Moving Past Discomfort and On to Change

When talking about systemic racism, Connie addressed us as a class inquiring about who was a racist. Being asked such a weighted question has truly stuck with me and I have continued to re-address it since that class. I also have another class with the same teacher; while teaching a lesson she used me as an example and asked the same question (are you a racist) infront of the whole class. I was completely aware that she was just trying to make a point and although she then explained to the class that I was a student in her contemporary racism class, I completely froze. Although I knew the answer to the question and had just answered it a couple of days before in our class, I found it extremely uncomfortable to give my answer, and to be honest almost could not answer. At first I was very confused about how I could answer this question in one class, yet was so uncomfortable and uneasy when asked this question in another.

This brought me to think about this small experience I had in a much bigger context of racism as a whole. Why is it that so many individuals are aware of their own prejudiced feelings and the unenqual way that others are treated, yet they do not chose to stand up for them? I think for many, admitting to being a racist would be one of the most embarrassing experiences to endure, which makes sense as Tatum (2008) mentions in her article Breaking the Silence that being called a racist is the ultimate insult. My experience completely opened my eyes to how difficult it is to admit such feelings. However, as we talked about in class, it is the discomfort regarding these issues that is the ultimate prelude to change. So how do we get past this discomfort and start educating others about the issue of racism in our society? It may have been easier to admit our prejudices in a more comfortable setting such as our contemporary racism class, but this is not the case for many individuals. How do we get them to face this discomfort and admit to their feelings in settings that are far less comfortable?

1 thought on “Moving Past Discomfort and On to Change”

  1. I think you bring up a great point, Tory. The word “racist” is a loaded one. When we think of a racist, we think of the old fashioned overt racist who we can point out as a bad person. “Racist” has a negative connotation; it is seen as a personal attack on someone’s character. People get defensive. The task at hand is for us to provide a new definition of what it means to be racist, or maybe to expand on the old one. If we can take away the things that make racism seem so clear-cut as those clearly bad individuals and replace them with the idea that racism is an institutionalized phenomenon, maybe people will feel more comfortable talking about it. The problem is though, that there is an institutional investment in making that type of racism hard to see. Having more conversations like the ones we had in our Contemporary Racism class can definitely shed light on the other types of racism that there can be. I think that we have to remove the stigma from the word.

    That being said, I wonder what steps we can take to make people comfortable talking about it from one environment to the next. You still had the same knowledge, but for some reason were hesitant. Is it only safe to admit you’re a racist in certain spaces?

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