As a technically “white” American, what am I supposed to know about racism? The answer should be everything, however, the real answer is that I know nothing about racism, except for the fact that it still exists in this day and age. Weren’t we promised a post-racial America, where people of various races, cultures, ethnicities, and genders would hold hands and sing kumbaya ? That vision, unfortunately, is far off, and perhaps may never be completely fulfilled.
The problem with racism is not only that it continues to exist, but that we are afraid of talking about it—afraid that if we bring up this terrible R word, someone will immediately call us out as racists, even if we aren’t. So, we choose to ignore it completely—(race? racism? la la la I can’t hear you!)—going as far as ignoring racial diversity in our classrooms and treating students as “one” race. This seems like a good idea, right? I mean, no one is being pointed out or discriminated against because of their race, right? Everyone is equal! Wrong. This “colorblindness” only causes teachers to interact with students as if they all belong to the hegemonic group—aka white Americans. We see this especially in our history classes, which only focus on white American history and culture and blatantly ignore the centuries of non-white history and culture that are also a part of America, a country commonly referred to as the “Melting Pot” because of its rich and diverse culture.
This lack of information leads to ignorance of one’s own racial and ethnic background and ignorance of the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the community. And in turn, this ignorance leads to racism—perpetuating stereotypes, even those that seem positive (“Model Minority”), making assumptions based solely on a person’s appearance, and causing fear and hatred of what is different, of what we do not know about.
Perhaps we may never be able be to eradicate racism completely, but we can at least try to. It is not enough to simply preach tolerance—if we want change, we have to do something about it. We can start by talking about that “big, scary” R word in our classrooms and with each other, recognizing that we all have diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds (and that America has too) and learning about it in order to decrease our ignorance. However, a word of caution—this does not mean to simply base your knowledge of races on what you perceive a person to be. Instead, a discussion about racism requires an understanding that we are not all what we seem to be and sometimes, we are not completely sure ourselves either.