I am a racist, and so are you



Tom Barrett

I’m a racist.  I’m a sexist, ableist and an ageist.  Now I’m not saying that I hate anyone based on skin color, gender, sexual preference, age or physical ability, nor do I even think less of them.  My prejudice is something more subtle and difficult to pinpoint.  Something in me – something deep in my gut – immediately recognizes when someone else is “different” from me.  This feeling lasts only a fraction of a second, but in that small time frame something in me becomes momentarily suspicious.  My guard goes up, even against my better judgment.  Like I said, I can’t explain exactly what it is, and I know better than to let it guide my actions.  Yet it still exists.

Though the race, sex, etc. categories may have been a bit too general, there is no denying that there is something in each of us that almost instinctually labels some other people as “different.” We notice when someone has an accent, or a dialect, or if they just say the word “like” too much.  If someone has a beard down to his stomach or more hair than Cousin It, we judge.  If someone has made a human mural out of herself or has more piercings than facial features, we are skeptical.  If someone’s heels are too high going to class or if someone just really likes talking in class, we scoff.  Our prejudices may not be so overt, but there is no denying that they exist.

The problem is not that we have these feelings, but that we don’t recognize how they came to exist.  Throughout our lives, a myriad of factors have shaped our perceptions of others.  From the time we were infants, we have been like sponges, consciously absorbing information that has subconsciously guided the way we approach the world.  Examples set by our parents and relatives, the mentality of our peer groups and even the images we have seen from countless hours of watching television have all uniquely combined to create the framework for our understanding of the world as well as those dwelling within it.  Each of these sources, however, is flawed.  Like us, they have their own inherent biases.  Others’ prejudices can be insidious and they can infiltrate our mind, slipping by the radar of our consciousness and altering the way we think.

We’ve all been conditioned to be biased in one way or another, but the question of what we do with these almost innate prejudices still remains.  We must first recognize that they actually exist.  We must be conscious of ourselves and our thoughts.  Only by seeing how these prejudices influence the way we behave can we correct ourselves.  We must be vigilant and persevering, relentlessly pushing ourselves to question and challenge our perceptions, keeping what we find to be legitimate and discarding all that is misguided and untrue. 

Although racism, sexism, classism and other -isms are the big issues that make headlines, the roots of our prejudices are often not so obvious.  They are sneaky, subtle and, worst of all, they can appear justified to us.  These misconceptions, however, can only guide our actions if we remain unaware of their effect on us.  Like any bad habit, unlearning the way we view others will require work.  Only with this effort will we ever be able to properly handle these shadows on our better judgment. 


Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].