BARRETT: Quit burying racial problem

Tom Barrett

With the recent acts of racist and hateful vandalism on campus and the messy Don Imus controversy, it seems that racism and sexism are still rampant problems in our society that we need to address and soon. But how do we go about doing that? Right now, we have all types of anti-discriminatory laws that are backed up by social norms – society’s way of saying “You can’t say that” – that keep the average Joe (or Josephine) from saying anything too ignorant and repugnant, but are we really on the right track in dealing with these problems? Taking the recent events into account (along with the past 50 years of history or so), the answer seems to be a big spray-painted “No.”

In our country, it has become increasingly unacceptable to express any type of remotely discriminatory remark. Our language has become filled to excessive with euphemisms and user-friendly dialogue, but this type of communicating does as much to clean up language as shoving everything under the bed does to clean your room: no matter how clean the floor may look, there is still the massive mess hidden beneath the mattress. The problem with discrimination in society is not that we have some people that say or do offensive things; it is much deeper than that. The problem is that people have discriminatory tendencies to begin with. Most of us – though there are some exceptionally accepting individuals out there whom this statement does not apply to – feel these tendencies within us. This does not mean that you are the type of person that goes running around Sullivan Hall drawing swastikas on the walls. Rather, it means you take an extra step to your left to avoid a black man walking towards you; you silently laugh when you see a woman picking up a hammer; or you think, “Thank God I’m not on the road right now,” when you see Asian/Indian/elderly drivers pass you in their cars.

Why do many of us react these ways? The answer is that this type of behavior is much more engrained in us than we would like to admit. From the time we were children, we have been taught to view certain people – particularly those different than ourselves – in different ways. Our parents, families, friends, TV, magazines, music – all of these factors and more have contributed to this flawed worldview. It is inherent in our culture to discriminate, to judge each other based on how we each differ from one another. The funny part is we like to pretend that it is not there, but pretending only ends up cramming more junk underneath the bed.

If this pretending is indeed the problem, then how do we fix it? Well, just like the AA Web site says, “The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.” We first have to admit, as a national community, that racism and sexism still play tremendous roles in how our society functions, regardless of how we disguise them. Playing “make-believe” has not worked since second grade, so it is about time we confront the reality of the situation. From that point, we must start moving towards conversation. Exactly how this conversation will go is unclear, but the point is that communication must start between all groups. Communication leads to understanding, and understanding is ultimately what will erase these prejudicial tendencies.

It is time we stop burying this problem with insincere and politically correct language and let the conversation begin.

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