Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…… 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time–too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question— Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John


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9 thoughts on “Accidental Racism”

  1. Cultures are different and amazing in their own ways, this should be embraced! One world, one race, one religion is blind. Racism is an evil head that pops up like anything evil…good will prevail. All races need to rise above the stereotypes and perform to your highest personal level of accomplishments no matter what color, creed or religion. Racism will never end, evil will never end. Peace and eternal groove is our only way forward.

  2. Hello Mr. Kobara:
    I loved this post! It certainly resonated with my ‘good’ self, and the shadow self in me that harbors prejudices. I find that I do believe that prejudices, discrimination and racism is bad for business and usually results in negative ROIs. However, in my personally life, I do have those stereotypical and prejudicial thoughts. I think as a manager and consultant, it is important for me to get rid of my own hypocrisy and walk the talk of equality in my personal life, as I do in my professional life. You are right in saying vigilance is the key. I think meditation and being mindful might help me overcome the negative aspects, such as prejudice, of myself. Perhaps as we work on eradicating racism in ourselves, we can come together and fully eradicate it in society and its institutions. Lastly, thank you for the great quotes! I never knew Albert Einstein was interested or spoke on human rights issues. Kudos!

  3. Thanks Felicia for your observations. Yes I think all real change starts with each of us. If we model those beliefs–open mindedness, acceptance and love–then we will change others. Einstein was a genius in all ways! All the best to you! John


    A timely and provocative missive. I feel blessed to live in SoCA, not only for the fabulous weather (I love this Winter!) but because me and my family (and especially my children,) get to interact with all cultures, races, and creeds on a daily basis.
    My only challenge is that, to some degree, you have intermixed socio-economic prejudice with racism. e.g. “Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.” We are more likely to socialize with people who can we relate to, based on ecomonic/family/social status, rather than race.

  5. John,
    As usual you have hit it out of the ballpark. I hope many people see “Selma” which is a powerful reminder of what it takes to fight racism. And, unfortunately we have to keep doing it. I am lucky enough to life in a very diverse neighborhood and city and would not have it any other way.

  6. Thanks Dr. Leberman
    Yes Selma is a great film and a brutal reminder about how far we have yet to travel. The obscene events in Germany and with Pegida are reminders that there is raging racism ready to erupt. Vigilance is our only hope. You are a model of that vigilance over many decades. Thank you for enduring leadership and service. John

  7. Mitchell
    Yes familiarity is one of the greatest cures. Living in and embracing a diverse world cures many ills. I am using “racism” in its broadest sense–prejudice and animus against a group. Human racism. When we deliberately thwart, undermine, and limit the rights of others because of the attributes of our fellow humans. Economic segregation, planned or unintended, breeds racism, in my opinion. Again, the lack of familiarity can breed pernicious perceptions of people we do not know. Economics is one of the centrifugal forces that pulls us apart and often unwittingly, makes Fiske’s research a reality for all of us. Thanks for your observations and for what you do. John

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