As I was reading newspaper submissions to a forum on San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, I noticed something. The people who had contributed to the forum seemed to express the same sentiment: illegal immigrants are hardened criminals and should not be allowed into the U.S. There was no distinction made between immigrants who did not have criminal records and those that did. Isn’t there a name for judging a group of people based on the actions of a few? Oh yeah, prejudice!
It seemed pretty clear to me that these people held some pretty racist attitudes. But there was something interesting in one of the submissions. The writer used the term “politically correct” to refer to what his beliefs were not. It seemed to be used like, “I’m sorry if my hatred towards Mexicans offends you but…deal with it.”
I had to look up the term and learned that originally it was used by Socialists to distinguish themselves from Marxists who apparently held views that were in line with party politics but not always moral. In this instance, “politically correct” is a disparaging term to refer to immoral attitudes that are held as correct. The term has been used in various ways over the years but its current meaning encapsulates a belief that ideas or language that could be found offensive should not be expressed….at least not publicly.
“Politically correct” seems to me to epitomize an attitude pervasive in U.S. society today: that of covert racism and prejudice. This type of prejudice is quite insidious and very volatile. When called by its true name, prejudiced individuals become extremely offended and very defensive. “How dare you call me a racist! Well I never!” Yet the evidence of such racist beliefs is visible every day in our legal system, housing system and school systems.
Most of the instances of racism I recall in my own life began after high school when I entered college and the workforce. I remember being at a coworker’s house for dinner and a girl I considered a close friend of mine used the term “jigaboo” to refer to the lips of our coworker’s pet fish. My blood was boiling yet I couldn’t find a satisfactory response to her racist comment. All I could get out was, “That sounds like something (a more openly racist coworker of ours) would say.” I wanted to leave but felt paralyzed. I might add that this person would never consider herself racist and would probably be very offended at the idea.
There were other instances in which company, many of whom I considered friends, would make extremely racist comments about Mexicans at which point someone in the know would say, “Don’t say that! She’s (me) Mexican!” Then I would feel extremely conflicted and very uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t you say, “Don’t say that because it’s ignorant and wrong!”
Being a very light-skinned person of Mexican and white European ancestry, I’ve gotten to witness people being very openly racist and then, upon learning of my ethnic background, backpedaling furiously and making ridiculous comments like, “Well, you know what I mean.”
“No, I really don’t.”
I write about this idea of covert racism because I feel it’s extremely pervasive in our society and even more dangerous. Our inability to take an honest look at ourselves and the current state of things leaves us open to committing further injustices. Without a willingness to compare our attitudes and beliefs to those of the “true racists” in history like the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, we risk repeating history and committing more horrible atrocities against our fellow human beings. Indeed, we still find ways every day to take away other people’s humanity.
My hope is that we will look into the faces of the past and see ourselves. We have always been human in our capacity to love and to hate. We need not commit violent acts upon others to take away their humanity, we need only reduce them to “criminals” or “wetbacks” or “fags” or whatever flavor of prejudice suits us at the time. We need only see the “other” as less-than to rob her of her dignity and right to respect and essentially kill her in our own minds and the public consciousness.
This type of self-reflection and honesty takes courage, perhaps a courage we do not have right now. I believe this is a cause worth fighting for though. We can fight with our minds and our hearts by keeping them open and by never ceasing to ASK QUESTIONS.
That’s all for now.
Thank you for reading.