Clawing at the Foundations of Racism

Changing the world, it is said, is an inside job.

I’ve used this tale before, but it bears repeating. A couple whose son suffers from horrible bouts of anger and fear take him to a Buddhist monk. “Would you,” they ask, “help rid our son of his demons?” The monk pauses and says, “bring your son back in one year.”

A year later the couple returns with their son and the monk begins the lessons. Grateful, but confused, the couple asks why the teaching had to wait a year. “Ah,” the monk replies, “I had first to learn how to rid myself of anger and fear.”

There is arduous work ahead to tear down the insidious walls of institutional racism…to claw at its massive foundations. I am committed to doing what I can to aid that effort, but, in the end, I cannot help anyone rid themselves of racism until I first learn how of rend it completely from my own life.

How could I not have racism written on my soul having been thoroughly immersed in the white neighborhoods and schools of my youth. How could I learn the harsh reality of racial inequality when my grade school had no one of color, and my high school graduating class had just a few? How could my biases not have been further obscured having been a member of my college’s student senate without people of color at the table? How can I live in my community where faces of color are few and far between, and not see racial inequality? Why has it taken to my elder years for me to fully grasp the depth and breadth of white privilege that paves the paths before me…and impedes them for those of color?

In fact, each of these lessons, and hundreds of others, have been critical courses in the curriculum of my life. I have just been too naïve and selfish to enroll.

After reading, among others, The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Just Mercy by Bryon Stevenson, Antiracism by Ibram X Kendi, Tears We Cannot Stop by Michael Eric Dyson, it becomes impossible to look in a mirror and remain oblivious to the biases that run so very deep.

Many years ago, I created a symbol as a reminder…a simple piece of cardboard holding two U.S. dimes. On the back it says:

Changing the World is an Inside Job
To change the world, you must shatter paradigms.
Begin with your own!

Should you see me sometime soon, I will try to have one for you as well.

These are difficult and often frightening times. But, for me, they are most difficult because I am being forced to acknowledge the demons inside. Even though I married a woman of a different race, I am aware I still harbor prejudice and racism. I must admit, and come to terms with, those biased, often repugnant views. It is only by tearing down those walls and clawing at those foundations that there will be any real hope for the future.

2 thoughts on “Clawing at the Foundations of Racism”

  1. Guess I’ll be the first to respond.

    Your argument strikes dead center of the issue. The society that exists is the one which we, by extension as inheritors of the ways and attitudes of our predecessors — have created. The world of humankind arises from within us. There is a sickness, a dis-ease that is fatal to our neighbors who are not of our socio-economic class or my race as a white guy. As you state in your essay a good step toward wholeness has to do with dispelling our/my ignorance. I’ve not read any of the authors which you reference, but will read at least one of them. I think that our racism cannot be cured, fully exorcised as it is expressed in many ways not necessarily linked to skin color. We must find and accept and apply treatment though. Given the challenges that humanity faces now, only a “We” will offer an opportunity for survival.

  2. Roger, I still have the “pair of dimes” from our time together long ago. My 31 year old son helped me realize that my watching the news and saying, “Isn’t this awful!” isn’t enough. My wife and I thought it was enough to raise him to not be racist and to respect the value of all living beings, and yet watching him struggle with recent events has been heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. His commitment to search his soul, to listen and learn, and to take action has inspired us to do the same.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *