Racism: What Does it Mean – And are We using the Word Correctly?

October 1, 2009

How World Peace Starts, by Getty Images

How World Peace Starts, by Getty Images

Truman Capote once said, “A conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.”  Dialogue – by definition – is an exchange of ideas or opinions between two or more persons.  However, as Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, writer, and activist points out, “In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.”  It makes one stop and think: How often are people, specifically Americans, having true discussions about anything at all – let alone in the context of the topic of race.

There was no shortage of people, who, when Barack Obama was elected 44th President of the United States proclaimed that the benchmark of selecting a non-white President meant that we were living in a ‘post-racial era’.  What we’ve seen in the months since – from the commentary surrounding a Newsweek cover asking ‘Is Your Baby Racist?’ to the sentiments that former President Jimmy Carter shared about much of the country not being ready for an African-American President – is that the nation is not living in a post-racial anything.  For better or for worse, racially-rooted issues are now just as prevalent as ever.  What more realistically has arrived through ushering in the Obama administration is that with the amount of coverage our media-savvy President receives, the idea of race weaves itself into more and more conversations.  It allows race (and racism) to be addressed, rather than something many people would prefer not to talk about.  It challenges parents and companies alike to answer questions they avoided before.  And it stirs minds – both young and old – to perhaps consider something they hadn’t before.

In introducing these fresh dialogues, Slate magazine online provides an interest-piquing commentary about racism – and how its meaning has been diluted by its somewhat over-use this year.  It has become a convenient political insult [from both sides of the aisle], instead of describing intentional disparities in equality that are race-based.

At the end of the day, it’s clear that true racism and racial discrimination still exist in a country that was founded on the freedoms that are the polar opposite of those hateful sentiments.  The answer is not simple, and won’t happen over-night because of any political or cultural event.  But, organizations like Sojourn to the Past and others who share our vision, know that inciting intelligent, non-threatening conversation and education – especially among young people – are a big step in the process.  We believe strongly that empowering America’s youth to understand the past, and to inspire others to positive action for the future is our best chance and biggest influence in the fight to equality for all.


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