Can you change who you are? Not your job or your friends or the city you live in. I’m talking about the stuff you were born or raised with. Personality traits so inherent, so woven into the fabric of who you are, maybe you don’t even realize they are there.
The answer is yes. And I’m going to use racism to show you how, because this is something that is so deeply rooted in people, that it is seemingly impossible to reverse.
I was raised to not be racist. Blessed to have two parents that didn’t allow any racist jokes or racial slurs or anything of the sort in the house. Some people aren’t so lucky. I went to an elementary school that was racially mixed. My best friends were Paul (Asian), and Antoine (black), and Chuck (white.) We were like the United Nations.
I consider myself basically colorblind. I don’t laugh at racist jokes when people say them. I make the people who say them feel uncomfortable, and I make them feel like a racist. I don’t pre-judge people based on skin color, religion, or sexual preference. I really just don’t care what you are, I care who you are.
But look, some people are born into racist households. Or live in communities that are all one race. And even if your parents aren’t making derogatory comments towards people of other races, your best friends’ parents probably do. So your friends are racists. And you can’t help but become one. It’s sad, but true. You are a product of how you are raised.
There are few unapologetic racists out there. Many racists don’t consider themselves racist. That’s really why I chose this sensitive topic. You hear people say, ‘I have a lot of black friends,’ or ‘white friends,’ as if somehow that absolves you from using words behind their backs that you would never say to their face. It doesn’t. But NOT saying jokes or using slurs, doesn’t mean you’re NOT a racist.
This is something that’s woven much deeper into the fabric of who you are.
I was in New York during 9-11. And I honestly had to fight back prejudice against Arabs. Now, I’m not using Arab racial slurs or anything. But I had to fly the day they re-opened the airports. There were two Arab guys with metal briefcases getting on the plane too. I was nervous, because of their skin color. That is racism. That’s a potential start of a problem.
It made me sad. It also made me realize something about the concentration camps they set up during WWII in the US for Japanese Americans…while they were not justifiable by any stretch, I understood the fear that caused our government to make that move.
So, how do you stop being a racist? How can you change something so deep inside of you?
The first step is true realization. I’m sure the people reading this, that are racist, don’t realize it. You need to be honest with yourself. You cannot change something that you don’t know is there. Do you have an honest assessment of yourself? And don’t ask another racist if he ‘honestly’ thinks you’re racist.
The second step is an understanding of how you came to be racist. Parents, friends, specific incidents or slights by people of other races. Why are you the way you are. For anyone who has never gone to a shrink, most of the conversations revolve around your parents and your upbringing. That has shaped who you are today. That understanding will help you identify that maybe these aren’t your feelings, but the feelings put upon you by others, intentionally or unintentionally. That will help you build a desire to want to change this negative thing inside of you. It’s not your fault for becoming this way…it is your fault for staying this way.
The third step is believing that you hold the power. I posted a quote on Facebook the other day, and I’m going to repeat it here:
“If you want to know the past, to know what has caused you, look at yourself in the PRESENT, for that is the past’s effect. If you want to know your future, then look at yourself in the PRESENT, for that is the cause of the future.” Majjhima Nikaya
Look at yourself in the present if you want to know yourself in the future. This is about your mindset now. What is your level of desire? How much do you want to stop being a racist? The mind is so powerful. And you can wield that power to do anything you want. If you make up your mind today to change, you can do this.
The fourth thing is education. You need to educate yourself on the struggle. About the pain racism has caused. You need to be proactive about learning about history and culture of races that you flippantly dismiss or mock.
The four things I listed above are just the beginning. This is the easy part. Now the work begins. Roll your sleeves up.
Think of all the threads woven into the blanket that is you. As you get older, the blanket gets bigger, and thicker. Now imagine unwinding that thread little by little. Unweaving each thread to find the specific pieces you need to remove. It’s a long process. Changing the fabric of who you are isn’t going to happen overnight.
It’s being proactive. It’s repeating behavior over and over again. In racism’s case, it’s intermingling with people of other races. And not being deterred by one person you meet that fits the derogatory stereotype you previously branded him or her with. I will spoil the surprise for you, there are both great and terrible people in all races. Force yourself if you have to into places where people of all different races interact…maybe online, it could be a bar or a club. But get out there. Have an open mind.
This isn’t going to be easy. But if it’s worth it to you to change, then get at it. This is possible.
P.S. If you are a racist…in the mean time, while you’re working on it, shut your mouth. Don’t poison yourself, your kids, or anyone in this world with anymore of your comments or jokes. If you can’t change it, bury it. Hide it. Don’t let anyone else see it…ever. That’s the least you should do.