It’s a poignant moment in the movie. You are enthralled and wondering who will be revealed as the traitor. And suddenly, you hear a huge laughter behind your seat. You turn to find three South-Asian college kids talking so loud that you wish you had your baseball bat with you. You tell them to be quiet which they don’t listen but the incident remains with you.
You are at a restaurant where the African-American waitress doesn’t give you the service you deserve. In fact, she is not only giving you a poor service but also condescending. You realize your evening with the family has just been ruined.
You enter the best retail store for suits. Three Caucasian men pass by without offering to help you but you notice they are attending to people who have entered the store after you.
You are standing on a red light and an illegal Hispanic driver halts to a screech and hits your bumper. He has no insurance and your insurance company raised your monthly rates for no fault of yours.
Every instance above has nothing to do with race but somehow they end up being everything to do with race.
When you live in a multi-cultural environment, there seems to be an invisible scorecard against each race. Our lenses are filled with collective prejudices and stereotypes which seem to make a constant impression on our psyche no matter how much we try.
For long I have wondered,
What is defined as racism?
Who should be called as racist?
Why do we judge people?
Is it Narrow mindedness?
Or is it harsh truth?
As you dig through the layers of your psyche, you reach the core of your existence and analyze how you judge people. What is the key factor that determines your judgment? What makes you trust someone and loathe someone else?
Like a man who didn’t turn back and realized he had a tail all along, it hits you!
Patterns of behaviors.
Patterns of faces.
Patterns of experience.
It is patterns that make you like certain faces instinctively. It is patterns that make you wary about certain others. Instincts are developed by past patterns.
Every experience deposits goodwill or ill will. You soak the person’s color, origin, height, weight and his “energy meter” with you with each experience. As you grow, this pattern database grows building your internal “prejudices/stereotypes” based on your “limited” experience. Among these interactions with other race (even your own), some are people you know and some you don’t. When you don’t know the person, the only attributes that gets into your database are his/her physical features including color.
What every person belonging to any race doesn’t realize is that, there is a social ripple effect when they behave badly. When they behave badly in public, the ripples are larger. They might be sowing the seeds of discontent for first time in someone’s mind or reassuring someone’s already prejudiced experience with that race. It is not necessary that racial judging happens only with someone from other race. People in the same race loathe at the behaviour of their own kind as they worry they will be branded the same way. Bad public behaviour accelerates racist tendencies more than anything in this world.
Is it possible not to judge someone by their color when you know there is a big reservoir of experiences and opinions from your own life regarding them? Not initially. That someone has to prove beyond doubt that they don’t fit the pattern in your head. You are forced to prove to them that their idea of generalization is wrong. I don’t blame them for assuming “I will also fit a certain pattern according to their experiences or knowledge or lack of it regarding a certain race”. But I will be disappointed if they continue to judge me based on it, inspite of proving otherwise. Now, that person is what I would call a “Racist”. Someone who can’t get beyond his initial prejudices, and see the person for who he really is!
Perhaps that is the challenge. To be open minded inspite of our personal experiences and give every individual a chance they deserve irrespective of where they come from and retain the awareness that every seed has the potential to grow different and bigger and stronger than its previous generation.
We can’t get rid of the patterns but we can be aware of the fact that your patterns and reasoning have holes in them. You don’t have to judge every individual based on it and give everyone a fair chance!
At the end of day, we are all Humans!