Thoughts on Racism

I’ve been processing my thoughts on race basically my entire life – at least according to scientists, who now believe that humans develop racial preference beginning at infanthood, when they study faces. But apparently the movie Avatar, which I reviewed in my last post, has spawned discussion about race. And in light of the most recent holiday, I thought it would be an appropriate time to get some of my thoughts, as they presently stand, in order.

Children and Racism

In “Imagine a World,” (found in the December 2009 issue of Parents magazine) Katharine Whittemore cites a study which concluded that babies prefer faces belonging to those of their own race. This preference, she claims, can easily morph into prejudice, unless parents talk to their children about racial differences.

Rejecting the notion of color blindness is the current trend in race and race relations dialogue. Besides stating that color blindness does not exist it suggests that color should not be ignored and further that differences ought to be celebrated.

I agree because I know what can happen when race is ignored. In one unprejudiced family, race was not discussed because it was not an issue with the parents. It never occurred to them to define it with their children. They had a niece of Indian descent and dark colored skin. One of their children, then no older than 5, had no concept of other-than-white skin and assumed her darker color was because she needed to take a bath! He called her “dirty” and refused to play with her until it was explained to him that her skin was simply a different color! Understandably, it took awhile for him to take in this new information and warm up to his cousin.

Culture and Racism

The criticism of Avatar, like it was of The Lord of the Rings films, is that the heroes are White and the villains are colored black or, er, blue, as the case may be. The argument is that this is not just ethnocentrism but racism. This is a poor interpretation of both stories, even on the surface, since the villains are actually White. Colonel Quaritch, the White Marine from Earth, not the blue colored Na’vi of Pandora, is the villain in Avatar. Sauruman, not the charred-black-by-the-fires-of-industry Urukai, is the villain of The Two Towers. And the most dreadful villains of the trilogy is embodied in a piece of jewelry.

So I will give these critics that Western stories are ethnocentric and nothing further. But as Whittemore pointed out, gravitation towards similarities can become rejection and even hatred of differences. To prevent this, our self-aware culture has created Race and Race Relations classes, public announcements, organizations, awards and holidays to recognize minority races, spread the message of tolerance and remember our ignorant times so they don’t happen again. But, as well intentioned as these measures may be, they can go too far, opponents say. As one young woman, who was a White minority in another country for her growing up years, said, “It’s re-opening wounds.”

Perhaps it is important to remember how difficult the Civil Rights Movement was – how hard it was fought for and how hard it was resisted – but perhaps it is equally important to forget it. Would the Y generation be prejudiced if they didn’t know that at one time people held onto it dearly? Won’t our children long to use it because it is obsessed over and forbidden at the same time?

When I think back on the story of the little boy who wouldn’t play with his darker skinned cousin now, it’s not so horrific. His prejudice was remedied by a candid conversation about skin color, exposure to his cousin of a minority race and – time. Had the conversation happened earlier, it would have been a rather easy remedy if one were needed at all. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to our society to treat it as a baby rather than an adult – to have a fresh start? Would prejudices be defended and passed on with such passion if they were regarded as immature and passe? A healed wound may cause a scar but an open wound hurts.

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