I think every human being is racist to some degree. Racism consumes some people. Others don’t realize they are racist and deny it to the bitter end.
I believe racism stems from many factors (upbringing, family, judgments, religion, peer pressure, and negative experiences), but the primary cause is ignorance. For instance, I notice the ways that people are different from me and quickly form judgments, often built on stereotypes. My racism, as well as my other prejudices, came from several sources. For example, somewhere in Sunday school, I heard that the Jews killed Jesus, so I thought they hated Christians. I also came to believe that all Jewish people had big noses and cheated in business matters even though I had never met any—nor did I want to. I called Jews derogatory names and told nasty jokes about them. At my religious prep school, I became good friends with a boy named Billy Pugh. I knew him for four years before I found out he was Jewish. When I discovered this, I couldn’t believe it. I liked a Jew. I felt very conflicted about that.
As I became more mature in my faith, I realized that I had to have a clear understanding of what all my prejudices were. Through intense introspection, I realized that I was racist, homophobic, chauvinistic, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, bigoted, and hypocritical, plus a few other biases. Yikes! Me? I was totally surprised by a few of these prejudices—me, a misogynist? I love women, but in the my past, I admittedly did not always treat them nicely.
Most of my biases were so well hidden that others never suspected I had them. All of them were mild, but some were more pronounced than others.
What was I going to do with all these prejudices? They were a part of me that I didn’t like or want.
In the 1960s, I was highly influenced by a book entitled Situation Ethics by the Reverend Dr. Joseph Fletcher. His book asked whether my prejudices ruled me or I controlled them. I knew I could never eliminate my biases entirely, but I found a new tool that kept them in check. Fletcher felt that the primary message of Jesus was agape and that this was the foundation stone of being a true Follower of Jesus. The fundamental principle of agape was unconditional love—so, my responsibility was to love and accept every human being, no matter where they were on their life journey. Once I accepted this premise, skin color, culture, sexual orientation, gender, mental or physical condition, income level, and social status made no difference anymore—I simply had to help people be the best they could be. Agape also demanded that I love everyone, even if I did not like them.
Practicing agape means that I can forgive myself for my biases, but more importantly, that I must spend my life loving and caring for my fellow human beings.
Do you acknowledge your racism? What do you think we should do to fight racism and other prejudices?