Without confrontation, race relations in the U.S. will continue to struggle.
Nearly 60 years after the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s, the United States witnessed one of the biggest milestones in history: the election of its first black president. To many, this illustrated a shift toward the progress society has made to end racism. However, the prejudices and mistrust built up among races still exist today.
“We’ve made great strides, but we still have a way to go before we totally resolve issues around race,” said Martin Luther King III, the son of the late civil rights activist, during a panel discussion held on race at the National Constitution Center March 18.
There is no doubt we have made progress since the civil rights movement regarding race issues. However, there are still many people who cannot manage to have a productive discussion about race.
Racism insinuates a group of people’s inheritance or superiority over another group and acting out based on that belief. People need to be explicit about race – name the things that they are talking about. How can we confront racism if we cannot ask the question or confront the issues of power?
The difference between today’s racism and racism during the civil rights movement is that it is more covert than in the open.
“There is a generational change in racism because everyone understands now that racism is evil,” Jesse Washington, a race and ethnicity writer for the Associated Press, said. “During the civil rights movement, people were proudly racist. They were proudly segregationist, and it was accepted. Now, everybody understands that it’s not the case and that society is in a transition phase right now.
“Everybody has biases and prejudices. It is part of human nature. We are just figuring out how to recognize thoughts and counteract them. Racism is still out there, but there is also a lot of unconscious racism that goes on,” Washington added.
Racism is complex and an observable fact that affects everyone. There are unconscious and subconscious forms of discrimination and institutionalized racism, creating advantageous privileges in polices regarding economics and health care. Socially, this type of racism involves dividing society based on income or education.
However, the race discussion cannot be discussed behind closed doors, and certainly not behind others’ backs. If a person who claims not to be racist and treats everyone with respect while in public but talks badly about a certain race in the confines of his or her home, he or she is not much better than the person who talks poorly about a person’s race face-to-face.
The idea of racism is intentional, individualized and blatant. What’s even more disturbing is there are laws and structures to it. Educating today’s society about racism is only part of the solution.
“Dialogue about race does very little,” psychology professor Dr. Kareem Johnson said. “People may not be motivated to see the world. What needs to happen is that people need to see change with their own eyes.”
But, if we can discuss how to make rules, we can change the rules.
Haniyyah Sharpe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.