On the John
Originally published in the Indiana Daily Student on February 5, 2004
This is the second in a three part series.
How do you change a person’s prejudices?
As we have seen, people’s prejudices and beliefs are difficult to change. And yet, people’s beliefs do change. How does this happen?
In order for a person’s beliefs to change, they have to be challenged. If a person believes gay people are evil, his belief may be changed if it is challenged by a positive experience he has with a gay person, or by a new popular belief of society. In time, he may begin to change his beliefs. Beliefs and prejudices change over time as they are challenged by other beliefs.
The other part of the racism equation is power — the systems and institutions that control large parts of society. These institutions include schools, government, media, laws, language and America’s popular collective beliefs. They are less accessible than individuals, and so they are tougher to change.
For instance, many individuals change their beliefs about God and religion during their lifetime, but seldom does a popular collective religious belief change.
Yet in the 384 years since Europeans landed on Plymouth Rock, White America’s popular collective racial belief has evolved from legal slavery to freed slaves with nearly no rights to free people living in segregation to free people living with “equal rights.” This huge ideological shift over a relatively short period of time — compared to the evolution of religious ideologies — suggests there is not as much weight in racial beliefs as there is in religious beliefs.
That kind of rapid change does not surprise me when you consider two enormous racial movements in American history — the freeing of the slaves and the civil rights movement. The latter was so powerful it reversed America’s popular collective racial beliefs. Being a racist is now looked down upon. The institution of racism has changed because many people changed their minds about race and made demands on the government to change laws they did not like.
The beliefs of the individual influenced the institutions that control them, and in turn the institutions reciprocated those values back on society.
However, like many good things in America, the new popular collective racial belief has gone too far. Political correctness has people scared to speak because they might be discovered as ignorant, racist or both.
I met a kid the other day who said flat out he would prefer for gay people to stay away from him. But as much as I disagree with this person, you’ve got to appreciate that kind of honesty nowadays.
During the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, Al Sharpton asked Howard Dean why he did not have a black or brown person in his cabinet. Dean squirmed, trying to figure out a way he could answer this question without offending anyone. Dean is a smart man. He knows what a cabinet is. He may even know what a black or brown person is. Yet until Sharpton made him answer, Dean danced around the question, saying first he had Blacks in state government, then saying they were a part of his staff and finally admitting there were none in his cabinet.
Something is wrong when a seemingly progressive presidential candidate does not feel comfortable honestly answering a racially-charged question.
America’s racial and social situation is much better now than it was in 1620, 1865, and even 1968, but it is still not as good as it could be.
How can we take the next step towards true equality?
Copyright 2004, jm silverstein
More on race in America from readjack.com