“You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a different shade
You’ve got to be carefully taught
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six or seven or eight
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught”
To discuss identity, diversity and ethnicity a fellow teacher shared the above song, “Carefully Taught,” from the musical “South Pacific,” with her students. The very next day the clashes between white supremacists and counter protestors erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia.
While most of us condemn racism, and do not actively commit racist acts, the events in Virginia made me think about my attitude on race, what I have been taught and what my example has taught my children. I don’t consider myself a racist, but then I thought about the discussions I have with my students about white privilege.
In class, we discuss how white privilege is a collection of advantages white people receive just because they are white. In an article we read, Peggy McIntosh gives these examples of white privilege:
- Seeing people of your race widely represented in the media
- Knowing that if you get pulled over by the police you are not singled out because of your race
- Knowing that if you move to a new neighborhood your neighbors will be neutral or pleasant to you
- Being able to find makeup or bandages in flesh color that more or less matches your skin
Those of us in the racial majority take most of these things for granted. I know I tend to think that everyone has the same opportunities as I do, but do those in racial minorities really have access to the same opportunities? New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote a series of articles entitled “When Whites Just Don’t Get It” in 2014 following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. He gives many examples of unconscious racism that lead to diminished opportunities for non-whites.
One study showed that blacks and Hispanics receive pain medication less often than whites with the same injury. Another study showed that resumes with stereotypically sounding white names lead to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood of a call back. And another study showed that there is significantly less funding for schools that serve underprivileged students, many of whom are black.
Can anything been done to change this unconscious bias? McIntosh and Kristoff both suggest that we acknowledge the issue and examine our attitudes. Kristoff cites a study by two economists who found that “white NBA referees disproportionally call fouls on black players, while black refs call more fouls on white players.” The study results received wide media coverage, and when the economists did a follow-up study a few years later they found the bias had disappeared. They concluded that, “Awareness reduces racial bias.”
We can change our attitudes and behaviors. Acknowledging our own racial biases can be difficult, but it is necessary if we want to reduce racism. I have lived in predominantly white communities for all of my life and when I see a black man I do not know I find myself avoiding him because I worry about being accosted. I have to remind myself that this man is not the negative stereotype we associate with black men. Realizing that I have this reaction to black men allows me to change my reaction.
Getting to know people of other races can also help us change our attitudes as we come to understand how their life experiences are different from ours. They may not have the same opportunities or advantages as we do.
Our unintentionally biased acts do not mean we are bad people, just that we are unaware of their effects on others. Take some time to examine your attitude towards those that are different from you and think about what attitudes you are teaching others.
Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother, an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College-Columbus and a substitute teacher for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. She can be reached at email@example.com.