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Racism Isn’t Always Black and White – Response #2

April 7, 2010

While reading one of my favorite blogs the other day, I came across this post by Amina about the perceptions and misconceptions she encounters as a Brazilian woman living in America. This thought-provoking article got me thinking about the complicated state of bias and racism in America today.

In this country, many people are subject to bias because of their gender, or ethnicity.

The multicultural society we live in has made bias a question of not only black and white, but of much more complex issues involving many races of all colors.

One interesting phenomenon is bias against people who are white, but not from this country. A good friend of mine is from Ukraine. He speaks English with a slight accent, but his first languages are Russian and Ukrainian. He tells a story similar to Amina’s, with people making assumptions about him based on nationality. “First, people assume I am Russian, even if I tell them I am Ukrainian – I would say, I am from Ukraine, and they would respond, What part of Russia is that?”

“They say, Oh, so you love vodka right or some other comment about drinking or the mafia.”   He notes that some Americans are not very knowledgeable of happenings outside of their borders. He has been asked questions such as, “Did they have cars or TVs in Ukraine?

And at one job, an elderly employee continually referred to him as “Comrade.”

He notes that Americans can be insensitive, either because they are uneducated or because they do not have an understanding of what occurred under communism.  He noted, “I think the reason people think it is funny is that people have never experienced it. They have no reference point.

Racism Against African-Americans

Racism against blacks still exists and is a huge problem, especially here in DC. One of my friends, Adrian, is a 3rd year at George Washington University Law School. Adrian is a studious looking black man, tall and bespectacled. He is from the south, and as such, he has that “Southern gentleman” way about him that makes me think he would always open a door or help a lady out of cab. Adrian has said that before coming to Law School, he never experienced racism first hand. However, since his move to DC, things changed. He is frequently stopped on the campus of his own school by police and asked what he is doing there and to show them his school ID as proof that he is really a student.

On more than one occasion, he was interrupted from his work in the George Washington Library and asked what he was doing there, and on one occasion, he was just asked to leave with no explanation given.

I have had to use my Georgetown ID to gain access to a GW library. No one asked me what I was doing or for my ID – but I am also white. Adrian, on the other hand, is black, and even though he actually IS a law student, he is made to feel like an interloper on his own campus.

While we cannot change these past experiences, we can move forward treating people with respect and without preconceptions based on their race or culture – regardless of their skin color. This makes me think of the inspirational words of Nelson Mandela:

We trust that you will continue to stand by us as we tackle the challenges of building peace, prosperity, non-sexism, non-racialism and democracy. The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.

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