Welcome to 2017. Over the last two weeks, I have heard nothing but how awful last year was. But really, how different is 2017 going to be? I do not know the answer to that question. No one does. It is relative to how we, as humans, are prepared to conduct ourselves over the next 356 days.
Alas, the new year is a time for change in our lives. Therefore, I have the ultimate New Year’s Resolution for you.
As the new president takes over and change is enacted within our institutions and government programs, it will be more important than ever to discuss social issues, particularly ones concerning racism. It is hard to jump right into discussing racial issues, therefore I propose that you take a baby step first. In 2017, it will be important for all Americans to understand the implications of our own biases. Our own prejudices. Our own racism.
What does it truly mean to be racist anyway? Many claim that leftists throw the r-word around too much, and how it should only be used when people say they specifically hate a group of people.
I used to believe that too. I used to think that I could only be racist if I said something like “I hate black people.” That was my thinking before I left my cozy, rural, Upstate New York environment for the real world in college.
As much as I love my hometown, it offers no diversity. The high school makes an attempt with the international student program, but in reality the town could be much, much more diverse. The percent of white people who live in the town is into the high 90s if it isn’t already 100 percent. This allows no room to learn about other people’s cultures, traditions, and beliefs.
Allow me to be honest for a minute. Here are a couple examples of what I used to think was acceptable to say and think about people different from me.
I remember laughing about my dinner experience at the YMCA Youth and Government conference in 10th grade when I ended up sitting at the wrong table with a group of African-American students from a New York City school. I remember making fun of how they acted, how they ate, and how they talked; citing their behavior as a product of their skin color.
I remember making constant jokes with my friends about the Asian international students at my school. We joked about them being good at karate, enjoying more than their fair-share of rice, and shamed them when they weren’t good at math.
I remember talking about immigration policy in my American government class and thinking it was acceptable to deport illegal immigrants even if they were trafficked in against their will. I also thought it was acceptable to deport people if they couldn’t speak fluent English.
And yet, I did not consider myself a racist.
Once I arrived at college, I realized that I was extremely uncomfortable and untrustworthy about my black neighbors in my residence hall. That’s when I knew that I needed to change how I thought. I needed to change my biases and catch myself when I had a biased thought or said a biased statement. I knew that not doing so would not be helpful to my learning experience.
After spending over a year learning about diversity, I still catch myself thinking in biased ways. I try to always reflect on these moments and consider how I can change my thought process. When I catch people around my campus and in my home town saying biased things, I try to call them out on it, or at least open up discussion about it.
Even though I actively make an effort to change the world around me, I am not immune to racist thoughts or biased thinking. I have my moments. What counts is what I am prepared to do and say about it.
With racism built into our thinking, it is hard to avoid having these thoughts. Personally, I think it is impossible for anyone to not be racist. We are born looking at others the same, but mass media, parenting, and relationships twist our thinking.
Think about a time where you may have said aloud, “I’m not racist.” What occurred that required you to say that? Maybe someone called you out on something you said. Maybe you were about to say something that, deep down, you knew was wrong to say, so you felt obligated to disclaim your non-racist status beforehand.
My resolution for you is to stop defending your racist thoughts. Instead, fight against them. Learn about them. Learn why you had them in the first place and think about how you can think differently next time.
It is a process that takes work, but it is a more successful process than saying “I’m not racist” or “I don’t see color.” With that, you are not proving anything except for the fact that you are too uncomfortable to deal with your own biases.
This is the ultimate New Year’s Resolution. It requires deep thinking, constant effort, and feeling uncomfortable, yet does not require a gym membership or a new Amazon Kindle to catch up on that reading list of yours. Most importantly, it will allow you to make a difference in your life and in the lives of those around you.
Take a moment and consider it. I can honestly say that becoming more educated on my biased thinking was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Get out of your mental shell and challenge yourself. Challenge the way you think. I guarantee it will be a rewarding decision.