The year is 2017, and the issue of racism and prejudice appears to be as prevalent as ever. With several of our staff members being born and raised in Arkansas, these recent occurrences are anything but new to us. One of the most puzzling aspects of the situation that we keep returning to is, “How have we, as a society, not outgrown this?”
Some may offer quick answers to that question, pointing fingers at certain leaders and figures of power and where their allegiances lie, while others may suggest that it is all a misunderstanding and not worth the commotion. Regardless of where you fall on this issue, be it with these two parties or with the several other options out there, we can all agree that there is no place in the United States of America for a person to be treated differently or antagonized due to their race.
The First Amendment is one of the things that make this country so great. Free speech is the right of every single United States citizen; in fact, this very newspaper you are reading would not exist if it were not for the First Amendment. However, when the First Amendment is manipulated and twisted into a conduit of objective hate, it becomes misconstrued.
Last week, a Hartford student was charged with a hate crime after she secretly tainted her roommate’s food and hygiene products in hopes of forcing her out. The student later posted a celebratory post on Instagram, stating that she “finally did it” and “can finally say goodbye to Jamaican Barbie.” Obviously, this student faces problems that go beyond speech, but her need to brag about her actions done behind closed doors to her roommate is what incriminated her. Her actions and words were in no way representative of the First Amendment.
Growing up in the south, this misrepresentation has long since been on display in many of our lives. It was often in the guise of inappropriate jokes and bad words. We were led to believe that the words and phrases said held little venom and would never amount to anything– That it was physicality that needed to be avoided. The Ku Klux Klan were the bad guys but the jokes our parents made on the weekends after a few beers were fine.
To change this way of thinking and this view on society, the inappropriate jokes need to stop. The locker room talk needs to stop. The drunken vocabulary needs to stop. The falsehoods that tell us “it is just a word” and “they should not be so sensitive” need to stop.
This thought process is the enemy. While the words and phrases appeared to be hollow, seeds were being planted into your character. The seeds may not result in a full-on racial prejudice but they can warp our view of those around us. We may not see that person as a “man who happens to be black” but as a “black man.”
This view does not make you racist, however, this is the fuel that helps keep racism alive and well in 2017. It is not only the overt hate crimes and discrimination that feeds racism but also the unspoken thoughts that come into play, even if not acted on.
In 2011, actor Samuel L. Jackson told New York Magazine, “People know about the Klan and the overt racism, but the killing of one’s soul, little by little, day after day, is a lot worse than someone coming into your house and lynching you.”
We will not be able to outgrow racism unless we are able to change our method of thinking into one that views race secondary. To outgrow racism will be to see those of all colors as humans, with hurts and struggles, first and foremost.
This is something we all will have to work at and it will not happen quickly. But if all of us can try to nip these actions in the bud before they blossom into hatred then maybe we can pave a more beautiful road for coming generations.