black person. What about a married black person? Does this disrupt your previous beliefs about black people? In my book “For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman” I speak about how I have had people tell me that I didn’t act like typical black person. I’ve had people tell my black friends that they sound white or act white. It’s actually a very rude statement that can even come from within the race.These all stem from the mentality that a black person has to act a certain way in order to be black and so if they don’t act like that they are not the norm. It’s basically saying that you expect someone to be uneducated because of the colour of their skin. These assumptions and stereotypes affect us all. Stay tuned to find out more over the next few weeks.
What assumptions do you hold about your own race or others?
Nana Abraham is a speaker, youth activist and author of For Black Girls: The Shaping of a Young Woman– a handbook for life that discusses relevant issues for young women today.