The 1960s were a long time ago. The Civil Rights Movement has long since passed, and everyone is equally free in this country, regardless of their race.
At least that’s the theory.
Your grade school teachers might have told you a fairy tale about Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he ended racism in America. The truth is that racism never went away.
I understand this is not exactly breaking news. What may surprise you, however – I know it surprised me – is how much it still exists. You can even find it in the places you’d least expect, like among your friends and family. I can only relate to you my experiences, but I think for some it may hit close to home.
While going to an almost completely white high school, I did not know much about matters of race. So I continued to believe what I learned in grade school. The only place racism existed was in some parts of the South and at Ku Klux Klan meetings. I have learned my lesson. Not in school, mind you, though my race classes at Temple have been immensely educational.
Life has taught me that racism definitely exists out in the open. In one of the jobs I had during the past several years I was shown this to a nauseating degree. I will not say where it was I worked, or what kind of job it was, but only that the racism of my fellow employees was enough to make me angry.
The kind of behavior I am talking about involved things like using code words for black customers. When I once requested the help of the manager in dealing with an irate customer, the first question he asked me was if he was black. He used a code word for “black” though, so he must have thought it was okay. I am disappointed in myself for answering when I should have refused.
The other kinds of things I found offensive included being made fun of for insisting that I would not sink to such a low level. Recently, I heard some of the most disturbing racial remarks from another employee, which prompted me to write this editorial. These comments would have been more fitting coming from a plantation owner before the Civil War, and I couldn’t believe my ears.
Despite all this talk, I never saw anyone treat a customer differently because of their race. They might define the treatment as racism, and think they are not racist because they do not use certain hateful words or do hateful things. Racism is hate, plain and simple. The moment you look at someone and roll your eyes, sigh, groan, or otherwise form an opinion because of the color of their skin, you are being racist.
While people in today’s politically correct world may not be publicly prejudiced towards a certain group, this internalized hate is what perpetuates racism and somehow makes them comfortable with it. Even if it is only subconscious, this attitude can shape your behavior, and people can sense it.
Torin Sweeney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.