Thursday, September 10, 2009

Changing the Mind of a Racist.........

If a grown adult has a mind filled with racist thoughts, can that mind be changed? I am asking this question because yesterday at work I had a client, that in random conversation started telling me how she feels about black people. As the conversation started to go in a direction that I knew was not going to be good, I told myself, "Okay, you can either get really mad and go off on her, or you can take this moment in time and "help" her maybe see another way of thinking." I chose the latter. So, I "calmly" sat there as she proceeded to tell me that black people are "freeloaders, drug dealers, drug addicts, lazy and good for nothing." The rant went on for a bit longer, but without going into further detail, I think you get what she was saying. When she was done, I looked at her and said, "You do realize my husband is black, right?" She said, "yes," and then started to stumble on her words a bit, and said, "Oh, I don't think ALL black people are like that." Then, the famous, "One of my best friends is black," excuse came out! That one always kills me! Oh, you have a black friend so that makes it okay to be derogatory? I don't get it. Wouldn't it be the exact opposite? Wouldn't one feel they were disrespecting a friendship by talking that way? Twisted thinking and then some, don't ya think!? Okay I am off track.....back to the conversation. As my blood is boiling inside, I kept telling myself, "Let's help her understand another way of thinking and not get angry." So, I said to her, "How is it possible that you can look at someone on the outside and automatically assume just based on their skin color that they are a lazy, good for nothing, druggy?" I said, "You have to get to know someone's heart first, and then if they continue to act that way it's not because they are black, it's because they have issues." She then said, "But that is just their culture and I don't like it." I told her, "I am not sure who you have been around, but that is a small, unfortunate part of everyone's culture." I proceeded to tell her that, "It really makes me sad that you feel that way because my husband would give the shirt off his back for anyone that needed it and he is a hard worker that is always there for his family." The conversation went on for a good 20 minutes and then she decided to tell me how much she hates our President. Hmmmm, could it be because he is black?! I then said, "You know what, the beauty of why we live in America is, you can feel one way, I can feel another, and the two of us can agree to disagree." I was determined to kill her with kindness. So each time I see her, if the subject arises again, I will continue to do the same. I hope that little by little, she will see that if she lets go of her hate, she will open the door for some love, and maybe, just maybe the mind of a racist will be forever changed. We shall see.

18 comments:

Madelyn said...

You handled that very well.I think that is the only way to deal with her. That was great to point out that every race and culture has those same common denominators. Life is a constant evolution of learning.

"J" said...

Oddest thing is always that, when poking deeper in someone like that they almost never, ever "really" know a black/coloured/mixed person.. As in having a "true black/coloured/mixed" friend.

In such situations I am mostly so flabbergasped that I can only look with open mouth at the person spouting the racist slur. My mind somehow completely refuses to accept that people can, indeed, be THAT stupid...

On Obama: Yeah, " ofcourse it is not racism, but honest critique on the functioning of The President"...Yeah..Rrriiiight.. "'An my bum ain't white, it's just the way the light falls on it"

tsss [dismissive sound] the see-through attitude of the "I am not a racist, my best friend is XXXX" -people...

Your cool is really admirable. I am not that restrained ,I tend to lash out...BAD.. after the first amazement about such bigoted stupidity.

Amy said...

Maddie,

It's the old kill 'em with kindness rule. It's so weird to me that this woman has these feelings inside. Where did it all come from? I am determined to show her it's not about color it's ONLY about what's inside! This will be a work in progress.

J,

Great to hear from you again! How are you? Hope all is well.

I have to say I have always found that in these racist situations I make more of a statement by keeping my cool. I think they expect the opposite and don't really know how to react when someone listens and then turns around with some kind of intelligent thought process to discredit their ignorance. It takes everything I have to not just reach over and choke them but then I have to realize that if I am going to make any kind of difference I have to go about it with restrained yet difficult dignity. However, I still to this day will never ever understand the mind of a racist. Hatred is a total waste of time.

Thanks for checking in! =)

Amy

Anonymous said...

I think its very amusing how certain people thing just because we are white, we empathize with their ignorance. I am always amazed how they don't even miss a beat letting me in on their opinions of racial stereotypes and hatred. I usually keep quiet until the end, and then tell them that my husband is mexican, my children's godfather is black, my uncle is japanese and my father, although looks american, is Italian and doesn't speak a lick of english! That usually makes them speechless! I think I leave them confused, but I never excuse their hatred. - Jenn

Anonymous said...

The restraint is amazing. I have gotten to the point where I just say, I'm sorry I find that really offensive and if it continues, I just leave the room. I think it is impossible to entirely change someone's mind who has a deeply held irrational belief. Although I should probably do as you do, Amy, which is to take the opportunity to continue to try to modify that person's bigotry - I just get too angry. Lori

Amy said...

Jenn,

Ironically this woman happens to be Mexican and was born and raised in Mexico. She has lived here for many years. Where the hate comes from I don't know. The amazing thing is I have pictures of the fam on my desk and she was facing them and just went on and on like it didn't matter. Did she not realize I was going to take offense? C'mon now! Maybe she wanted to make a point...instead I made one. =)

Lori,

Restraint IS difficult, but it is so important to me to make people understand that regardless of race there are good and bad people in every culture. If I can change one mind and have them look beyond color, that is one less person that will have ill feelings towards others for no reason, and one less person spreading hate. I still can't believe that this is an issue in the world today because it is so outside the realm of my thinking, but as my dear sweet hubby always reminds me...it is just the way it is and always will be. I am determined to make some small change. However little it might be, it is something.

"J" said...

I am fine (a bit soaked. ,it rained for several days overhere, we went into something like an early fall..it makes cycling to work not very nice, but I'll keep going ,too afraid of my expanding girth..blame it on the Ben&Jerry's..)
Thanx for asking.

On the pic on Your desk: I am afraid that was a typical example of "All blacks are lazy, stupid ,arrogant etc. etc . , But not You, You are a "good" black person.

Something Me and my BFF(mixed Dutch/zimbabwean) ran in every now&then when we were still dating. Even overhere, on our side of the pond ,there is ignorance, although apparently to a lesser extent than in America, if I may believe my BFF. She went on vacation to The States and had some experiences that made her scratch her (gorgeously natural&frizzy) head. No really bad ones though, possibly because her hubby is white, and she speaks english with a VERY pronounced Dutch accent, so most times she was met with the courteousness Mid-Western and Southern Americans seem to reserve for European visitors.

Amy said...

J,

Riding your bike to work...good for you! I would have to say soaked is great! I honestly don't remember the last time it rained here. It has been months and months and months! Send some our way! =)

The irony of someone saying "oh but not you" always get me! So it's okay to hate in general?! NOT!!! My daughter and I were talking about this post yesterday and unfortunately she feels as my hubby does that things will never change. I told her how important it was to never give up on change and even if one person changes their mind every person they then come into contact with in the future will no longer come into contact with hate. I will be the forever optimist. I am the white one of the bunch so for me it will always be different, but if you hurt my hubby and daughter you hurt me. We have a long ways to go but we have also come such a long way!

Have a fabulous weekend and send me some rain!

Amy

Anonymous said...

I'm finally catching up with your posts after our summer travels. You're doing a great job keeping regular with it! Hope you're able to continue around the new busy job!

I was reading J's posts and think he has some good observations and thoughts on the issue of race and it's needing to NOT be an issue. I'm inspired to add my own "book" to the subject, it's been a bit of a simmering point for me...

I have to say, that being an American now living in Belgium for a couple of years, I've been very surprised by the amount of racist comments I've heard here in Belgium. And the locals speak of it as if it is just how it is, that they can't help but be wary of immigrants (dark-skinned immigrants). When people make a racist comment about "all these immigrants coming north" (ie: from Africa), I'm told that "of course" they weren't talking about me, that I was one of the "good" foreigners, that they were talking about the darker-skinned people. Every time I tell them it amazes me that they'd say the things they say. It makes no sense. I try to give them the chance to amend their comment, I suggest they mean any immigrants when talking about people who abuse the systems, but they make it quite clear they are judging dark-skinned people. And, they say it as if it's just a matter of fact!

There are a lot of immigrants here who come from northern Africa, the Middle East, Easter Europe, India, etc. Where I live it seems that some of the locals (intelligent, otherwise good members of the community) feel threatened by dark-skinned immigrants. They think there are those who "milk the system" and take advantage of the social programs. There might be some who do, but I'm sure those who would choose to take advantage of things are not limited to a certain ethnicity or skin color! Because of the racism, white immigrants are probably that much more likely to get away with a deception! continue to.....post number 2 Stephanie

Anonymous said...

We had to see a doctor for medical exams as part of our immigration paperwork. The questions on the forms included (for my young boys) questions about STDs, AIDS, and other things they certainly didn't suffer from. I made a comment about the form being pretty intimate in it's questions. THE DOCTOR said something along the lines of "well, you know, it's for the people coming up from Africa with all their problems that the form is directed". (Was he serious?!) This was the first week being here and I think my jaw hit the floor! Here was a medical professional who I'd just met and he obviously had no problem saying this, as if it's just a known fact. It was no use pointing out the racism in his comment, when I did he dismissed the idea, like I just didn't know what I was talking about. I picked my jaw off the floor and because of this and an overall uneasy feeling about the guy we didn't continue seeing this doctor. (As a side note, I found out from someone else with connections in the medical community that this doctor was later suspended for 3 months for an inappropriate relationship with an underage, female patient! Now, who does the general public need protecting from?)


I took a dutch language class and it was very diverse. (I thought this was a bigger plus than learning the language - such interesting people to meet!) My classmates were from the Congo, Russia, Togo, India, Mexico (by way of France), Morocco, etc. During the 4 months of the class, 4 mornings a week, we learned the language and about each other. The stories the others had to tell about their experience with integrating here ran the gambit. There was a man from Morocco. He is married with 5 children, very nice guy. He has a barber shop/salon in an area of the city that's been updated and it's very well done. He says it happens quite often that someone will notice the nice shop and come in to see about a haircut. He feels they take one look at him and say "Uh, I'll be back", only they never come back. He feels pretty sure it's his brown skin and dark, thick hair that these people judge.


It's interesting, because "white" people seem to think that I (also white) will be sympathetic with them or accept their assessment about what they see as a threat to their "home" from the dark-skinned immigrants. It's ridiculous. I tell them that their comments are racist and that it reminds me of stories one hears as a kid about how things "used to be" in America. We still have a looong way to go. I know it's naive to think there's much less racism in the world; there is still racism, especially in the "little ways" you refer to in your Blog, Amy, but there's so much more awareness that's it's hard to imagine people talking like it's normal to judge people on their skin!


Okay, enough of a rant. I felt the need to add my 2 cents. - I think people are aware of the dealings with race issues in the US (especially the uglier parts), and while it might be easy to say there's less racism in Europe (and maybe it's better in Holland) but people here tell me "the trouble with dark-skinned immigrants" has been rising in the last decade or so with the influx of immigrants. If they think this way, they are headed to difficult times in relation to race. I hope they can recognize their racism for what it is sooner, and then move past that to seeing people for who they are, without prejudging them by their skin!

Stephanie

"J" said...

@Stephanie (Sorry, Amy, that I use Your blog to answer someone else's post)

In The Netherlands(do not refer to us as "Holland" :-) "Holland" is just 1 of 12 provinces...) It is marginally better, mainly because there is an acute awareness of our colonial past. Being Black or Mixed is not really a problem, but being a North-African muslim is!

The disgusting slaughtering of Theo van Gogh, and the threatening of Ayaan-Hirsi-Ali by muslim fanaticals has brought some seething hatred for Islam and it's followers. It is the unfortunate result of SOME people (a tiny minority) abusing the freedoms and general lack of violence in our country to push forward their agenda of religion, fear and power-mongering. As a fairly Atheist society, fanatical religious zealotry is quite alien to us.

Religion in general has brought so much blood&hatred in the Netherlands in bygone ages (despite me being a descendant from French Hugenots that fled France and found a safe haven in The Netherlands..) that The Dutch are, in general, very wary of religion. Even our, mainly, Confessional government is very careful when adressing general problems with a religious view.

On racism in general: It depends who you'll ask. My BFF claims that she very seldomly faces racism. Biggest stumbling blocks seems to be language and the refusal to adapt to Dutch habits, or even expressing contempt towards the "Dutch way" i.e. Trying to find the middle road. We are a people of consencus. We have to, we are traders by nature, our economy runs on trade, so there is little gain in antagonizing potential customers.

It is also VERY different in the big cities in the west of The Netherlands. Racial relations in smaller villages consist more of a friendly curiousness "How come the inside of your hands is lighter?? Isn't your hair , like hard to tame??" Stuff like that .Annoying every now&then ,but not racist-motivated malice. In general we tend to see a Black or Mixed person as Physically different, but not less of a person in any way. That is the best description I can give...

"J" said...

Not being totally satisfied with ending of last post ,I have been pondering how to exactly describe the average attitude of the Dutch towards skincolour.

I believe the attitude is best described in the following way:

-To most of us, fenotype does not automatically connect to Culture.

This is even more poignant, given the amount of non-white adoptees overhere. they are treated exactly like any other white kid.. Their skincolour being no-more of an issue as having , say ,red hair.

Some kids will tease them, but the majority couldn't care less.

Anonymous said...

Amy,

I commend you on your positive reaction to such negative remarks. I have had incidents where other whites somehow just assume I share their prejudicial views. One coworker in another department (I don't know her well, nor work with her directly) asked me one day about who the father of my co-worker,"Jessie's", baby was. Mind you, this person didn't know "Jessie" well either. She says, "I heard the father of her baby is black. Is that true?" I felt like saying to her, "What decade are you living in?!" All I said was, "the father of her baby is the boyfriend she's had for the last several years." (Who by the way, is biracial (black/white), but I wasn't going to give this idiot even that information.) It really bothered me that she automatically assumed I shared her view, which was that she obviously thought there was something "wrong" or at the very least, "controversial" about the possibility of "Jessie" being pregnant with a black man's child. My current relationship is still unknown to our coworkers, but I am curious to see her reaction when its not undercover anymore. I really hate that your hubby doesn't think racism will ever end. I am of the mind that it will eventually, but it will be a long, long, long, long time. I don't believe it will be completely stamped out in just a few generations. I do believe it will take each one of us doing our part to little by little get us there, though. And it is everyone's responsibility to do what they can to educate people out of their ignorance. A really great thing I stumbled upon on the internet is the Bahai faith. I am not a Bahai myself, but their views on humanity and unity are quite beautiful, compelling and well-stated. I thought you might be interested in the following link.
http://www.bahai.us/racism-in-america

-Heather

Amy said...

Steph,

This is exactly what I am talking about....judging someone strictly by the color of their skin and lumping everyone into the same negative category in 2009 is just ridiculous. If people don't start opening up their minds and thinking out of their limited box it will just go on and on. It has changed somewhat in the U.S. but their are many parts of the U.S. that my family could not live in without being berated on a daily basis. We live in Southern Cali to be part of the big melting pot here, yet as you can clearly see by my blog, racism is still alive and well even in Cali. As I said before one person at a time. =) Thanks for your post and for sharing your life across the pond!

Amy

J,

Isn't it interesting that race and religion play such a different role in the Netherlands? Here as I recall discussing with you earlier, religion is such a part of our everyday lives. My husband and I are Christian and raising our daughter as such, but we are also VERY open to all religions and make sure that our daughter is as well. My house has buddah's all around AND crosses! =) It's kind of funny. The buddah's give me a sense of peace and the crosses are just beautiful as well as being part of my religion. This is what I try and teach our daughter....just because we believe one way does not mean another way is wrong. It's sooooo simple. Wars are fought and continue to be fought because we can't accept each other's race and religion. Insanity is all war is! With the passing of 9/11 on Friday and the ongoing war in Iraq and Afghanistan this point could not be more clear. Very sad and must be changed. Fanatics that continue the madness. Thanks as always for your posts.

PS
Always feel free to comment on other's comments...that's what this blog is for. =)

Heather,

Thank you for your comment. Awww the old open mouth insert foot....but of course she doesn't think that because you are white so you "must" believe the way she does! Ha! Amazing, and ignorant all at the same time. Once again...would she ask if the Father of Jessie's baby was white...of course not! I CAN'T WAIT to her what her reaction is when she finds out about your relationship. =) I hope that she has enough respect for you that when you tell her how in love you are, maybe her eyes will be opened just a little bit to the realization that you are just two PEOPLE in love. We shall see. So funny that you mentioned the Bahai faith when I just mentioned religion up above. Any faith that teaches peace no matter what religion it is, is all good in my book. Even though I was raised as a Lutheran, I am so much more about spirituality vs. a specific religion. Live an honest, peacful, caring, giving, life and pass that on to your children, and their children, and so on, and what do you have....a peaceful world. =)

Amy

Anonymous said...

Hello Amy, I found link to your blog on the faceboook and I'm glad for this... Nice reading! You looks like happy family and your daughter is soo beautiful. I'm looking forward for new articles... thanks and greetings from Czech Republic Bye:-) Jitka J.

Tonya Ingram said...

I would have handled it the same way you did. Being one that was born and raised in the deep south (Montgomery, Alabama) I was always around racism, and because of the mindsets of some, especially people like Alvin Holmes (one of our most notorious senators), racism is still alive down here. It's insane. I started "going with" black guys way back in Jr. High School, which was almost 15 years ago, when dating outside your race was a HUGE no no. But even back then I did not care and stood my ground. Now, my grandparents who are all deceased, never did accept me dating a black man, however over the years my parents have come to change their views on this. I think with my brother being in the military and when my two boys were born, they came to accept and realize it's not about race, but everyone's human.

My mom used to use that same excuse... my best friend or I have a good friends that's black... but still continue to talk about them. Used to burn me up, but I never lashed out. I just let her see for herself that what she's saying is just ignorant!

Tonya Ingram said...

The 15 years ago part of my last comment... I knew something wasn't sounding right about that. It was almost 25 years ago that I was in Jr. High School.

Amy said...

Jitka,

Hello and welcome to my blog! Thank you for reading. =) I update my blog about once a week. Every story on here is something I am either going through currently or have gone through in the past with my family. Some stories are lighthearted and funny and some are deep and sad. Life! =)

Tonya,

Thank you so much for your story and welcome to you as well. =) The South is a whole different ball game when it comes to race. The racism there is still so bad! It is that old school ignorant way of thinking that we all need get out of people's heads. It's funny because my Grandma who is now deceased as well accepted my husband like he was her own. That is just the big heart she had. It was always about the person and the person only. If a Grandma who was born in the early 1900's can see that why can't the rest of the world. Irony.

I had another incident with the same client yesterday and she just continued on about how she just does not like black people. My mouth just falls to the floor and my brain can't wrap around it. I told her the hate she had inside was going to eat her up. I told her to just try little by little to get to know someone first then see what happens. She got frustrated with me and walked away. How does one hold on to that much hate? Deep seeded issues.

Thank you again Jitka and Tonya for reading!

Amy