Systemic racism has taken center stage in recent months. It is a topic that makes the nightly news and populates social media pages. Unfortunately, dismantling systemic racism will not be achieved merely by talking about it. Nor will it be achieved through violence or politics.
Racism is a matter of the heart. Therefore, the only way to successfully dismantle it is to change hearts. It seems to me that the starting place for change is how each one of us views other people. We can only start to dismantle systemic racism by dismantling our own stereotypes.
Stereotypes and Racism
The Cambridge Dictionary defines a stereotype as “a set idea that people have about what someone or something is like, especially an idea that is wrong.” It goes on to list racial and sexual stereotypes as examples. Unfortunately, stereotypes and racism are intrinsically linked.
Truth be told, racism is not a uniquely American thing. Nor is it confined to the 21st century. Racism has existed throughout the world since time began. Look throughout world history and you will see unending examples of one group of people practicing racism against another.
What does this have to do with stereotypes? Everything. When we attempt to address racism by making the assumption that virtually every member of another race is guilty, we are allowing stereotypes to cloud our thinking. When we treat racism as though it is uniquely American, we are allowing stereotypes to influence our beliefs.
Stereotypes Breed Resentment
Adhering to stereotypes causes all sorts of problems. In terms of racism, stereotypes dictate that a certain race always behaves a certain way and is therefore inferior. The same thing applies to gender-based stereotypes. One gender thinks all of the members of the other gender behave the same way and are inferior because of it.
I could go on by talking about other stereotypes, but hopefully the point is clear. If we assume that all members of a given race – or even the majority – are racist by default, we only antagonize. We only breed resentment that makes it harder for us to dismantle systemic racism.
Racism, by its very nature, relies on stereotypes for its perpetuation. Thus, it makes no sense to fight the stereotypes of others with our own stereotypes. Dismantling systemic racism starts with the fundamental principle of judging each man, woman, and child based on individual merits.
We Are All Human Beings
Systemic racism is so offensive because it flies in the face of reality. One person might practice racism based on the color of another’s skin. Someone else might practice racism based on culture or language. But in the end, none of those things matter. We are all human beings regardless of the color of our skin, the language we speak, or the culture we live in.
The number one priority in dismantling systemic racism is to treat everyone else the way I want to be treated. That means I do not assume that everyone who does not share my political views is racist. If I do take that view, I am stereotyping.
Dismantling systemic racism also requires that I do not assume that anyone who has achieved more than I have did so by being racist. A lot of very good people have achieved great success without having a racist bone in their bodies.
We all desire to dismantle systemic racism wherever we find it. But we will not succeed if we do not first make a point of dismantling stereotypes. We are all human beings with value. We all have worth. Stereotypes only detract from both.