First off, this is a sore subject for me just like many other people. I’m not here to apologize for all white people or try to lay some guilt trip on you or myself. I’m just trying to be real and honest about a subject that fascinates me.
I’ve been fascinated by race ever since I was a young boy growing up in a middle-income suburban neighborhood in the Midwest. I wasn’t around a lot of black kids, but the ones I met and played sports with seemed very nice. There was a certain mystery to black folks in town. What were they like? Where do they hang out? The city was segregated like many suburban towns in America or other countries for that matter. As I got older, I inherited some implicit bias and racist tendencies even though it was always unconscious.
Now, in my early forties, I know that I grew up hearing racist language sometimes casually used in social environments and it was just “normal” and accepted by the culture. I believe these messages deeply permeate all of us and they result in forming implicit biases towards certain peoples and cultures.
There is an interesting spiritual phenomenon that I’ve encountered many times over the years. Whenever I am rehearsing something in my head that represents a negative attitude or stereotype towards a black American, who pissed me off for some reason, I often will turn the corner walking down the street or go into a store and be treated extremely kindly by a black person. This has happened too many times to just be a coincidence. It almost seems like God is literally saying “there you go again with your old negative thought pattern, now look at this” and provides me something in my path to completely contradict the stereotype that was occurring in my head. Could these all be coincidences? I think not.
The Real Problem About Racism
In addition, some of the most transformative breakthroughs have occurred for me when I can genuinely put myself in someone else’s shoes. For example, if I get quiet and observe society around me I can sometimes notice how a black guy is treated a little differently at a gas station than a white person even though they are dressed similarly. Then I ask myself, “If this was occurring with me on a regular basis, how would I feel about it?” My answer: I would be royally pissed off. I am an emotional person at heart so if I was a minority being treated differently than others I can easily see myself being very pissed off about it. Again, it’s often not something obvious or naked, but something subtle like the way someone is talked to compared to another person.
Many people I know do not have any ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They cannot get outside of their own ego. By the way, this includes people of all races and ethnicities. Yes, black Americans can be racist towards white people too. This is a condition that affects all of us. If we can try to develop the ability to be in someone else’s shoes at times, empathy and understanding automatically arise and you cannot be racist in a moment of understanding or empathy. These two conditions are diametrically opposed.
How to Deepen Understanding of Others
Understanding is the key. How can I better understand peoples who I have a bias against? Please don’t tell me you never struggle with any kind of racism or discrimination. Are you God? No. This affects us all even if we don’t want to admit it. Understanding the true nature of things is also the Buddhist way. If I can deeply understand another human being then I cannot be angry with him. It is that simple, but understanding takes patience and a willingness to improve one’s own condition.
We can stay mentally lazy and just keep the same attitudes, but then what is the point of living? Personally, life is more interesting and adventurous when I’m working on overcoming my own deficiencies such as inner racism.
I love the process of learning and this includes understanding myself and others more thoroughly. What interests you? Are you interested in other people and their struggles? Why or why not? These may be some good questions for you. I hope some of this makes sense.