20 January 2016

"Are you racist? No isn't a good enough answer."

The question is the title of an awesome video a friend posted.  The video makes a distinction that is necessary for all of us to understand so that we can work together to solve the problem of racism. 

Looking at me you see that I happen to be primarily Euro-American.  But I have something to say about racism because it is everyone's problem.  And it must be solved.  I think everyone should have something to say about it, and more importantly something productive to do about it.  Because until everyone becomes pro-active about contributing to a solution there will be not be an end to racism in all of it's insidious forms.

Take a look at author Marlon James' 2 minute video:  Are you racist?  No isn't a good enough answer.  It is an excellent way to get conversations started that explore ways in which everyone can be pro-active in some way or another.

Surely it makes an excellent point with which all can agree . . . that it is past time for everyone to be proactively anti-racist instead of merely philosophically non-racist.  But it leaves many asking the question of how to be pro-actively anti-racist.  There are undoubtedly as many ways as there are people.

I read a comment some time ago that made a distinction between racially prejudiced individuals and racism that is institutionalized.  I thought it made a good point by stating that prejudice is an attitude of individuals.  And even though individuals are not routinely racially prejudice in daily life interactions among one another (similar to what is stated in the video), racism is still a huge problem, the depths of which many good non-racist folks do not comprehend otherwise it would not continue to exist.

Or perhaps most folks do actually understand that the problem is racism which has been institutionalized through unwritten s.o.p. as unjust and criminal treatment, but they don't know what they, personally, can do to contribute to a solution.  Any legal entity which abides by an unwritten s.o.p that allows, thus condones racism is actually embracing institutionalized racism, be it a corporate conglomerate, the Mom and Pop grocery store on the corner, or an agency at any level of government. 

An example we are all familiar with would be a police force with officers who commit racially motivated crimes but, as if that is not bad enough, it is without appropriate responses from the government agency represented, be that government agency the city, county, state, or federal government.  Such crimes are clearly cases of criminal institutionalized racism and unless they are prosecuted the institutional racism continues. 

Of course institutional racism is indicative of the racial prejudice of individuals within an organization of any type when incidents of racial prejudice are ignored rather than adequately addressed, whether it is one person perpetrating racism, several or unwritten s.o.p by which everyone is expected to abide.  What it looks like within organizations is the typical "rotten apple that spoils the bunch" scenario where management promotes an unwritten s.o.p. that tolerates racist attitudes of individuals thus encouraging them. 

So it seems apparent that the problem we need to tackle to make progress is the institutional problem that condones individual prejudiced attitudes and behaviors.  Like James says when people are non-racist it does nothing to solve the problems.  Institutionalized racism requires, instead, that everyone be anti-racist.  And that means everyone being pro-actively anti-racist.  But again the question of how that can be accomplished, is raised.

One way we can be certain of is that because institutional racism is criminal, laws must be applied to the offending institution when people within it commit crimes, including racial profiling.  Racial profiling has a habit of escalating into worse crimes because of the institutionalized racism of an organization that embraces unwritten s.o.p. condoning racist attitudes and behaviors.

But applying laws to institutions is an arduous task that requires determination and patience if the process is to move forward so that racially motivated crimes can be dealt with appropriately and adequately, for good.  Moving forward is even more difficult and more time-consuming because of the rage that permeates our nation when racist crimes are committed.  But rage about the injustice is also a non-racist response, UNLESS it is used appropriately to motivate pro-active anti-racist responses to the criminal injustices.

So, it is useful to make a distinction between prejudice as a personal attitude and racism as an institutionalized attitude which allows, thus encourages prejudiced individuals to commit racially motivated crimes.  Of course such crimes are also hate crimes committed by individuals within organizations because of unwritten s.o.p. that condones them at the institutional level.

The video goes the necessary step further to provide clarity anyone can understand by making a precise distinction between being philosophically non-racist and pro-actively anti-racist.  There truly is a big difference.  "Non" is an attitude; "anti" is a determination to do what is legally possible to put an end to institutionalized racism. 

Institutionalized racism is an evil that filters down into a population and is seen by individuals who are prejudice as condoning their attitudes.  So the problem can only be solved when everyone is being proactively  anti-racist and speaking up about not tolerating unconscionable attitudes, treatment, and crimes.  Whatever else that means it also means insisting on prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.  That is what laws are for and why they exist.  There will not be needed change without consistently applying the law. 

After the distinction the video makes between non-racist and anti-racist there has to be a next step that provides suggestions for everyone about how to effectively be pro-actively anti-racist.  Most people could use some encouragement if not also direction about how to be pro-active about any issue, in this case institutionalized racism.  Seems to me that means people need to be talking about how to be proactively anti-racist. 

One's own life experiences will influence perspective and what is offered to the discussion.  But when we all need to be working together to solve this problem which truly is everyone's problem, the more people talking about how to be proactively anti-racist, regardless of predictable criticism that is part of any discussion, the more good ideas will be available to everyone to use pro-actively.

I am no longer a fan of the word "organizing" because it has become so overused . . . but organized letter writing efforts that flood mailboxes and inboxes of those in the positions to be responsible for putting an end to their organization's/institution's racism, can be useful.  And following up with phone calls to hold those same folks accountable for responding is also advisable - for the purpose of creating ongoing dialogue if the response is not adequate.   When people are given contact information and a sample letter to use as their own, or to use as a guideline for writing their own letters, it is then often easier for some to be more proactive.

Writing letters to the editor is useful when unconscionable incidents happen anywhere - be it on the play ground between kids, or an incident where a cop exercises a racist attitude, or much worse an irresponsible trigger finger.  The incidents must be identified and labeled as the crimes they are, and put on public display as such by as many people as possible.  It is not possible to overdo.  In fact when we want to create needed change, a consistent effort is necessary.  Writing letters to the editor, discussing the incidents at community meetings, responding to call-in programs all bring the unacceptable and illegal out into the open which in turn is the needed public pressure that requires a response of adequate accountability.  A lot of public pressure is required . . . and that means everyone must be pro-active in some way or another when incidents occur, including participating in the follow up that is needed until resolution is achieved. 

Being pro-active also requires advising elected and appointed government officials, repeatedly, about what we need them to do to stop institutionalized racism, until they prove to us they have become pro-actively anti-racist as well for the purpose of eliminating the institutional problems. 

There are undoubtedly many more ways for all of us to be proactively anti-racist so that we are able to make it clear to the agencies which imagine they can get away with their institutionalized racism, that we, collectively, as Americans, will not tolerate racism, be it personal prejudice or the institutionalized racism that encourages personal prejudice of individuals within an organization.

Yes, institutionalized racism never should have existed, and it should have ended 100% when our Civil Rights laws went into effect.  But the era after the laws went into effect required applying Civil Rights laws.  However, we are still in that era because there are still problems.  We simply can not be lax about insisting that laws be applied. 

The fact that the laws exist is not enough to change attitudes and behaviors for good.  Using the laws, repeatedly, to prosecute the violations is required so that resistant, habitual, and institutionalize criminal racist attitudes and behaviors will not have a home in the present or the future but instead be relegated only to the past.