How to Put a Big Dent in Bigotry and Racism

Saturday, July 27, 2019 Bryan Hudson 0 Comments

©2019 Bryan Hudson
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"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Allow me to share an effective method for addressing bigotry and racism. There is no absolute cure because sin and evil possess the hearts of people who are unwilling to change. I know from experience and from first hand accounts that some number of bigots and racists have been turned around, or at least neutralized, by the methods I suggest here.

First of all, I am defining racism in a narrow sense.  I’m talking about disrespect, bad treatment, and marginalization of African-Americans by persons who feel superior or entitled as a "ruling class." Certainly, racism by black people towards white people exists, but it is small in effect and largely powerless since black people do not control very much in the larger society.  Black racism is more of a nuisance. Not as many white folks face problems being subject to black people who hold power.

Racism in the form of whites against blacks (or other ethnic minorities) is far more harmful owing to majority status with holding more influential and impactful stations in life. Nearly every black person has a white boss or works for a white employer. It is an inarguable fact that most reported acts of bigotry and racism in the USA have occurred against African-Americans. (Note: In many ways, black people are representative of all other people of color).

The only good news I can share with you about racism is that I believe it is limited to a small number of people in relative terms. I am always disturbed by assertions I have heard from some black folks that nearly all white people are racist by nature. As black people, we don’t want to be judged by our “bad apples,” so we should not do the same to others.

There is a pervasive problem that makes people appear racist when they are not. When people who are not racist remain silent about their awareness of others within their circles who display racist behaviors or attitudes, they perpetuate the problem. We’ve all known people who have “crossed the line.” We permit problems to persist when we don’t speak up to address people we know.


ONE:  Help, educate, and correct your family, acquaintances, and friends 

If anyone within my sphere of influence displays bigoted or racist behavior (and that would be mostly African-Americans), I will take the responsibility to address that matter, person to person. There are not many actions more impactful than being confronted by a friend.

It is likely that every racist person has a non-racist acquaintance or friend who has had the occasion to be appalled at something he has seen or heard from his friend, acquaintance, or family member.  When we fail to take the opportunity to address people we know we permit that behavior to go unchallenged, which may result in the spread of behaviors that could be curtailed if not stopped altogether.

TWO: Use Your Privilege 

Three stories:

We all have privilege in the sense that we carry a certain level of influence and authority that others might not carry. Without being actively aware, we have access to places and people that others do not have. It is not possible to be fully aware of one’s privileges because we are living it and are unaware of any other standard.

Story #1 
When I was 19 years old and in college, I made a big mistake following a concert that landed me in the lock up at the downtown Indy police headquarters. I spent the night in jail and was scheduled to appear in court the next morning. I was scared and nervous watching weekend “regulars” brought in to that large room. I saw the chaos, witnessed fights, and just prayed that I could sleep through it. With my one phone call, I called my father. Even though I did not serve God and disrespected Him, He showed me mercy and let me sleep through the chaos all night, unharmed, on a narrow metal bench against a wall.

The next morning they brought a number of us into a holding cell behind the courtroom for a judge to hear our charges.  I knew my father would be out there to help me through the situation. However, when I appeared before the judge my father was not in the room and there was no one to represent me. The judge ordered that I be taken back to the holding cell. That was one of the most devastating feelings one could imagine.

As it turned out, my father went to the wrong courtroom. After some time passed, my name was called and I came from the holding cell to the courtroom and saw my father standing with an attorney. This young African-American attorney happened to be in the court room when I came out the first time. Somehow, he connected with my father because he observed that I “seemed out of place” and saw my dad was distressed looking for me (perhaps the attorney identified with me in some way). He was not seeking a client and my father was not looking for an attorney. 

This attorney used his privilege to help me. He didn’t have to do it, but he did. 

It is amazing what can be done when we use our privilege to help somebody in difficulty.  What is more amazing is using our privilege to defend the dignity and honor of people being insulted or mistreated.

Story #2 
Many years ago as a pastor our church had the occasion to purchase a commercial property on a prominent street to use as our main facility, We were denied a zoning variance for reasons that were unjust and racially motivated because of the nature of the opposition we faced. In a meeting to which I was "invited," I was handed a list of “suitable” inner city properties and “encouraged” to pursue one of those instead of the one we wanted. When we refused, this group of businessmen influenced the zoning board to oppose us.

We retained an attorney and appealed to Superior Court. We easily won the day and overturned the zoning board’s decision on Constitutional grounds when the city attorney decided to drop their case because he couldn't win. What made the difference, in addition to the expertise of my attorney, was that the seller of the property assigned his own attorney to join in the effort to help us (and of course to help conclude his sale.) The seller, a white gentleman, who happened to be a wealthy owner of a commercial real estate company, personally knew many of the business people who opposed us.

The seller used his privilege and influence to help us.

Story #3 
I read a story of two sisters who looked very different. The one looked more African-American and the other look like a white lady. They were both shopping at the same grocery store. The sister who looked more like a white person was in line in front of her sister. The cashier rang up her items and she presented a personal check for payment (which was more the custom at that time).

When her African-American looking sister presented her check, the cashier reached for a binder in which the store kept copies of bad checks. The cashier proceeded to scan the names on the bad checks looking for a match. The cashier made the bigoted assumption that the black looking lady might be trying to pass a bad check.

When her sister saw it, she returned to the check out and asked the cashier what she was doing. In the presence of the cashier, her sister, and other white customers she demanded that the cashier accept her check in the same manner hers was accepted.  No one could’ve known this was her sister.  

It looked like a white person using her privilege to defend the honor of a black person.

Again, 1) Help, educate, and correct your family, acquaintances, and friends, and 2), Use your privilege. 

I remember a sad occasion on a Facebook friend's discussion thread. One of his Facebook friends publicly insulted and disparaged me, my church, and my family (in an indirect way) when I expressed a strong disagreement within the discussion. I privately asked him how he was going to handle it. He said he would write a personal note to the man. I advised him that friends stand up for friends in the same place where things happen, anywhere in life. He made the choice not to use his privilege to publicly stand up for me. At that moment, I realized we were not actual friends. Sometimes people want a "black face," but they do not want an unfettered "black voice."

Each of us needs to take responsibility within our spheres of influence. We also need to rid ourselves of leaders who perpetuate bigotry and racism. We must not enable such persons through silence, inaction, or support. Persons demonstrating racist behavior need to be educated and reproved by people who know them. Legal action should be taken when laws are violated. We should not coddle bigots and racists.

If we lovingly and directly handle matters within our spheres of influence, I believe progress can be made.