The forgotten meaning of racism

Senior Aaron Pineda, freshman David Lee and sophomore Roy Obregon chat during a meal Union Market. | PC: Zach Morrison

Senior Aaron Pineda, freshman David Lee and sophomore Roy Obregon chat during a meal Union Market. | PC: Zach Morrison

Emotion is the death of reason

There probably isn’t a touchier subject than racism.

It’s hard to imagine how someone can hold such an irrational and disgusting view. To hate someone or think they’re below you for no other reason than the color of their skin?             Disgusting.

To be labeled a racist is one of the worst things a person can be called. And rightly so. In other words, “racist” isn’t just an insult we should throw around nonchalantly, it’s a serious accusation.

But for whatever reason, it seems to be a normal part of our everyday discussion. For instance, I’m sure all of us have heard both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump accuse each other of being racist.

Is racism, in all its unfathomable depravity, actually as prevalent as our discourse suggests? Or could it be that racism no longer exists in our society, and what we use the word “racism” to describe is something totally different?

If I were to walk the streets of downtown Lincoln with a bag of tacos in my hand, and I decided to approach a hispanic person to offer them some of my tacos, I would undeniably be called a racist. But what about my actions is racist?

What about my actions suggests my distaste for hispanic culture or my perceived superiority to hispanic people? Not a thing.

My actions display one thing and one thing alone–ignorance.

I’m ignorant for assuming that, just because an individual has a slightly darker shade of skin than I have, they want to eat tacos.

But this is a far, far cry from hating another human being because of their skin color, and it’s important that a distinction be made.

Now, handing out tacos may be a fairly innocent example, but the principle applies to other situations as well.

There are two main reasons that it’s so critical we differentiate between ignorance and racism.

Firstly, if we don’t, it muzzles honest discussion.

No two cultures or races, let alone human beings, are alike, and therefore, they'll never be exactly the same. Sometimes, pointing out differences can be harmless, such as noting the amount of pigment in the skin.

Other times though, just as true as skin color differences, certain undeniable facts can upset people. For example, an Asian man is far more likely to attend and graduate from college than an African-American man, who is far more likely to spend time in prison than his Asian counterpart.

Since it upsets people, this type of language is put to an end, robbing discussions of honest input.

Secondly, and more importantly, misdiagnosing ignorance as racism robs any attempt to solve the problem of ignorance from ever having a chance to be successful.

Is ignorance bad? Yes. Is it nearly as bad as racism? No. So if I’m displaying ignorance and someone calls me a racist, I’m going to get offended. I’m not a racist, how dare they?

What happens when people get offended? They fire back or shut down. Either way, no progress is made.

All of us, at some point in our life, have been ignorant. It’s the way our brains work; we process information and formulate a conclusion based on what we know, past experiences, which will inevitably lead us to be incorrect.

As long as we update our information regularly, we have nothing to fear from ignorance.

But falsely diagnosing a normal human learning experience as a nefarious hate-complex does nothing but worsen the problem of stereotyping and exacerbates the tensions between racial groups.

I’ve heard people say, “Old racism is dead. But new racism, new racism still exists. It’s just different.”

Well, if something’s changed, then it doesn’t really exist any more, does it? At least not in it’s former state, and we would all be wise to call ignorance by its true name so that we can progress towards a peaceful future through shared understanding.

Jonathan Deemer is a sophomore studying biomedical science.