In elementary school we’re all taught about racism. Usually sometime in January to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and then again this month (February) because it’s Black History Month. After a few coloring pages and factoids are imparted, schools are pretty silent of the discussions of race and racism until you discuss Civil Rights in middle and high school. These courses are all have one thing in common, they rooted in teaching the belief that white people used to think they were better than People of Color (PoC) but now most White people know that was wrong. And that’s the entirety of what most White people know about racism. So it’s really no surprise that they don’t understand how subtle racism is because all they’ve been taught is the extreme.
People are aware that their uncle who uses racial slurs is a racist but they ignore their aunt who clutches her purse when they see a black man walk by. Or don’t understand why making fun of ethnic names is problematic. Or why dressing up like a Geisha is an issue. They don’t HATE anyone so they can’t be racist.
But, what schools DON’T teach until college is that racism is more than hate. Just because you’re not a card carrying member of the KKK or even if you dated a black girl once that doesn’t mean that you aren’t racist, or more accurately, hold some racist ideologies.
Racism, as it’s practiced in the day to day lives of most people isn’t malicious. It’s not burning crosses. It’s thinking that telling a black person they’re articulate is a compliment not realizing that there’s an entire history as to why you think that’s a trait worth complementing when a PoC has it but NOT when a White person does.
Racism as practiced for most people’s lives is systematic. It’s the left over issues from the Jim Crow error that have created multiple socioeconomic issues for people of color. It’s cracking jokes about Asian people who run corner stores. It’s the fact that Redskins is STILL a football team’s name.
It’s not about hate. It’s about long standing beliefs that have become ingrained in our culture so much that they’re hardly noticeable but they still have huge impacts on how we deal with people and what beliefs we have about them.
That’s what needs to be taught in school. Yes, it’s important to understand that hating someone based on their skin color is wrong but it’s also really important to understand how our culture has racism worked into its foundation so that we can move past that.
Children need to be taught this so that when they are adults they understand how racism works and can recognize it in themselves instead of ignoring it or dismissing it as being oversensitive.
Education is deeply lacking in this area and it’s time that it’s overhauled to represent how racism works in today’s world. We don’t have Whites Only bathrooms and water fountains anymore but that doesn’t mean that Whites Only spaces don’t still exist. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t still influenced in subtle ways by the racism that is built into our culture.
Racism isn’t just hate but because we don’t teach people that, because they go their whole lives believing that IS, they have a hard time seeing it for what it really is when they are presented with it as adults.