6 Ways to Address Racism at Its Core
Updated: Aug 13
Revelations that make us think we all have been at least a little racist at some point
"Have you watched Aladdin? I could have never imagined Will Smith as Genie. He did an amazing job!"
"Yeah, he did. Did you know the girl who played Jasmin was Indian?" I said.
"Oh really, she didn't look Indian though," said my friend from Vietnam.
And then I thought if it's all about looks, how can Chinese-Americans or African-Americans truly be ever considered Americans? Or how could my Vietnamese friends ever complain when referred to as Chinese? What is Indian? Someone who looks dark-skinned with flawless black hair? But what if I choose to dye my hair differently, and I'm not that dark-skinned after all?
Racish-ism is deep-rooted in the minds of every ethnicity. However, white racism always becomes the center of attention because ignorant conversations may not affect anyone adversely, but systematic racism in schools, jobs, bureaucratic level damages at a much greater level and needs to be called out openly. My experiences as an Indian woman living in Germany, have been nothing close to the ongoing, harsh realities of America. But racism is more than a black and white problem. And if we can address it at the core, we might be able to truly understand each other:
1) Rewrite History Textbooks
"Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter." - African proverb
US history textbooks are partly responsible to incorporate the slave mentality existent even until today. I briefly talked about how words potentially raise prideful white people without truly being un-racist in my previous blog post Don't Call It White Privilege While Talking About Black Lives Matter.
A system favoring a certain race of people in terms of opportunities and benefits is not a privilege: it’s an exploitation of others' basic rights. If the history books told you that you ruled this country or these people, perhaps they should have written you looted this country and exploited these lives.
But this will continue to be a problem as long as white people tell stories of slavery or colonialism. If schools and universities want to educate future generations about the past dealing with slavery, perhaps it is time to consider hiring some more black writers.
2) Don't Flinch on Hearing Names That Are Foreign To You
Most of the people from Asian countries who migrate to the West change their names to fit in society. Many of these names are given by their parents that hold a special meaning in their culture or language. They change a part of who they are for white people's convenience. But it is not only our responsibility to put effort to understand others better, but these are basic traits of kindness and respect.
So, next time you hear a name that is foreign to you, don't flinch. You have no right to flinch. The other person has every right to his name or identity. And if that person from a different culture says, "Oh, it's OK, I don't mind however you say my name," it is still the responsibility of white people to learn something as basic as someone's name. Don't get on with it, people.
"That's the big difference between our generation and our parents' generation. They're always trying to survive. And I mean survival is the thing, so just go by whatever they call you. And that's cool. I think when Dad ... came in '82 to the US, he survived for us. But I'm trying to live. I mean, I'm trying to like, 'Yo, Muhammad Ali, say my name. Like, say it,'" - Hasan Minhaj
3) Actively Seek Environments Where Your Child Can Experience Diversity
If you are a white family, the chances are your kids grew up around other white kids. Or perhaps not. But things get worse when your children have never encountered someone who looks different, very different. I'm referring to incidents where white kids get scared of a black person because they've never seen one before.
Children can unknowingly be racist, and it is our responsibility to change that.
That does not mean you force your kid to hang out with the only black or Asian student in the class.
Most non-white people are aware of the world's top leaders such as Steve Jobs, who are white. Many of them have grown up watching Hollywood movies or at least are aware of it. White people need to make the same efforts to learn about other cultures. So, next time you sit to watch a movie with your family, perhaps consider watching one that is from outside your culture. It's a small step, that can go a long way.
For instance, my favorite movie is The Namesake, an English language drama film produced by Indian, American, and Japanese studios. The Namesake depicts the struggles of Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli, first-generation immigrants from the East Indian state of West Bengal to the United States, and their American-born children Gogol and Sonia.
4) Stop Treating People from Different Ethnicities as “Cultural” - Or Share About Your “Culture” Too
Oh, but didn't I say expose yourself to other cultures?
More often than not, most white people end up being racist by trying to be extra nice towards people from other cultures, a way they won't normally behave with other white folks. The key point to realize here is that you are as much as a foreigner to a person from a different ethnicity as much as they are to you.
Don't make the whole point about educating yourself.
Understand that going to a bar most evenings to grab a beer is a new culture for someone else to learn just like it's new for you to learn that Muslims don't prefer to drink. All cultures are worth sharing, but it shouldn't be one-sided.
5) Move Away from Tokenism for A True Representation
It's a tricky one. How do you know if it counts as tokenism or representation?
So, I'll just let you know what tokenism means to me and some other people of color.
A recent meme posted by celebrity hairstylist Nikki Nelms that went viral online described the phenomenon, in regard to fashion, via emojis.
This is my another personal favorite example to explain what tokenism means to me.
Would having a black actor in F.R.I.E.N.D.'s main cast make the show more diverse? Two of my black friends seem to disagree with each other on this.
One of my friends from Uganda says she will never watch the show because it's all white. Another friend of mine from Eritrea loves the show. He says if you see it racially, then yeah, but it is still a great show with great stories for everyone.
I think adding one black actor in the main cast of the show is what's tokenism. What we need are more black actors throughout the show. What we need are more shows starring more black people with a great story like F.R.I.E.N.D.S becoming as popular and watched on TV. What do you think?
6) Travel the World
Though it's bad timing to do so, I can't say the importance of traveling (later) enough.
I spent 18 years in India, a country with a population roughly equal to all Europeans and Americans. It is very easy to think of you, your people and your culture are everything. Even though Americans are the ones infamous for not knowing enough about other countries, surprisingly, I wasn't a know-it-all either.
The first time I made a friend from Africa in Germany, was also my first time to hear that Cameroon was a country! This is indeed dumb, but truly most of our lives, things we hear about other parts of the world are quite limited. Like Africa for safari rides, India for Taj Mahal? Or the politics?
And then we end up asking ignorant, hurtful questions.
My black friend wasn't a know-it-all either. When he heard that Hindus don't wear white for weddings but for funerals instead, he laughed at me.
I got upset that he laughed instead of thinking that yeah, world doesn't only revolve around cultures wearing white gowns and tuxedo for weddings.
Some things are better left to learn without Google, when you travel and acknowledge the diversity of the world.
Little Thing of the Month: Diversity
Which one is your favorite point or the one that resonated with you the most? Share in the comments below.
o 3) Travel the World