Hi. I am Beezkneez and I am a racist.
Wait! Wait! To clarify, I do not bear any hatred or negative feelings to any individual race. What I mean is that I have said or thought things that are insensitive to individuals belonging to certain races. These actions were not motivated by any hatred, but by ignorance. It is something I am working on and the first step is recognising that I have a problem.
But that isn’t what you thought of when you read that first line, is it?
Whenever we are presented with a word that has a range of meanings, it is our nature to immediately associate that word with an extreme of its potential definitions until that word is qualified to give it an alternate definition.
Think of the word ‘love‘……… Picture an image of it…… Is it something like this…
Now put that word ‘love‘ in the context of, ‘I love Firefly. It was such a great show. They should never have cancelled it‘. Your image of the word ‘love‘ changes immediately.
This instinct to apply extreme definitions to a word is, I think, one obstacle hindering racial reconciliation. Indeed, it also applies to words associated with any form of bigotry or prejudice. Words like ‘sexist’ that can be applied both to misogynistic behaviour and ignorant behaviour stemming from an individual’s failure to recognise how their actions can be hurtful to others. The word ‘homophobe’ is the same. Yet how often do we use these words to describe insensitive behavior as opposed to behaviour motivated by hatred?
Someone close to me experienced a transsexual awakening. One evening, I was discussing this individual with a mutual acquaintance. This acquaintance said, ‘A sex change operation seems pretty dramatic. Why don’t they just go gay‘?
I spent some time explaining that what they were going through was not about sexual preference, it was about identity. The expression from the acquaintance suggested that their brain was having difficulty assimilating the concept. That acquaintance, ignorant though they were, was making an effort to try and understand what our friend was going through. But had they made that statement to the person involved, they may have been deeply offended by their ignorance.
Think back again to how the opening sentence initially made you feel. Now consider how a person making an insensitive remark feels when being called a racist. Whatever meaning the word is meant to convey, what the recipient hears is, ‘You are a hater. There is really not much difference between you and someone that supports racial genocide‘.
The person that made the comment naturally feels defensive, because they don’t actually hate any race. Instead of helping the commenter understand that their remark was insensitive or hurtful, a barrier is thrown up. With enough reinforcement, this barrier can lead to genuine bigotry and prejudice. How often have you seen individuals in the public eye make an ignorant and insensitive comment, be branded by the media as a racist, then scramble to defend themselves and go on about how they support equality….etc etc. This is exactly what I am talking about. Only when that person is helped to understand why their behaviour is hurtful can they grow. Attacking an individual for ignorance is so often counter-productive because the defensive response becomes an obstacle for that education. If the first step toward addressing a problem is recognising that you have a problem, then making someone defensive becomes an obstacle to this taking place.
I think this is particularly true of ‘Australian culture’, where it is often considered a sign of endearment to pick on a mate.
I also want to acknowledge that there is genuine racial hatred out there. I am not in any way trying to excuse individuals that exhibit or support that kind of behaviour. I have no ideas to address that kind of behaviour other than to address racial barriers at a societal level and have societal pressure keep it to a minimum.
There is also a third category that is also included under the label of ‘racist’ (or sexist, or homophobe, etc) in that their behaviour is insensitive and hurtful. These individuals are so lacking in empathy that they may well realise that their behaviour is hurtful, and simply do not care. Perhaps they feel that the universe should simply accept them as they are. Perhaps they are just lazy. Whatever the reason, I also do not excuse or support this behaviour.
Diversity is one of those corporate buzzwords that many individuals perceive as a way for us to make amends for the faults of previous generations. Which is why we give preferential treatment to groups that were poorly treated in the past. Once, I may have had similar feelings about ‘diversity’.
Several years ago, while working at a major bank, a senior manager gave a talk about what diversity meant to him that really opened my eyes. I cannot hope for his eloquence, but will attempt to paraphrase.
We are a company that supports Australians from many different backgrounds. Different races, beliefs and cultures. How can we understand the needs, motivations and values of those customers if the people making the decisions are all middle aged white men.
Everybody experiences life from a different perspective. That perspective can be driven by where you grew up, what school you attended, the hobbies we enjoy, or any other event a person can experience.
This is why, when we are recruiting for a position and there are multiple candidates that have comparable qualifications, we will give priority to the candidate that offers the freshest perspective, thus providing us with the most diverse understanding of our customers’ needs, motivations and values.
Our effectiveness in achieving this diverse perspective can give us an advantage over competitors that fail to embrace diversity in the way that we will.
While delivered as a corporate message, I feel that the theme of embracing diversity applies to a much broader canvass. Australia is a multicultural nation. We so often becomes focused on negatives being the barriers between different groups (racial or otherwise), that we forget that every individual is different to us and therefore has a different perspective on life.
Perhaps we should spend more time focusing on what we can learn from everybody who is different to us.