By Ken Homer
Part One – Wherein the Author Learns the Difference Between Prejudice and Racism
Until recently I thought that everyone was racist, at least unconsciously so. I thought that such a position afforded a way to level the playing field in conversations about race. After all, if we start with the idea that we are all racists, then nobody is in a privileged position, which has a certain utility for dialogues on race.
However, I heard a distinction between prejudice and racism that struck me as very powerful, and it led me to examine my assumptions.
The distinction is this: prejudice is personal and racism is social.
Prejudice is Personal
The lesson for me here, is that we all form unconscious biases, prejudices and preferences about people and events whether we intend to or not. Prejudice is a personal bias, it's instinctual, unconscious and automatic. People around us may, or may not, share our prejudice.
Prejudice is an inescapable part of the human condition, and every one of us is subject to its effects. Individuals can, with significant effort, overcome their prejudices. It’s demanding and difficult work and those who undertake that work usually reap the rewards of a fuller, richer, more satisfying life.
Racism Is Social
Racism is enshrined in our laws, honored in our traditions, taught both at school and at home, and tends to live in our bodies as mostly unexamined, knee-jerk reactions, to people and events that trigger our fears and take advantage of our ignorance. Witness the vitriolic and sometime violent reactions that some white people have at the mere suggestion that racism is a problem, let alone that they are contributing to it.
Racism is not an inescapable part of the human condition - it is a socially-inflicted wound that comes from denying the humanity of people who we view as “other.”
Like overcoming individual prejudice, racism, too, can be overcome, but unlike prejudice, the work of overcoming racism cannot be done in isolation. The work of dismantling racism requires us to work collectively.
Eliminating racism is part of the developmental work that responsible citizens engage in on their way to creating healthier societies and cultures.
It was a mistake on my part to do that, and if I offended any readers with that phrasing in my earlier blog post, I ask your forgiveness and forbearance. I still have a long way go in educating myself about racism.
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