I recently read the #1 New York Times Bestseller, written by Ibram X. Kendi, entitled “How to be an Antiracist”. After reading what I found to be an extremely well-written explanation of the various forms of racism and how to combat each by practicing anti-racist behaviors, I was invited to have a conversation with a group of majority females of various academic backgrounds. Needless to say, I was excited at the prospect of having what I hoped would be an engaging and productive conversation among the races in an concerted effort toward closing the racial divide.
You see the group of women had read the book as well, and as a result, I was asked to give my personal testament to life in America as an African American female. It was not my responsibility to speak for all of us, but I did feel confident in my ability to tell my story. As I was reciting my story, I noticed a pattern: there were several hardships, disappointments, struggles, and failures. Interesting thing is I was given a list of questions that I was prepared to answer in regards to leading the conversation and it seems as though we immediately went “off-script”. I am generally able to think on my feet, but the questions took me to places that I had not been in quite a while, and the last thing I wanted as a result of this conversation was pity. As the interview continued, I am now calling it that, because there was very little give and take which generally leads one to believe they are engaged in a conversation, there was me answering questions, which wouldn’t have been so bad if I thought the questions could be beneficial in increasing cultural intelligence, but as it stands, I didn’t get that. So, after a while the questioning ended and I came away thinking that perhaps everyone attending had very different reasons for doing so, none of which seemed to mirror that of my own.
Refusing to have my efforts at bridging the cultural divide thwarted, I took advantage of the platform provided to me via the classroom. During a lecture on diversity, I asked the students to each speak from their own perspective regarding the various cultures represented in the classroom, in an effort to raise cultural awareness (intelligence) from a personal experience. It is my belief that we allow cultural and/or racial differences to be a reason for division due to our ignorance of the other culture or race. So, in my class, knowing that these students will at some point in their lives become the decision-makers in our future, I want them to know as much about each other as possible, so those decisions can be as fair as humanly possible, ergo, my desire, that we look beyond becoming antiracists, and become human racists.
As we were responding to the questions I thought would be revealing and close to the questions one would ask having the opportunity to do so, I observed a few interesting patterns: 1) being considered a minority works to one’s benefit in terms of being able to have cultural pride and an identity. This observation may be due to a few simultaneous phenomenon taking place. For instance, students who identified as white found it difficult to articulate something good about their race or stated another way, something they could be proud of culturally or racially. As an African American, I am so very proud to be such due to our progress as a race. We were removed, involuntarily from our home, forced to work under in-humane conditions, and treated as animals. But despite our humble beginnings in this country, we have gone on to become inventors, authors, entrepreneurs, students, teachers, professors, leaders, artists, etc. Point is we have risen or progressed from the ‘big’ house to the ‘white’ house.
The second pattern is that in regards to the one thing you enjoy most about your culture, students from the Hispanic, Latino/a, Ivory Coast, African American, everyone with the exception of the white culture stated that they enjoyed their food and celebrations. I believe the mainstream culture, because it is ‘mainstream’ takes their cultural/racial identity for granted. This speaks to power and privilege and suggests that being white means you don’t have to adopt any acculturation strategy and as such don’t endure any associated stress. I had one extremely honest white male, who responded simply that the thing he enjoyed most about his culture was that it “was easy”. So, eloquently stated. Being white is easy, but shouldn’t that same ease be afforded to everyone?
That is what I believe becoming a human racist will do for us all. It seems but a small task to gain such a lofty goal. But look at its benefits. As a human racist, we will truly see everyone as equal. One would think that really shouldn’t be that difficult, because when asked what was important to you, each racial/cultural representative stated ‘family.’ And to me, that was the most telling observation, and the one that I hoped for going in to this exercise. I believed that I could demonstrate that no matter how different we may be in our customs, celebrations, beliefs, traditions, or etc., we would all conclude that family is most important. So, you see, as different as we are, we are really at the core, all alike. We are all members of the Human Race, and as we strive to combat the systemic racism plaguing the un-united states of America, we should began by seeing each other as different members of the same race, the Human Race.