With all of the unrest and strife that’s been plaguing the city of Ferguson, Missouri (which is not named after any of my relations as far as I know) lately, the subject of racism and what we can do to combat it has been discussed endlessly in news commentaries and editorials. And when I say “racism,” of course, I mean white-on-black racism, as that is the only kind the media seems to recognize as being worthy of discussion.
The gist of many of these thought-provoking meditations on the evils of white racism seems to be that all Caucasians are afflicted with it, even if it is not a blatant, cross-burning type of bigotry. I don’t really disagree with that, but I would expand the idea and assert that racial prejudice is not limited to white people and that race is far from the only thing we unfairly pre-judge people about.
People also get looked down on and mistreated because of their age, their weight, their religion, the way they dress, and on and on. Apparently none of those other types of prejudice affect our lives enough for the higher minds in journalism to expound upon.
But when a white policeman (or a “white Hispanic” neighborhood watch volunteer) shoots an unarmed black person during an altercation, the nation must stop what it is doing and engage in a heated, emotionally charged discussion on how we can solve white-on-black racism. The discussion lasts for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then our attention drifts somewhere else until the media decides to spotlight a similar incident when one occurs and we do the same dance again.
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The reason these “discussions” don’t accomplish anything useful is that people are generally already pretty set in their opinions on the matter and the finger-pointing just makes people defensive and causes them to harden their positions. We aren’t really hearing each other because the experience of living in America for the average white person and the average black person is very different, and it’s nearly impossible to view reality through someone else’s eyes.
The mutual finger-pointing may make those doing the pointing feel good about themselves, but it obviously isn’t changing anyone’s mind or affecting anyone’s behavior in a positive way. Is there anything to be done then, or must we just accept that people’s prejudices are a fact of life that can’t really be changed?
I think there is something to be done about racism, and like many things in life the solution lies in rolling up our sleeves and doing some useful work rather than talking the matter to death. Another race-related story that appeared in the news this week may illustrate my point.
The first teaser trailer for the wildly-anticipated new “Star Wars” movie was released this past weekend, and the very first image in the trailer was a man in a storm trooper uniform coming into the picture without his helmet on. He is a black man.
Apparently there has never been a black storm trooper in any of the previous “Star Wars” films, and there has been blow-back from some fans of the film series who objected to this particular casting decision just because of the actor’s race. The man in the opening shot of the trailer is a relative unknown named John Boyega, and he had a very direct response to the people who were criticizing his casting just because of his race: “Get used to it.”
Well said, Mr. Boyega. I bet he worked very hard to get this role and he obviously has no time or patience with naysayers who want to try and steal his shine with their petty racist attitudes. Showing that kind of dedication, self-confidence and class is a much better way to chip away at racism than an endless stream of self-righteous soliloquies and loud public demonstrations, violent or otherwise.
But that is just how things appear through my filter. They may look different through yours.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.