Racism and Prejudice Are Two Different Things
Engaged mysticism rejects the division of life and reality into any form of dualism. It rejects the division of life into parts, even parts often seen as exclusive like spirituality and politics. At times it is crucial for spiritual people to delve deeply into what is often seen as the material, political or social world. This is true especially in our time. Engaged mystics need to embody Spirit in the midst of the world and stand with great wisdom and discernment in the midst of the conflicts of our time.
Today I am posting about the cauldron that racial relationships have become in our country. I will do this in the form of eight ideas or descriptions of these issues as they present themselves to us.
The basic theme is that racism and prejudice are two related but different phenomena. CONSEQUENTLY, YOU CAN BE INVOLVED IN RACIST ACTIVITY WITHOUT BEING OVERTLY CONSCIOUSLY PREJUDICED AT ALL.
1. The United States of America is actually trying to accomplish what no other country has achieved in modern times; to be become a truly multiracial and integrated society. We are not very good at it but we are trying. We have made some very real progress in ending a variety of forms of discrimination that were rampant throughout our history. When I was growing up in the so called ‘good old days’ of the 1950s The United States had its own form of apartheid that was deeply entrenched. Often the progress has occurred with large groups adamantly opposed and dragged kicking and screaming into a new world. The United States prides itself on being a world leader in education, health care, armed forces and economic prosperity. It is time now to regain our leadership in this arena also.
2. There is a great deal of difference between racism and prejudice. Prejudice is an individual, personal belief that one group, any group, is inferior to another. This is primarily individual and personal, overt and conscious. Often in this time these beliefs are held quietly and not discussed openly. For the most part these views are much rarer than in the past.
3. Most people experience themselves as not prejudiced or bigoted and thus deny that racism is important in our time.
4. Racism in contrast is an institutional, societal process that is often unconscious and unrecognized. I could easily list many examples of institutional racism that could fill my next 20 postings but I will choose to highlight seven which I feel emphasize the institutional nature of this process.
a. When two candidates with equal qualifications are interviewed in a predominantly white company or organization research strongly suggests that the white person is hired overwhelmingly more often.
b. Police stops of minority people are vastly more likely than stops of white people. And minorities are 85% more likely to be given tickets for minor infractions such are a damaged tail light on a car.
c. In the National Football League which has many minority players it has only been recently that minority head coaches have been hired. And this has occurred only after enormous pressure from community groups.
d. In one of the darkest moments of American History when WWII broke out the government interned Japanese Americans in camps. The government did not intern German Americans who we were also at war with. It is no coincidence that those not confined were white. And now a candidate for president wants to do the same thing to Muslims.
e. There is a Stephen King novel The Gunslinger being turned into a movie. It is very controversial in part because the actor playing movie’s main character is African American. Many fans have exploded with anger. But nowhere in the book is the race of the protagonist labeled. The white fans have simply assumed the character is white.
f. Does anyone think that if Flint Michigan was a white community, a white suburb of Worcester, that lead would have ever gotten into the water let alone remain unrepaired?
g. American courts are overwhelmingly harsher on minority defendants than white. This is especially true when the defendant is accused of committing crimes against a white person.
These actions are most often committed by people without overt prejudice or bigotry but who are immersed in a racist patterns.
5. Much of racist behavior occurs unconsciously when the dominant white culture holds onto what is familiar and safe. In America white culture has defined what is proper, correct and safe for 300 years. It is what our families, friends and neighbors have always known and feel comfortable with. So when faced with a choice of job applicants of equal qualification a ‘safe,’ ‘known,’ ‘familiar’ choice is most often made. Few people get up in the morning and think “I am going to keep my company white.” And yet many act exactly that way. It is not about individual prejudice but institutional orientation to the perceived known and safe. This is a deeply ingrained process into which we are all indoctrinated.
6. This is the sort of analysis that often infuriates many members of the white community. They do not experience themselves as prejudiced and do not feel intolerant. And as individuals they usually are not. Complicating this issue is that fact that over the past thirty or so years it is clear that the economic situation has gotten more difficult for most Americans. So they do not feel privileged or powerful. These are people who have worked hard all their lives and tried to follow the American Dream of greater prosperity for those who work hard enough. As the dream has collapsed they feel angry and usurped. And the political right wing with its media cartel has quite successfully turned people against one another. As the dream has dimmed people have sought scapegoats and been turned against those who are different.
7. Racism is less about thinking a group is inferior and more about the denial of ongoing presence of bias. White people often insist slavery ended 170 years ago. But discrimination and unequal distribution of resources have not ended.
8. There is a huge undercurrent of racism in the heated reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. There is a resentment toward “those people” for being so ungrateful as they raise these issues. It is as though the minority community is not supposed to speak of their experience if it challenges white power structures. Of course, the counter slogans “Blue Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” are absolutely true. The only way to protect all lives is together. If we don’t we will face horrific numbers of deaths in all groups.
The path out of this involves bringing awareness to the unacknowledged aspects of our history which so condition the quality of our present relationships. Bringing discernment to these experiences can be an important role of the spiritual community in the healing of these wounds which have so deeply infected the Soul of America.