Curbing Your Anti-racist Enthusiasm

Wait, wait, I’m not going to tell anyone not to continue in their work to fight racism, point it out when they see it, or work on their own behavior and bias with regard to race. Nope, nope, that’s not where I’m going. But, I do want to share some insights I’ve been having as I watch discussions about race happening, and how the books I’ve recently been reading cause me to see them differently.

Here’s a very passionate young person I do my best to learn from.

The material I’ve been reading on unconscious bias has made it clear that, thanks to growing up in a particular society at a particular time, each of us presents ourselves to the world through the lens of our own biases, some of which are helpful and some of which may be less so. A good thing I’ve read is that the people born more recently may well be less prone to some of the racial biases that older people may have grown up with. A large percentage of younger adults in the US grew up in diverse neighborhoods, attended diverse schools, and are familiar with a wider range of US cultures (most young people I know are fans of music from urban, African, Caribbean, Latino, Korean, Indian and other artists), and have friends and colleagues from highly diverse backgrounds. So, they have a different set of biases from older Americans.

People my kids’ age tend to make friends based on common interests and experiences. This often leads to racially diverse friends with strong bonds in other areas. (Some don’t; I over-generalize.) Photo by @SBphoto via Twenty20.

I am very happy about this, and very interested in learning from people of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s hard, though, because in their anti-racist enthusiasm they push their audience away.

Another fact about a large subset of younger adults is that their preferred methods of interacting with others tend to be more confrontational, less “polite,” and less patient when sharing their views with others (not implying only young people act this way, it’s more appropriate in some cultures, too). This is the part that causes communication problems with people who grew up avoiding confrontation, focusing on polite behavior, and a conversation style that includes acknowledging the potential validity of the other person’s point of view. Neither of these ways of interacting is all right or all wrong; there are issues with each one, which I’m going to let you think of for yourselves.

Admirably, many people in the 18-30-ish age group want to create a better society and are working hard toward those goals. They feel passionate about the rights of people of color, LGBTQ+, poor people, and the oppressed around the world. Yay for them! Those are goals shared by many older people, too, though their methods of working toward it are different, and often unpopular with younger folks (which is fine and normal; I’m not complaining, just noticing).

The thing is, I’m wondering what the goals the young and fervent activists are working toward might be.

  • Are they trying to change people’s minds? I wonder if calling people you don’t know racist for actions you don’t even know that they’ve done is terribly helpful (for example, I have been sitting back and watching a woman lecturing an obviously white woman about how race and racism work, blissfully unaware (or not listening hard enough to realize) that the second woman has a black husband and family members). It’s racist to assume someone has beliefs because of their looks, period. And yes, being in an interracial relationship doesn’t mean you have no bias and can shut down conversation (sorry if I’m not clear about this; I’m still learning).
  • Are they trying to prove how ethically advanced and modern they are? In this case, demonstrating that you’re a passionate anti-racist while bullying and insulting others shows ALL your ethics, quite clearly.
  • Are they trying to sow unity? Are they trying to add to divisiveness? These are my big questions. I’ve been observing people pick at others for not being non-racist in the “right” way (say, for adopting a child of another race, without knowing whether a white adoptive parent may have a black or Asian partner or other black or Asian children). It reminds me of one branch of a religion not saying another branch is Christian enough, or Muslim enough, or the right kind of Buddhist, without remembering they all are focused on the same overall goal, which is love.

This is why I wish more of us knew HOW our unconscious biases work, and that none of us is above them or immune to them. I see a lot of bias against older people in the passionate younger folks. That’s too bad, since when I was a young, passionate feminist, I learned a LOT from the women who’d gone before me, which helped me not repeat some mistakes and not burn some bridges. Perhaps some of us older folks might have useful insights, if we could share our perspectives without being silenced or labeled.

I know I harp on this message. It’s because I think the ONLY way we can make a better world is to listen to each other, maybe even respectfully.

And some of us elders want to silence and label younger folks. None of that is helpful, because the one thing I’ve learned is that the best way to limit the effects of unconscious bias is to get to know members of the groups you may have trouble with. Spending quality time in conversation and interaction with the “other” is guaranteed to help all of us realize that “they” are not a monolithic group, but diverse, varied, and interesting. Not all elderly people are the stereotypical MAGA-hat wearing, flag waving, insular white folks. They are not all inflexible members of the liberal elite. Not all young people hate everything that isn’t socialist or everyone who doesn’t fall into their definition of “woke” (insert current term for woke there). But, if we just talk AT each other rather than WITH each other, we’ll never figure that out.

We all have our blind spots, our prejudices, our biases, and our areas of passion. Not everyone will share them, and not everyone will even express the same biases and passions in the same way we do. We will never grow as human beings nor as a society if we don’t listen to other points of view. Even people we think are dead wrong in one area may have something “right” to share with us in another area, which we’d never find out if we just dismiss them out of hand.

I interrupt this diatribe with a photo of a dishcloth (with an error; I’m keeping this one). YOU can have one if you sponsor this blog and its companion podcast!

I know my audience skews toward people of my age, but still, I want to reach out to those younger than me to listen to us, and give us a chance to share what we’ve been through and how we got there. And then share with people my age what YOU are going through and how you got there, rather than pointing fingers at us, labeling us, and dismissing us. Being young doesn’t invalidate anyone’s experiences and insights, but neither does being old. We can all learn from each other, but we might have to stop talking sometimes and listen.

Rather than trying to drag others kicking and screaming into the new and more advanced world, I’d love to see enthusiastic and passionate people reaching out a hand and gently lifting up others, knowing that they used the experiences of those who came before as stepping stones to get where they are today.

To Troll or Not to Troll?

That’s my question for this first morning of spring, should I keep up with what appears to be a new undertaking for me, trolling with kindness? What the heck do I mean by that, anyway?

And by the way, Ostara (Vernal equinox) greetings to all of you!

Well, the book I just finished, Blind Spot, made it quite clear that humans are hard-wired to participate in us versus them thinking, and that there are actually good things about feeling a part of a group. Group membership conveys a sense of safety and belonging, and encourages us to take care of other members of our group.

You can’t really avoid creating “others” who are not in your group, and it is natural to focus on your differences to clarify who’s in what group. The authors of Blind Spot pointed to the Dr. Seuss book, The Sneetches, which arbitrarily had a star on their chest or not, leading to great division. And I think of that Star Trek episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, where the people who are black on the right and white on the left are mortal enemies of people who are white on the right and black on the left. Both of these are heavy-handed examples, but they are right: we will work very hard to find ways to divide ourselves.

Yes, our outfits are embarrassing, and we do agree on that.

So, I am totally and completely aware that anything I do is not going to change people’s adamant insistence that “the other side” consists of horrible, no-good, bad, creepy people. Still, I know that even people who are biased to one belief system can start to question things, and that one way to initiate questioning is to repeatedly be exposed to other perspectives. THIS is why I feel compelled to “troll with kindness.”

Bubbling up inside me is a mission to not just keep scrolling when I see people making assertions that further our divided society. Rather, I am compelled to say something in a kind and/or neutral way that provides another way of looking at things.

Today’s example came when someone I used to know, sort of, posted something about President Biden tripping on the stairs of Air Force One. Commenters commenced to making all sorts of assertions about Biden’s age, competency, and such. I responded by asking if none of them had ever tripped on stairs before, that it seems common and not worthy of partisan commentary. Someone replied that they are doing it because once the previous president slipped and the media picked at him. So, I pointed out, nicely, that the tit for tat stuff isn’t very helpful, but I understand that it’s not going to stop.

And after that, I’m out of the conversation. I hope that just by planting the seed that being mean to someone because someone was mean to a member of your group in the past really doesn’t help anything at all. I don’t plan to prod and respond, just to provide another viewpoint.

No doubt I could have done a better job on today’s attempt, but it was only my second try. Maybe I’ll get better or get some suggestions. I know I won’t change anyone’s mind, but it makes ME feel better to gently point out that there are other ways of looking at things.

The chickens heard the Ostara Bunny was coming for their eggs.

Diversion About Today’s News

I know I’ve been pretty naïve most of my life about the hatred deep inside people. My conscious mind has worked so hard to overcome prejudices and stereotypes that I’m often genuinely surprised to find out how others feel about their fellow humans. It’s never occurred to me to think badly about people of Asian descent (consciously; I now know I’ve no clue what’s lurking in my brain).

I’ve always found Asian cultures interesting (since I was a tiny girl in love with kimono) and I’ve had many close friends who are Asian, even dated more than one. Once again, thanks to that linguistics education and that Japanese minor! For some reason, my bias toward Asians is more like they tend to be fun people and potential friends. My upbringing didn’t overtly cause this, though; it was something inside. (I always said it was because there were so few people I had things in common with that I didn’t want to rule out potential friends because of race, gender, religion, or sexuality.)

(here I give you a little piece of my history, again.)

It occurs to me that while my mom was not shy about her traditional Southern US white people view of Black folks, she was equally unhappy with Japanese (who killed her fiancé in WWII) and loved to sing some truly horrid song about “Chink-chink Chinaman named Chow Chow,” that I never understood, but is still in my brain, right along with the sound of her endlessly reading Little Black Sambo to me.

Still, just like she actually loved Black people she knew personally, she was really fond of her Chinese-American friend, Fay Eng.* Fay owned the only Chinese restaurant in the town I grew up in, and she and Mom became friends when my sister and her child were young. It was a long-time friendship, because I knew her all my childhood, and took all my friends to meet her and eat at the restaurant in college. Ha, I remember thinking Chop Suey was an exotic Asian dish. I did quickly learn better in college.

Sorry, I keep coming back to my mom, because I am pretty sure her attitudes about people got imprinted deep within me. I guess I rebelled in a constructive way by getting to know people of so many races and ethnicities and dragging them home to confront her stereotypes. And I’m sure my own children, who had a more diverse set of friends than I did (and do) are at least helping carry on the lessening of racial biases the Blind Spot book mentioned.

(back to the topic)

Where I was originally going with this was how blown away I was to learn about the murders of mostly Asian people in Atlanta this week. I don’t get it, at all. Hurting people just because of the way they look seems like the deepest depths of horrible human behavior. I’m now crying for my Asian-American friends just like I’ve been for African-American friends for so long.

Yes, it’s convenient to divide up according to superficial things like skin color, but it’s just not right, and I WILL speak up about this, and it may not be trolling with kindness.


*Oh my gosh, I looked Fay up to be sure I spelled her name right, and as of last year, she was still alive, at age 95 and a Democratic voter, not only that, she was a poll worker, and used to serve cookies from her father’s recipe, which used to be served at the restaurant I ate in my entire young life! She still lives with her daughter, in a beautiful home. Good for you, Fay. Mom picked a great friend.

Prejudice and Me

Extreme honesty alert!

Poor bear. What did the bear do to deserve this?

In any case, things I was reading today about other people’s biases gave me pause to think about my own. As hard as I’ve worked to overcome different kinds of prejudice, some seem almost hard wired. I have no scientific basis to go on, but my gut feeling is that these are the ones I learned when I was very young, before my ability to make judgments like that on my own kicked in.

Yep, I’m a white person. I was raised in a Southern US white culture. Some of the prejudices of that group rub off. I’ve spent many years dwelling on this, and it doesn’t make me happy. I know that having slave ancestors as well as slave owning ancestors is something to think about. I know I have biases in other areas that skew my opinions. I know I can’t fix past things. But I know I can work hard to treat people fairly today.

Where Prejudice Comes From (for me)

I sure know where a lot of my prejudices come from, and that’s my mom, whom I loved dearly, but I could tell from an early age had some extra doozies of flaws. One was her wide range of racial and ethnic stereotypes. She had a bad World War II experience (lost a fiance) and was pissed off at Japanese people and Germans (they spit when they talk) her whole life. She was also quite opposed to “white trash,” and kept telling us not to be like them. And she both loved black people personally and said awful things about them them as a group (probably from her own upbringing). All this stuff confused the heck out of me, and even though I was uncomfortable with the things she said and did, I know some of it sunk in.

Skin is just skin. Cultural differences are interesting, not scary. Yep. All images from here down from Twenty20.

Thanks to my upbringing, I was scared of black people and looked down from my barely middle-class perch at poor white people. I have a feeling many of my black and poor white future friends came about from me wanting to distance myself from my mom and not wanting to be like that. At least I stuck around to like my friends as people. But to this day, I get this tiny bit of negativity that my higher thought processes immediately slap down. Whew, no wonder racial stereotypes and prejudices are so hard to eradicate, when even someone who knows better and wants to judge people on who they are, not how they look, still deals with childhood crap.

Continue reading “Prejudice and Me”
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