Racism is an issue still alive today.
Imagine sitting in a class and learning about slavery or Native Americans. When it’s brought up and the teacher goes into detail, students (and maybe even the teacher as well) cast uncomfortable glances and are unsure how to react. Should they feel uncomfortable? Guilty? Ignore it? Pretend they don’t see or feel it?
When white people experience these uncomfortable moments, according to Robin DiAngelo in “Common Patterns of Well-Intentioned White People,” they go into defense modes. They feel guilt, seek immediate absolution, feel indignant or unfairly accused, objectify color, rush to prove themselves, ignore it, assume all people experience the same things, pretend the segregation preference is accidental, acknowledge racism in others but not in themselves and many more defensive responses.
I know this is true because I have felt every single one of these and more. These defense mechanisms turn more attention to myself when the solution should be to stop to listen to the uncomfortable topics and act accordingly.
Slavery and genocide and other uncomfortable topics should be taught in classrooms. It’s important to know about them because history is a chance to learn from our mistakes. How, then, should we approach these topics? Carefully. Change is not only possible but essential to humanity and evolution.
Not all people are bad and not all people are good. Thinking in binaries about the good and bad does not teach the full possibility of humans. In an article in the journal Scholastic, Beverly Tatum suggests acknowledging the discomfort of the situation. “Let students see themselves as agents of change and healing.”
By pointing out the stereotypes all around us, we encourage critical thinking in place of conformism. We encourage a change from bias and racism to equality and consideration. In place of hearing the issues of racism, we can begin to understand and feel them. It does require openness, but that is not a new concept for change.
Openness is vulnerability, and that requires trust in order to share. Sharing is crucial if we are to understand each other and to teach our children how to be different and improve. Sharing how we experience the world is a chance for everyone to learn. It’s harder to learn from the point of view of others, though, if we don’t understand what that may be.
It is the responsibility of each person to care for one another and to be considerate. We must be sensitive. We must think about others. We must “celebrate the strength of the human spirit to go beyond the roles of victim and victimizer,” as Tatum suggests.
Looking around and beyond ourselves is eye-opening and necessary to fight racism. People are capable of so much more than they think they are. Changing human nature is part of the progress and evolution of humans. Changing mindsets is part of psychology of generations. Change is good, and understanding one another is necessary to feel true healing for the atrocities that we’ve committed. A hope for a future free from that and filled with understanding is on the horizon.
Rebecca L. Young, Dallas, is a master’s student in her second year of the International Affairs and Global Enterprise Program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.