Dr. Deidre Tyler, sociologist, was the guest speaker at the September meeting of Humanists of Utah. Here is the text of her presentation:
When we hear of racism in our society, what do we think about? Many of us think about acts of violence that the news media has ingrained in our heads. We think about the man who walked into the Jewish Community Center and wounded five people and killed a Philippine postal worker. We think about the Black man in Jasper, Texas, who was dragged to death.
But what really is racism and how can we prevent it from happening in our society? Some scholars have defined it as prejudice and discrimination on the basis of race. If we look at the term prejudice it means an attitude of prejudging someone, usually in a negative way. Thinking "Well she is a black woman so therefore her morals and values are low," is an example. The individual who thinks like this does not try to get to know that all women in this society, including black women, are very diverse. We are not all the same. This prevailing view is found among people in respected positions in our society.
When we examine the term discrimination we are referring to an act of unfair treatment directed against an individual or group. When I talk to my father, who is 84 years old, about discrimination he plainly says that I have never experienced discrimination before in my life. He talks about the fact that he had to walk off the sidewalk when a white person was on the sidewalk. If he applied for a job, his application was immediately placed in the garbage because he was black.
Growing up in Mississippi in the 60's and 70's I saw the change in our society. No longer did black people have to go in a different door at the movies or to the library. I can remember our first family vacation in 1968. My family was able to take a trip to Texas. This was the first time we stayed in a hotel and ate in the hotel restaurant.
In my short life I have witnessed many changes on this earth but how can we prevent racism in our society in 1999? How can we make sure that all racial groups are treated fairly and not judged based on race? I have contemplated an answer to these questions and it centers on a macro level and a micro level. I have concluded that there are certain steps that we have to take to prevent racism or our society is doomed to destruction.
On a macro level policies should be made by people who have tolerance and a fair agenda. For example, the policy of affirmative action is perceived to be helping blacks more than any other group in the United States. This perception is totally wrong because white women have benefited from affirmative action more than any other group in the United States. In this misconception, certain groups of people feel that black people are getting jobs and being admitted to school based on their race. There is a small percentage of black people who have obtained a job or been admitted into a school because of their race but only a small percent. This policy is in need of a major overhaul because only the middle class black people are gaining from these policies and the poor blacks are remaining in the ghetto.
There is a need for some method of making sure that all job applicants are treated fairly and people are admitted into schools on a fair basis. But this simple term "affirmative action" is creating a lot of animosity against blacks because majority groups feel threatened when they feel that a certain group is gaining more than they are. If we look at our society today, white people are under stress-the standard of living is threatened and they only have to look down the street to find someone to blame. And the scapegoat is "affirmative action." This is human nature. At no time in our history have people been so full of hate and envious of others than today and we just don't need anything to set people off. Who would think that the color of your skin would get you killed doing your job and not bothering anyone else?
Let's find a fair and equal way of making sure that everyone is included in our society. Let me give you a case scenario-we have a principal of a school making about $60,000 a year and his wife making about $40,000 a year. They have only one child going to college and this child is going free because he is black. Is this fair? These parents could be black or white but they don't need the government paying for their child's education. I can say this because my parents worked extremely hard to educate five black children without government help. My father worked 3 jobs and my mother worked as a beautician. They were working-class people who did without a car for 30 years or a vacation. Their goal was to make sure their children were prepared to be productive workers in our society.
What has happened to hard work, fairness, and sacrifice? We don't see these traits in families anymore.
The perception that blacks and other minorities are climbing up the social ladder of success because of their race is a false notion that needs to be cleared. We are living in a fast paced technological society where millions of middle-age white males are being displaced. These males are looking for scapegoats and the scapegoat just happens to be racial minorities.
In essence, policymakers should be clear-thinking individuals; people who will look at the manifest and latent consequences of a law. In my estimation, this will help prevent racism.
On a micro level some of the things that we can do to prevent racism fall directly on parenting. He who rules the cradle rules the world. Mothers in our society have the primary responsibility to socialize their children. This responsibility is not the school's responsibility because the school did not have a child. In our society, over 65% of mothers with children under the age of 5 are working outside the home. These mothers are so busy with work they are forgetting to teach their children right from wrong. I had a student tell me she went to the video store to buy the computer game Doom for her son. She said she didn't check out the game's content, she just bought it. She said she raised a red flag when the 7-year-old said "Mama, I feel like just killing someone." She then examined the software and found out that it was a game that focused on killing.
Dr. Cole, former president of Spellman College in Atlanta, said, "Womenfolk are still the major socializers" the first and principal teachers of our children's values, attitudes and behavior patterns-as such they can be a catalyst for confronting racism." Cole goes on to say socializing our children to respect multiculturalism, diversity and urging our schools to include a diverse history will help in this effort.
We live in a society where people think something is wrong when you prepare a meal and look for people to sit down together as a family. I think there is something wrong with this picture. Have we gotten so busy we don't even know who is in our house or what they are doing?
Another Micro level suggestion would be to accept people on all levels. I look at the television stations in Salt Lake City and nobody has a black woman anchor person. Why? If professional black people are not in the public, individuals may think there are no professional black people.
Lastly, talk to your neighbor and realize that we are all people. The majority of people in America are law-abiding people who go to work and pay their bills and take care of their children. We are all in this boat together. I was having problems with my neighbor's cat and I just walked up to my neighbor and asked him to please keep his cat away from my door. This man said he didn't realize that his cat was bothering me.
In essence, if the state of Mississippi can change, I know that the state of Utah can change too.